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Michigan State graduating senior: My love for the Spartans didn’t just start here… it has always been apart of my life

Bella Johnson poses for a photo while holding a baby photo of her in Michigan State gear.
Bella Johnson
Bella Johnson poses for a photo while holding a baby photo of her in Michigan State gear.

Journalism major Bella Johnson always loved MSU Athletics as a fan. And then she got to be a reporter covering the Spartans.

Sports bring people together. There is always something connecting you to others whether you are a player or a fan, and I’ve gotten to experience both sides of that in my life.

When I was younger, I watched so many Michigan State games and my parents tried to get me involved in as many sports as possible.

I tried gymnastics, cheer, golf, tennis…and so much more.

“We wanted you to try many different sports to see if you had a passion for anything you tried,” my mom Anna Johnson said. “We knew early on we wanted both you and Jackson (my brother) to be in sports. Studies have shown that kids that get involved in sports have higher academic success and are healthier. We also thought it was important to be part of a team as it instills so many life skills, friendships and hopefully fond memories of your childhood.”

I also think that, for my mom, getting to dress me up in cute, themed outfits was just a perk for signing me up in so many sports.

Bella Johnson and her roommate Elaina Causley pose for a picture at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn. during the 2024 Big Ten Tournament.
Bella Johnson
Bella Johnson and her roommate Elaina Causley pose for a picture at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn. during the 2024 Big Ten Tournament.

Despite all the different lessons I was involved with over time, it was the baby ballet class that I was put in at three that completely stole my heart.

I’m not writing this to argue whether or not dance is a sport, but I do think the opinion should be reserved for the people who have survived 40-hour competition weeks, poorly placed bobby pins digging into your skull for over 12 hours and the wrath of dressing-room moms during quick changes.

Even with all that considered, I loved dancing more than anything, to the point where I completed eight dances on a broken foot at 11 because I really wanted to perform with my friends.

I thought I was going to be a dancer for the rest of my life, until, out of nowhere, the spark disappeared.

According to research conducted by Dove and Nike, 45% of girls quit their sports by the age 14 due to a variety of factors, but largely because of reasons related to puberty and low confidence.

At 14, I became just one piece of that 45%. I decided that I wanted to quit the sport that I trained for my entire life with no plans moving forward.

I stopped getting excited about going to practice, and the woes of being a teenage girl made me bitter about everything that kept me away from my friends at school. I lost my love of dance, but losing my love for enjoying sports, in general, was collateral damage in my disgruntled state of early adolescence.

Losing that love of sports was jarring because I was surrounded by Spartans growing up like a lot of my peers at Michigan State. Nearly every single person who influenced me as a human being graduated from MSU, and I watched a lot of Michigan State sports as a child.

Some of my earliest and fondest memories surround running down my childhood street 100 miles away from East Lansing yelling go green and burning couches at a neighborhood bonfire at seven years old.

Around the time I quit dancing, I started to resent the idea of doing the exact same thing that my parents, grandparents and friends did. At 15, I thought that going to Michigan State would be the worst thing in the world. I wanted to go to school in a big city like New York. I didn’t care about going to a school with a good sports culture because it wasn’t important to my friends at the time, so it wasn’t important to me.

It wasn’t until the end of my junior year of high school that I started watching and enjoying sports again. I started sharing those experiences with my friends and family like I used to, but it was watching Michigan State men’s basketball beat Duke in the Elite Eight in 2019 that firmly solidified my decision that East Lansing had to be my next stop.

Bella Johnson and her brother Jackson pose for a picture in Michigan State gear in elementary school.
Bella Johnson
Bella Johnson and her brother Jackson pose for a picture in Michigan State gear in elementary school.

That may seem like a crazy statement, but it was never just about that one game. It was about the solemn neighborhood party that went wild during the last ten seconds of the 2015 Michigan vs. Michigan State football game and the first game I ever went to at Spartan Stadium. It was a cultivation of all those moments that made me realize that getting to experience Michigan State and Michigan State sports firsthand like all the important people in my life, was an opportunity way too special to pass up.

Michigan State helped me fall back in love with sports and in a way healed the little resentful girl who quit her sport because she was changing and didn’t know how to handle it.

Through rediscovering my love for sports in East Lansing, I also found my passion.

For the past two years, I have been covering MSU athletics as a sports reporter for The State News. All those moments I got to watch on TV growing up were suddenly happening, with me right in the middle of it. I was covering Big Ten championships and milestone games for a plethora of different sports, but the most monumental for me was getting to go to March Madness to continue my coverage of men’s basketball this year.

We always knew growing up when MSU men’s basketball was playing because, no matter where you were in the house, you could always hear my mom screaming. My mom tried so hard to get my brother to play basketball when we were younger because she wanted him to grow up and play for Tom Izzo—I’m not sure he felt the same way, but it was a valiant effort regardless.

Traveling to those games and being in situations where I was covering the team was pinch-me moment after pinch-me moment, but the best part of the whole experience was that I got to share it with my best friend.

Elaina Causley and I did everything together when we were little. We went to the same schools, had the same hobbies and, now, we live together. We started competitive dancing together, but when I stopped, she kept going. She kept going all the way through college where she is now on the MSU dance team.

While I was covering games, she was dancing on the sidelines. My love of sports was always about who I got to share those experiences with, and at the end of my college career, that person got to be the closest thing I have to a sister.

“I got to have my best friend at every game with me,” Elaina said to me. “Do you know how special that is?”

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