Favorite athlete: Serena Williams
Favorite team: 76ers
Best memory competing in sports: Winning the 2019 Round 1 District playoff game against CB South. I was overwhelmingly proud of all my teammates and how hard we’d all worked to get to that game.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: I have a tendency to fall very frequently during practice and games, so much so that my team has a joke that an invisible gremlin runs around and pushes me over. While I’m used to being clumsy, my most embarrassing fall had to be during one of my first games playing for Pennsbury junior year when I was subbed off the floor, and as I was walking off, I basically tripped over the foul line and fell flat on my face. My teammates never let me live that one down.
Music on mobile device: Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Souls of Mischief, Madlib, The Mamas & The Pappas, Tyler the Creator, Roy Ayers, Minnie Riperton, Peter Frampton, The Modern Lovers, Steve Lacy, King Krule, George Harrison.
Future plans: Hopefully landing a job filmmaking and/or traveling. I love to explore cultures around the world, so the goal is to be doing both at once.
Words to live by: “You don’t regret what you do, you regret what you don’t do.”
One goal before turning 30: Climb a mountain
One thing people don’t know about me: I am fascinated by the stock market, a lot of my favorite movies have to do with investing and stock brokers. If all else fails, I’d probably try my best to land a job on Wall Street.
By Mary Jane Souder
Skyler Sulby would be the first to admit she’s more artist than basketball player.
An aspiring filmmaker, the Pennsbury senior is already on a path of great promise that is far removed from the hardwood. Still, it might be difficult to find someone who valued their basketball experience more than the senior reserve.
Mention the Falcons’ first home district game since 2006 that saw Pennsbury defeat Central Bucks South in overtime in front of a full house, and Sulby’s response is revealing.
“That was probably my season high, and it wasn’t just because of the whole crowd and everyone there,” she said. “It was because I felt this overwhelming sense of pride for my team, and I just knew how hard every single person had worked to get to that point and how much it meant to them.
“We didn’t come from a winning program, and just seeing the sheer willpower everyone on the court displayed while they were playing – I don’t think I’ve ever been more present in a moment in my life than that game.”
Sulby’s response will not surprise her coach.
“She was my consigliore – she sat in the row in front of me on the bus, and she talked me off the ledge or got me fired up all the time,” coach Frank Sciolla said.
Sulby – it’s clear – is not your typical basketball player. Ask her why she stuck with it when she could have been pursuing countless other interests, and she becomes reflective.
“I think the biggest thing for me was that the people on the team – and all the coaches included – accepted myself and everyone else for everything that makes us tick,” she said. “For me, I would consider myself more of an artist than an athlete, and it was kind of odd to see how I got caught up in this whole world, but I was so happy I ended up with the girls on my basketball team because I feel like, more than anything – people in sports, my coach included, taught me to hold myself to a higher standard.
“I feel like the biggest lesson that I’ve learned was to always surround myself with people who ask me to be better. Not just with basketball but with every aspect of my life. Just being with my teammates and always having their back on and off the court, I feel like that’s what really hit home for me. I knew no matter what – everybody on my team was going to have my back. Having that kind of security made it worth it to show up every day. It really didn’t matter if I didn’t play at all. I knew that my role was important at practice to play against our starters so I could help them prepare for each game. I feel like Sciolla did a really good job of communicating how important every single person is on the team, no matter how many minutes they play.”
Sulby’s introduction to basketball began like many of her peers.
“My dad would take me outside and play basketball with me,” she said. “We’d always have little one-on-one games.
“At that age, I didn’t understand that he was letting me win, and I thought I was really great at it. It was just a big bonding thing for my dad and I. Also, my older brother kind of dabbled in playing basketball like most boys do. My dad started taking me to the clinics that were held at Pennsbury when (coach) Sciolla was the boys’ coach. I don’t know, I really liked being around people who played basketball.”
Sulby played in Pennsbury’s rec league, eventually moving on to middle school and high school. When Sulby was a freshman, Pennsbury won just four games.
“It really wasn’t much of a surprise that we weren’t winning games because we just didn’t have girls that were very involved in playing basketball,” she said. “It was kind of this thing where we would come and hang out.”
Things changed dramatically when Sciolla took over the helm the following year.
“It was really a surprise but in a good way,” Sulby said. “He kind of forced all of us to look at what our own strengths were and the roles we could play on the team, which I had never really thought about before.
“He made every person feel valued for our individuality and each thing we were confident in and skilled at already, and he helped us strengthen those things. By cultivating that environment, he made it more exciting to come to practice every day. I feel like the biggest thing was the mentality shift – playing to win, expecting to win. We focused on basketball more than I ever had in my life.”
The team’s progress was underscored by the fact that the Falcons earned a district berth in Sciolla’s second year. The 24th and final seed, they fell to eventual state champion Upper Dublin in the opening round.
“I feel like just making the playoffs that year was a big enough thing,” Sulby said. “We never thought we’d be good enough to do something like that.
“For myself, it was never on my bucket list. I just didn’t think that was even a reality judging from my freshman year when I came in.”
Sulby’s basketball journey culminated with this year’s 19-win season and a district home playoff victory with just one win separating the Falcons from a state bid.
“It couldn’t have been done without the guidance of all of our coaches and, more than anything, them encouraging us and telling us we can be better than we had been,” she said.
For Sulby, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience she wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
“Basketball gave me a really good perspective on people from a completely different world,” she said. “Sciolla always talks about this basketball universe where everyone knows everyone. He always has really great stories from his 20-plus years of coaching.
“It’s just this world I never would have been exposed to if I didn’t stick with it. I’m really glad I did. I guess the reason why I did is because my sophomore year, I thought to myself, ‘I will have my whole life to make films, but I’m not going to have my whole life to play basketball, and I’m certainly not going to have my whole life to play high school basketball.’
“I knew I wasn’t that good. I could have been if I had put in the work, but that wasn’t really a goal of mine. I didn’t know if I’d ever get an opportunity to be part of a program like this so I decided – for me, the thing of most value is life experience. I figured I might as well get as much of it as I can.”
Sciolla has nothing but good things to say about Sulby.
“Skyler was very valuable to us basketball-wise and gave us everything she had, she was always positive, never judgmental,” the Falcons’ coach said. “In three years when you have the day-to-day drama of people liking each other or not liking each other, at no point was there ever one time that her name came up.
“She was a resource for me. I sit in the back of the bus in the last seat, and she is in the seat in front of me. We would talk. We had a great relationship. She’s someone who knows what she wants to do, and that was a great example for our girls who don’t necessarily have the focus. She does it in a very low key way, she’s not over the top. I’ve watched the short films she’s submitted for film school. This is a really, really smart kid. Jen Sroba, my assistant, and I said, ‘This is a kid we’re going to be friends with for the next 30 years.”
The Falcons’ coach goes on to recount a conversation he had with Sulby as the postseason was winding down.
“She came in last week, and I said, ‘Are you tired?’” Sciolla said. “She said, “No, we had a two-hour delay.’ I said, ‘No, no, no, are you tired of this? We’re going further than Pennsbury goes. Are you exhausted? Are you ready to say – all right, I want to move on?’
“This is a girl who’s only playing three or four minutes a game, and she looks at me and said, ‘I talked to my mom and said – when am I ever going to have an experience like this again? When am I ever going to have all these personalities and we all come together and we all mix them in and it works and we have this experience.’
“She talks to me, and she’s so even keel and she’s so well read and philosophical that I looked at her and said, ‘Thank you so much. I needed this conversation.’”
As a youngster, Sulby had the singular goal of becoming an actress. That’s hardly a surprise since her mother is an actress as well as a dialect coach for some of Hollywood’s biggest names.
“I guess I was very eccentric and I wanted to explore different ways of displaying my thoughts and everything like that,” she said. “My parents did a really good job of getting me involved in everything I possibly could.”
Sulby enrolled in acting classes in New York City.
“My mom did a lot of work in New York for her acting, so I would just go up there with her,” Sulby said. “They would basically give us monologues and we would have to memorize them and present them in front of the class, and they’d give us notes.
“I just felt that was a little bit too serious for me, and I didn’t really feel passionate about it.”
Improv, however, was another story entirely.
“When I was 12, I took improv classes, which I absolutely loved because improv created this environment where you were free to be yourself and there was really no judgment at all within any group that I was part of,” said Sulby, who took classes at the People’s Improv Theater in New York. “We would have little shows once a month at the theater. It was mostly parents, but it was still a really fun way for me to get out my creativity.”
Sulby had roles in the school plays at Charles Boehm Middle School in seventh and eighth grade, but in ninth grade, the school musical conflicted with basketball. Sulby chose basketball.
“(Acting) just didn’t fill me with any passion whereas when I play basketball, I do have a very competitive nature, and I guess it fulfilled that part of me,” she said. “I’m really glad I stuck with it because here I am – it kind of really shaped me into the person I am now.”
Along the way, Sulby took watercolor and oil painting classes, sculpting classes, among other things.
“It wasn’t until around eighth grade that I realized I tried every single different thing and what fulfilled me the most was filmmaking,” she said. “And I knew that because I just love people’s stories. There’s so much to tell about human nature and about love and compassion and family dynamics, and that’s what I like to focus on in my filmmaking as well – relationships and connections.
“I feel like that unexpectedly connected so well with basketball, and I didn’t think it would because I had a different connection with every single girl on the team, my coaches included. For me, that’s kind of what movies are – they’re snapshots of life that we’ve experienced or we’ve felt. Filmmaking was an outlet for me to help me remember or give me a really good perspective on how lucky I really am in my life.”
Last summer, Sulby was accepted into the University of Southern California’s prestigious film program for high school students.
“I actually ended up taking their documentary class, which was for people of all ages,” she said of the 18-week college-credit course that was condensed into a summer course. “I stayed in the dorms and was surrounded by kids my age who cared about this thing as much as I did.
“It’s a whole different type of community, but everyone has a different kind of eye for the story they want to tell, kind of like everyone has a different ear for music. One person might love country music but another person might absolutely hate it, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.”
While at USC, Sulby made a documentary about the meaning of life.
“My teacher – Doug Blush – is a professor at USC and a very well-known documentarian,” she said. “I couldn’t have been luckier with the teacher I got. I had a lot of one-on-one time with him, and he showed me how you don’t need anything more than your camera and a good idea to create something that will really impact someone. I know there are even documentaries that have won awards that were made completely on an iPhone.
“I realized at that point that I was capable of stepping up my game, and instead of just making more amateur stuff, I had the resources to write and direct my own narrative films. So when I came home the beginning of my senior year, I wrote and directed another short film. I hired people in the Philadelphia area to help me film and do lighting and sound recording and editing and things of that nature. That really also helped with my college applications.”
In addition to including the film in her portfolio, Sulby also submitted it to film festivals all over the world.
“Most festivals are for the following year, so I won’t know whether or not I’ve been admitted until starting in June,” she said.
Looking ahead to next year, USC, NYU, Pratt and UCLA are at the top of Sulby’s college list.
“It’s been said that USC’s film department is harder to get into than Harvard Law,” she said. “I’m not going to put all my eggs in one basket with that place.
“Some of my safety schools are UC Santa Clara and UC Riverside because they both have substantial film programs, and they give me a really good opportunity to transfer to a larger school.”
Despite a full schedule, Sulby still finds time to volunteer. She is involved with the Jewish Relief Agency, packing and delivering boxes of food to the less fortunate during Jewish and American holidays. She serves food to the homeless at the Trenton Soup Kitchen, and she also volunteers her time to the Bucks County SPCA walking dogs.
She is a PADI Certified Open Water Scuba Diver. In the summer of 2017, she was part of a cultural exchange in the Middle East with Camp Havaya.
And what does Sulby see herself doing 10 years from now?
“I guess the ultimate goal is to always wake up every morning and have an end game in sight and have something that day that I know I’m going to love doing and be passionate about and find meaning within,” she said. “I can’t predict the future. I don’t know what film holds for me, but I do know that if I continue to follow things that fill me with passion that I’m going to be more satisfied with my life. I never want to have regrets.
“I feel like one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard in my life – I don’t know who told me. It might have been my dad. He said, ‘You don’t regret the things you do, you regret the things you don’t do,’ so hopefully in 10 years, I don’t have any regrets and I get to wake up every morning and be excited about my future and the next 10 years after that.”