Schuylkill Valley junior follows footsteps of her aunt, one of Berks' greatest girls basketball players

Jason Guarente, Reading Eagle, Pa.
·4 min read

Feb. 22—Lekaiah Solomon wasn't old enough to witness her aunt dominating Berks girls basketball.

Schuylkill Valley's junior didn't see those 1,796 points, or the only county championship in school history, in person.

The achievements exist as memories now. Legends. Fortunately for Solomon, there's also video. Those tapes find their way onto a screen every once in a while.

"Sometimes if I need inspiration I go back and look at them," Solomon said. "I saw everything I wanted in a basketball player. I saw what I wanted to be in the future."

Solomon's aunt is Gladine St. Julien, a member of the Class of 2005 who has found a way to influence her old team from hundreds of miles away. Solomon has become a protégé.

St. Julien, a 6-foot power forward, played four seasons at Millersville, racking up another 1,021 points, before settling in Richmond, Va. She married Ryan Frasso, a boys standout at Schuylkill Valley, and works as an environmental health and safety engineer.

Basketball has connected St. Julien and Solomon since Solomon was little. St. Julien was at the hospital the day her niece was born. Solomon wears St. Julien's No. 22 as a tribute.

"Our bond is amazing," said St. Julien, who ranks 10th on Berks' all-time scoring list. "It was important for me to set a great example for her. When she and I are together we're basically sisters. My job as an aunt is to protect her and make sure she has the resources to go as far as she wants."

St. Julien will watch Schuylkill Valley games that are live streamed and reflexively yell at the screen. Rooting for Solomon to grab a rebound or make a certain play.

Solomon will check her phone after those games to see if there's any instruction or constructive criticism waiting. After Solomon was named a captain this season, the two had an hour-long conversation about leadership.

"It really helps me out to have someone in the same mindset as me," Solomon said. "Her approval of my game is a reassurance. Even if I made a mistake, I always have someone who saw the good that I did. That's an emotional support tool. She's that for me."

St. Julien runs a side business helping athletes become mentally strong. It focuses on building confidence and overcoming the fear of failure.

Solomon was a test case of sorts. All through her development as a person and player, her aunt has offered those lessons. It's often tough love.

"We joke around a lot but if I hear she has a homework assignment that isn't turned in, I'm texting her right away," St. Julien said. "What's going on? You need to make sure these are the things you take care of first. I try to teach her how to be responsible."

When St. Julien came home to Leesport, she'd take her niece to the park and work on moves. They've gone to camps. They Facetime to talk about basketball and life.

There have even been some one-on-one matchups.

"I never won," Solomon said. "Obviously. She doesn't ease up on me. She doesn't baby me. She plays her hardest. That's the only way I can get better. If I play that competition.

Solomon has a different set of skills than St. Julien. She's a slasher and shooter more than a post player. The forward is averaging 6.1 points per game and helped Schuylkill Valley win 10 of its last 12 games and earn a spot in the Berks playoffs.

When she was younger, Solomon was in awe of all the awards St. Julien collected during her playing days. Trophies. Plaques. Basketballs with 1,000 points or MVP written on them.

"It's like walking into a Hall of Fame but for one person," Solomon said.

St. Julien admires the young woman Solomon has become. The SV alum has a two-year-old daughter. One of her first thoughts when she was pregnant was hoping her daughter would end up like her niece.

"To me, she's the perfect child," St. Julien said. "Especially growing up. She had great manners. She's everything I would love in a daughter. I can't express how much I love her. Her attitude. Her drive. She's just an amazing kid. I brag about her as much as I can."

Solomon said she hopes to land a scholarship and play in college. She wants to eventually find a job in the medical field.

The junior has one more year to polish her skills and contribute to the program her aunt once elevated to its peak.

"That's a shoulder to lean on," Solomon said. "I'm not by myself. I have someone who's there, who's been in my position, who's done the same thing I'm doing."

Few in Berks ever did it better than St. Julien.