Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Basketball Diaries

If I had to boil my personality down to a single word, I think I'd have to go with stubborn, a trait that I both love and hate. Stubbornness is fantastic for getting things done, for hanging in there, for picking yourself up and going back out into the mean, scary world. But the dark side of stubborn means never being able to let go. Stubbornness makes you dig your fox hole deep and settle in for the long fight, which is not the easiest way to live sometimes. The worst thing about stubbornness is that it makes you too stupid to walk away from a lost cause.

I always try to be rather circumspect about what I put up on my blog, since I understand that A.) things live forever on the Internet and B.) anyone could read it at any time. So I'm not going into details about the current issues that have me musing on stubbornness and lost causes, and really, the details aren't all that interesting anyway. (And rest assured, this has nothing to do with the important aspects of my life, like Peter or my family.) Instead, a story from the high school files...

I went to a mid-sized (240 in my graduating class) private, Catholic high school. It was a bit of an odd place because it had been all boys up until the early 80s. Some of the male teachers were a little bitter about the change and it seemed like bias toward boys was built into the system. By the time I started school in the mid-80s, it was fully 'integrated' but a lingering sexism prevailed.

I've never met a brick wall that I didn't want to bang my head against, so I found all sorts of inequalities to rail against in this environment. My sophomore year, I decided to make a point about intramural sports, which though theoretically open to all were, as a practical matter, limited to boys. (I'm not talking about the basic school teams that go play against other school's teams, I'm talking about within-the-school, just-for-fun leagues.) No girls ever signed up for intramurals because of an unspoken understanding that it was just for boys.

So I signed up for intramural basketball. I'm five feet tall and basketball's never been my best sport, but that's what was available. Predictably, I was the only girl to sign up and my friends thought I was crazy. But there was a point to be made and I was just the girl to do it. Enough sophomores signed up to field several teams, maybe 5 or 6, I don't remember the specifics. I just remember that it was 5 to a team and we played half-court games, sideways across the gym, with two games going at a time. And one unlucky team was lumped with the stupid girl.

The day came for the first game and I was nervous but determined, getting dressed in the girls' locker room all by myself. The biology teacher was the referee and he gathered my team and our opponents around him and had a coin toss to see which team would get to call shirts or skins and pick the direction to start play. My team won the toss and the captain, smiling gleefully because he would have his revenge for getting stuck with the girl, said we'd play skins.

Much sophomoric snorting and guffawing commenced as I stood there dumbfounded and truly appreciating the situation I'd created for myself. The biology teacher silenced the boys with a few flaps of his arms. "You don't have to take your shirt off, everyone can remember which team you're with." And so began my inglorious intramural basketball career.

I was okay at defense and sometimes even managed to wrestle the ball away. I could move the ball with some fluidity, but would pass as soon as practical, because I knew shooting was my weakness. I was credited with one basket during the 'season.' That was only because an opponent messed up after half-time and dunked in the wrong basket, which the biology teacher credited to me out of pity. My teammates rarely passed to me and pretty much never spoke to me.

This wasn't an after-school special in which the boys come to the realisation that the girl is a person too and deserves to play. It was pretty much an hour of misery after school every Friday for several weeks. It even created some residual grief and misery that spilled out over the rest of the week, like the way a certain table of boys bellowed 'Larry' (as in Larry Bird) at me when I had the misfortune of passing them in the cafeteria. But I did not quit and, in fact, I don't think quitting was ever in my mind as an option. When the season was done, my point was made and I did not sign up for intramural basketball again.

When I told Peter this story and tried to think out loud about why I didn't just quit (since it only occurred to me 20 years later that it would have been the smart thing to do), he said 'It's because you love to be miserable.' I've thought about that a lot recently and I've come to the conclusion that I do not actually love to be miserable. But I cannot figure out a way not to be stubborn (and I honestly don't know if I'd want to change that about myself even if I could) and sometimes, stubbornness begets misery.


At 25 February 2009 at 07:09, Anonymous Primal Sneeze said...

Well, if you'd taken off your shirt you'd have been passed the ball and they'd all have been talking to you ;)

At 25 February 2009 at 07:59, Blogger Babaloo said...

I think you're right about stubbornness, it's a double-edged sword. Or whatever that phrase is.

Don't go and change, though, just relax a bit. That would be my suggestion. :)

(Oh, and Primal Sneeze's comment really cracked me up!)

At 25 February 2009 at 15:09, Blogger The Finely Tuned Woman said...

Being stubborn is also related to being patient and if you are, then you have a lot going for you, because you can out wait anyone and get things done when other people give up. That what I say and I'm sticking to it.

At 25 February 2009 at 17:36, Blogger Kaycie said...

As they say around these parts, I'm stubborn as a mule. I completely understand your foray into intramural high school sports. For me, it was advanced math. I was the only girl in my high school who took the one advanced math class as a senior. I was college bound, and I believed I needed the math. I insisted on enrolling even when the counselor tried to discourage me. On that first day, looking at all the boys and the coach who'd teach us, I wondered what I'd gotten myself into. Early in the second semester, I was out of class before a pep assembly and the boys got a lecture from the coach because I had the highest grade in the class. He told them he didn't want to shame them by presenting the advanced math award to a girl at the year-end awards assembly. Of course, some of the boys told me, and I worked harder than ever. The worst part to me: that coach was the girls' basketball coach.

Wouldn't it have been priceless if you'd worn a sports bra under your t-shirt and promptly pulled it off when you heard the word "skins"? That would have left that smart assed boy speechless.

At 1 March 2009 at 18:36, Blogger Career Guy said...

No fair! Kaycie took my comment! Brandi Chastain would have nothing on you.

At 9 March 2009 at 11:43, Blogger wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

You didn't quit because you're not a quitter. And I always thought that was a positive attribute. You signed up to make a point. You suffered for that point. Did it change anything? Did any other girls sign up for intramural sports? Did the school change its attitude at all as a result of your efforts? I'd like to think you made a difference in some way. Maybe not that year or for yourself but for some other girl in the future.

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