ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A part-time job works for Mariah Watkins. The junior at Webster Schroeder High School bags vegetables and flowers at a nursery, earning her way alongside her younger sister, Brianna. Together they make spending money, as every teenager needs.
"I usually just buy my clothes, sweatshirts, my pants, shoes, you know?" Mariah said as she made change for a customer at Bauman's Farm Market and Greenhouses.
Balancing a job and school is no easy catch for any teen, let alone elite student-athletes like the Watkins sisters, who train relentlessly each day to hone their intellects and skills as basketball players.
Watch one of their 90-minute off-season training sessions in the family's garage and you understand. While Bria, a sophomore, lunges and squats with a barbell, her older sister balances on a half ball, while dribbling and catching tennis balls from the girls' trainer and father, Kali.
"We're used to it. It can be tough, but it's one of the things that helps us improve," said Brian.
Years of hard work in the gym, following in the footsteps of their older sister, Anya, are now starting to pay off in a new way.
Mid-season during Schroeder's championship run, Bria and Mariah's work ethic, commitment and excellence caught the eye of a local sports agent who recognized how the Watkins sisters could earn their way in a way no female interscholastic athlete had yet achieved: a name, image and likeness agreement with local merchants willing to promote their products through the Watkins sisters;' brand.
"I didn't even know it was possible, like I knew about NIL's," Mariah said. "But like for me personally, I never imagined actually getting one.
"It's a little bit of pressure, but I mean, I have a little brother who I know looks up to me too. So far, it's worked out well," Bria said.
Hyman helps other interscholastic and intercollegiate students maximize their opportunity to move on to the next level. He's glad to have the Watkins sisters setting the pace for teens. Hyman also scoffs at those who believe NIL's should not be extended to athletes at the high school level.
"These kids work in a free market capitalist society. They should be able to extract the value that they've worked to put in. And so, if you're saying that, then, you know, I think you're speaking against capitalism itself," said Hyman, who also believes the deals help local businesses connect to their communities.
The work of a NIL agreement for Mariah and Bria can be as simple as a visit to one of their partner businesses.
When they stopped at Nourished, a Webster smoothie cafe, they posed with their favorite beverages for pics they shared on their Instagram account. It's the routine they set with salons where they got their hair and nails done, and when they went to Chick-Fil-A for lunch.
"It teaches them the responsibility of what it means to be connected to an actual brand," Hyman said. "It makes them more cognizant of what they put out in terms of social media, raising their awareness to, you know, who they are in the marketplace."
"I was never really into social media before, so it's like all new to me," Mariah said.
"And just to see that accomplishment is really good," said the sisters' friend, Asia Wilson. "I love it."
"You have to be a role model for more than just this and not just yourself," said Bria.
Twenty-nine states in the U.S. allow interscholastic student-athletes to enter into NIL agreements, including Virginia and North Carolina, which just approved them this spring. Eight other states will consider them soon.
As far as paydays, most NIL agreements for high school teenagers do not reach the cash stage. Most big-ticket student athlete NILs are reserved for college athletes. Rare examples of high school big-cash agreements can be found in California. An LA high school hoops legend signed a seven-figure cash deal. A young woman in San Diego who also stars in basketball hit a six-figure NIL, but she was a social media influencer before receiving the NIL offer.
Mariah and Bria's parents believe their daughters' NIL will help them grow.
"The two girls are more about doing things in a business-type manner," said Kali Watkins. "If they're able to monetize it being themselves, they'd be happy to do it. But they're not going to step outside themselves and do something that they're not comfortable with."
For Bria and Mariah, their NIL is like the free throws they practice in their driveways. When they miss, they do push-ups. Another way to condition yourself to know what to do, and what not to do.
"You got to put all the work in in order to get this," Mariah said. "But being able to, like, get the benefits of it has been really amazing and fun for me and my sister to do together."