New league gives women shot at hoops

Basketball: Six female teams compete on the recreational level for the first time in at least 20 years in the county.

February 02, 2003|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The way the moms see it, the kids shouldn't get to have all the fun. So last fall, after years of carting kids to sports practices and games, striking up sideline friendships and even volunteering as coaches, a bunch of moms from Glenwood formed a basketball team.

"We just want to have a good time and get some exercise," said Clare Zimmerman, 47, leader of the Hot Flashes, a name chosen because its players are all over 40.

The Flashes are competing in a newly formed, six-team league that gives women a chance to play basketball at the recreation level in Howard County. It is the first women's league in the county in at least 20 years. Games are played Thursday nights at Ellicott Mills and Oakland Mills middle schools.

The Flashes lost their first game, 68-8. But Zimmerman, who learned her way around a basketball court early, having grown up with four older brothers and playing the sport in high school, was not discouraged.

"I haven't been involved in basketball in years," she said. Some of her teammates have never played organized sports.

By contrast, Highland's Hilary Hershey, 39, is player-coach for a team called After U, so named because its players all played in college - three at the NCAA Division I level. Hershey, who is 5 feet 11 inches tall, was a center/power forward at American University in Washington.

Hershey coaches a sixth-grade team at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School in Ilchester. She got back to playing by dropping in at an open-gym night the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks offers for women Tuesdays at Fulton Elementary School.

"The level of play is pretty high," Hershey said of the 14 or 15 regulars there.

`More competitive'

Hershey was pleased when the department put together the more formal league, even though it has affected attendance at the open gym.

"I like the fact that it's a little more competitive," she said, "and it's nice, having refs. You do the open gym, and you fall into bad habits. Granted, [the league] is not Division I in college, but it's a little more structured, more like a real game. The people on our team are really enjoying it - it's nice to be competitive, but not ridiculously so.

"If you have a bad night, you can laugh it off. Your scholarship isn't riding on your performance anymore."

After U won its first two games. But Hershey worries that, although some teams her squad will play lack her team's experience, they have youth on their side. Players on her team are all over 30 - most in their late 30s and early 40s.

A team that After U beat is called S.O.L., which, said leader Char Sample, 42, of Ellicott City, stands not for the acronym's more colorful, common meaning but for "Slow Old Ladies." "We lost both of our games [as the season began]," Sample said. "Actually, we got crushed."

Indeed. The scores were 37-11 and 55-15.

A new game

But most of S.O.L.'s players have never played basketball, either, having switched to the sport when they couldn't find a place to play indoor soccer this winter. All are mothers who began playing soccer together after meeting at their kids' games.

"Five minutes before the [first] game, the coach [a player's husband] had to explain to us what a zone defense was," said Sample, who at 5 feet 10 inches tall is the center.

She is undeterred by the learning curve that isn't helped by not having gym time to practice, explaining: "We're in it for the long haul. ... We felt we improved."

Eventually, Sample said, she hopes the league will grow enough to split into divisions so teams can be more competitively grouped by age and skill.

Mark Pendleton, a recreation sports supervisor for the Department of Recreation and Parks who oversees multiple skill-level men's leagues in basketball, said attempts have been made for several years to get a women's league started.

One thing that helped was advertising the cost as either $440 for a team, or $45 for an individual. Two teams are composed of those individual registrants; the other four registered as teams.

Zimmerman said that as word has gotten out, she has received calls asking if she needs another player. Teams typically have 12 players, and everyone plays.

Meanwhile, the moms say they are finally having as much fun as their kids are.`That's really why we do it," Sample said, "more for fitness and camaraderie. We know none of us is going to excel at basketball."

The older women understand that what they lack in youth, they make up for in other ways.

"We have the added advantage of going out for a drink afterward," Sample said.

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