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AROUND THE VALLEY

Kids Dish It Out as Moms Dribble

September 16, 1996|SANDY BANKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is 100 degrees in the shade at Chatsworth High School, and inside the tiny, un-air-conditioned practice gym, a dozen middle-age women are thundering down the basketball court, soaked with sweat and grim-faced with determination.

Suddenly, a pair of small children dart onto the court and grab a passing player's legs, foiling her bounce pass. Downcourt, two players collide, sending a pair of eyeglasses flying.

Coach Mike Tacsik, straining to be heard over a toddler squalling from the sidelines, is yelling: "Use the backboard, ladies. Please."

But these are no ladies. These are the women warriors of the MBL--the Moms' Basketball League from Mason Recreation Center park.

Our games may not be exactly what you're used to seeing at the Forum--we're sort of a cross between the PTA and Roller Derby. But we've come a long way in our premiere season, on the court and deep inside.

It began with an impromptu mother-daughter basketball game last spring, pitting the 9- and 10-year-old girls on a Mason park team against their mostly out-of-shape mothers.

With the advantage of height--and the ability to ground our daughters for life if they made us look bad--the moms won big, and before we'd even stopped high-fiving, we were begging their coach for another chance to play.

More than two dozen women turned out for our first Sunday-afternoon practices, which began a few weeks later, where we'd spend an hour shooting, dribbling and passing drills, then break into two teams for what our coaches generously called a scrimmage.

For our coaches, it was back to basics--way back: "This is the key. When you're on offense, you can't stand inside these lines for more than three seconds. . . . Offense? That's when your team has the ball and is trying to score."

There were a few mothers who had coached sons' or daughters' teams, and some who had played a little high school or college ball. But for most of us, our basketball experience was limited to cheering our children on, shooting driveway hoops with them or taking in an occasional Laker game.

Like many of my teammates, I'm a little too old to have reaped the benefits of Title IX, the oft-maligned federal regulation that requires schools to spend equally on females' and males' teams. While I was growing up in Ohio in the 1960s, girls basketball, softball or soccer teams were rare. If you were athletically inclined as a girl, you begged the boys to let you join their games. As a teenager, you settled for a cheerleader's skirt.

It took the moms only a few weeks to realize what we'd been missing.

We started out gingerly, carefully. We were so polite we almost fell over each other trying to apologize when a player inadvertently got bumped or knocked to the floor.

"Oh, my fault."

"No, mine."

"No, I was in the way. I'm sorry."

No more.

Now, when somebody falls, we leap over the body and make for a fast break. Almost every game, somebody gets hurt. The worst injury was a broken wrist.

Where we used to spend valuable minutes at the start of each game removing earrings and bracelets and diamond rings, we now spend that time wrapping our ankles and strapping on kneepads.

We've stopped worrying about broken fingernails, and worry instead about broken fingers. And we know now that the jerseys and shorts we wear for our games are not "outfits" or "costumes," but uniforms.

Outside the gym, you'd never mistake us for jocks. Many of us are carrying a few extra pounds and we don't get our exercise in the gym. Our barbells take the form of grocery bags, laundry baskets and sleepy children.

And we reflect modern motherhood in all its diversity.

Sharon Gaffney comes in from the East Valley, bringing her husband and two young sons. A veteran of a Sun Valley coed league, she can drive the lane and hit baskets that leave us stunned. And almost as much fun as seeing her play is watching her husband's face flush with pride when her fadeaway jumper swishes through the net.

Alicia Elias grew up in Peru, playing on club teams, where she honed a deadly three-point shot. And Kit Curry played as a teenager in Sri Lanka, where at 5-foot-3 she was the tallest on her team.

Preschool teacher Doreen Miller had never set foot on a court before, but now spends her free time studying the playbook she carries in her purse.

And Karen Amstutz spent her 45th birthday on the court last Sunday, wearing the gifts she got from her family: basketball shorts and her first sports bra.

We're still part-novelty, part-comedy routine for many of the park's regulars on Sunday afternoons. But we play full court, four 12-minute quarters, and make only one concession to gender and age: No back-court pressure is allowed until the final two minutes of each quarter.

A handful of husbands and children watch from the sidelines--including our daughters--who sound like we do at their games.

"Mom! Bend your knees when you shoot!"

"You call that a block? Get in front of her!"

"Hustle, Mom! Get down the court!"

Ever so rarely, comes praise. "Good shot. Way to go, Mommy."

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