Boys, girls on equal footing at New Town

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

October 09, 2006|By MILTON KENT

Brittany Alexander stood near midfield Wednesday on the New Town soccer pitch and barked orders to her teammates in just the way you would expect a veteran to do.

"Go deep! Go deep! Go in toward the net!" screamed Alexander, a senior defender.

Meanwhile, a few yards downfield in the attack zone, Alexander's teammate, junior midfielder Katrina Smith, was doing her best to find a seam near the net or at least to keep up offensive pressure in the Titans' match against Randallstown.

The thing is, though Smith and Alexander are soccer players, they are also girls playing among boys and holding down spots in the New Town starting lineup. And their coach, Adam Carney, said they aren't there just for novelty or because they have to be there. They truly belong.

"A lot of the girls are better than the guys. You'd be surprised," Carney said.

Alexander, in her third year of playing high school soccer with boys, isn't fazed by having to mix it up with opponents who figure her for a pushover.

"I'd rather play with boys," Alexander said. "I'm not afraid to get down and get dirty. I'm not afraid to push and get shoved back. I'm kind of a rough player. Even in practice, I don't back down. I'm not afraid to go out and attack the ball or pass the ball, and they're not afraid to pass the ball to me. They know I'm a good player and I'll pass the ball back to them."

Smith, meanwhile, who at 5 feet is considerably shorter and more slight physically than Alexander, acknowledges that playing against boys is "a little weird at first."

"They [boys] are so much bigger than I am and they're a little more aggressive," Smith said. "But I've also played girls that are really aggressive. I figure they've already come up with something. I mean, it's a boys thing, like, [lowering her voice], `Oh, a girl's got the ball. Let's just rush her.' But, I guess if I was a boy, I'd do the same thing. But, then, see, we've got kind of an advantage. If we know how to handle the ball, then they're not going to expect it."

In all, the New Town boys soccer team has seven girls (the other five are reserves), banded together by twin forces. The first is that the school doesn't have a girls soccer coach. The second is a Title IX mandate that at schools that accept federal funding where only one sports team is offered, girls must be offered a chance to compete with boys.

Ron Belinko, Baltimore County's athletics coordinator, said Milford Mill, which also doesn't have a girls soccer team, has a girl playing on the boys soccer team. In both cases, Belinko said, the culprit is not a lack of interest on the part of girls, but rather a shortage of coaches.

"I'd love to see them have a girls team," Belinko said. "Ideally, we have mechanisms in place for both schools to have girls soccer. If you have a coach, they will come out."

To punctuate his point, Belinko said he has seen significant interest in soccer along the Liberty Road corridor area, a largely African-American enclave in the western part of the county that feeds schools such as Milford Mill, New Town, Randallstown and Woodlawn, schools that have had difficulty fielding soccer teams in recent years.

For Carney, 25, a native of upstate New York in his first year of coaching, his challenge is doubled. He must blend not only boys and girls, but also the experienced and inexperienced, as a number of players on the roster are playing organized soccer for the first time at any level.

Hence, the New Town practices are as much about teaching as strategy. Just last week, almost halfway through the season, Carney had to remind one of his defenders - a boy - that chasing the ball across the field was not an effective way to play the game. During Wednesday's game, New Town's goalie wore one glove and a campaign T-shirt as his game garb.

"You don't really notice a talent drop-off too much as far as gender," Carney said. "It's more along the lines of who has played before and who hasn't played before."

Said Smith: "A lot of these people have never played soccer before, so they're not exactly 100 percent sure of what they're supposed to do. It is a little [frustrating] for me. Like, when I'm sitting on the side, and I'm like, `I know what position you're playing and you should be here.' It's frustrating. But [in a 3-2 loss to Carver on Sept. 30], I saw that we really improved, so at least we're doing better."

And there is talent to work with. Andrew McFarland, a midfielder, has been brilliant this season. McFarland, a senior and native of Jamaica, scored both goals in New Town's 2-1 win over Randallstown, their first victory of the season in five games.

"They're a bunch of kids who didn't know each other and they come from all walks of life and from all kinds of experience levels with the game," Carney said. "In a movie, they usually end up winning. Hopefully, we'll get there. Hopefully, we can make some kind of happy ending here."

Smith said she hopes there will be a girls team next year at New Town, and Carney said if there is, he expects it will be a good one because the core of the roster will have had valuable experience playing against boys.

For Alexander, meanwhile, there might be a chance to play against other young women in college. Until then, the boys on the opposition had better be prepared if they pass through the area in front of the New Town net.

"Basically, they [opponents] come up to me when I'm on defense and they're on offense, and they're like, `Oh, what's this little girl going to do?' " Alexander said. "And I knock them down. That's all there is to it. I'm a rough player. I knock them down. I'm one of the boys, basically."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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