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SHE'S JUST ONE OF THE BOYS : A Young New Zealander With a Sweet Jump Shot Takes a Place in CIF History

February 17, 1987|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

LEE VINING, Calif. — It's easy to miss as you roll through this little pumice-mining town in the Sierra Nevada mountains on the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park, but there is a high school here.

Dwarfed by the high rise of a snow-covered, pine-dotted mountain on one side and the magnificent expanse of blue water that is Mono Lake on the other, sits a modest, yellow building that blends, inconspicuously, with the grocery store, the restaurant, the trailer park, the cluster of motels, the string of gas stations and the dozens of homes on the banks of Highway 395 that make up the town staked out by prospectors Leroy and Dick Vining in 1852.

On a second pass, you might notice that Lee Vining School (just 41 of the 63 students are high school students) prides itself in at least a couple of its sports teams. The field beside the school is buried under snow, but there are goal posts standing along with one blocking sled and two sets of bleachers that would seat, oh, 60 people on each side if those people huddled together against the chill.

But this is basketball season. Better known in these parts as ski season. Last Saturday, Lee Vining played its last basketball game of the season on a gorgeous, sunny but cool, afternoon. The game was postponed from Friday night because of a snowfall that made for ideal ski conditions.

One of Lee Vining's nine basketball players skipped the game to go skiing.

"At least he's not a starter, but you see what we're up against," Coach Mark Chaplin said with a shrug.

Now, you can see how Lee Vining High School came to have the distinction of being the only school in the California Interscholastic Federation with a girl on its boys basketball team. And that girl, Jackie Chesley, is a starter.

Burt Umstead, athletic director of Lee Vining High School, saw a 5-foot 7-inch person with a good attitude and good grades happily swishing 15-foot jump shots in the gym one day, and that was good enough for him.

Chesley, one of the school's two foreign exchange students, explained to him that she had learned to shoot like that while playing netball at a girls boarding school in New Zealand. Umstead explained to her that under CIF rules, because Lee Vining had no girls' basketball team, she would certainly be made welcome on the boys basketball team.

Then he explained it to the coach who, according to this evolving legend, cringed.

OK, he admits that he wasn't real hot on the idea when he first heard it, but that was before he saw her shoot. "I really didn't have to be talked into it once I saw those 15-footers hitting nothing but net," Chaplin said.

Chesley shoots him a teasing glare and counters: "He was appalled! Appalled!"

As she claps a hand over her mouth and blushes, seemingly appalled at her own brashness, her coach, her athletic director and her team captain/boyfriend, Tom Kashirsky, all poke fun at the way she says "appalled." It's a New Zealand version of an English accent and it amuses them. They jump to the way she says "Paul" as in Paul Holton, the team's very capable 6-2 center.

She tries to fend off the friendly banter, but she's outnumbered and by now she's hiding her face in her hands.

Not that Jackie Chesley is shy. Actually, all things considered, she's quite adventurous.

She grew up in Tokomaru Bay, a small community on the east coast of the north island of New Zealand, an area rich in the Maori tradition. She didn't learn to speak English until she was 4.

After three years in a girls' boarding school, she ventured all around the world for her senior year in high school, knowing only that she'd be in California. She'd live with people she had never met in a town she had never even heard of.

And then to be the first girl in the state to play for a boys basketball team? Facing fans and newspaper reporters? She certainly never intended to do anything like that.

But she figures it all fits in with the spirit of the exchange program. This is about new and different experiences. She's not supposed to be careful or carry a low profile.

One of the requirements before she was chosen for the program was a proficiency in public speaking. She has presented, for the Lee Vining community, a slide show and lecture about New Zealand, complete with a demonstration of Maori dance.

She is also a confident young woman who makes almost all A's and is taking a college physics course by correspondence from Cal because she'd like to be accepted to the Royal New Zealand Air Force to study electrical engineering.

Very ambitious.

So why is she hiding her face during a casual interview at a restaurant on the day before the game?

As Debby Parker, her foster mother for this year explains: "Jackie has adjusted to an awful lot of things, but I don't think she'll ever be really comfortable with the casual way we have around here. She just can't get used to teen-agers calling adults by their first names.

"She is used to everyone being much more formal and proper. She takes a pretty serious approach."

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