Girls carry the ball in a way of their own


WOMEN'S basketball superstar Sheryl Swoopes, cornerstone of a new professional women's league, will be on maternity leave for her league's first season -- a problem NBA commissioner David Stern will never face, Dennis Rodman notwithstanding.

And I figure Swoopes, who will soon look as though she is wearing a basketball under her shirt instead of making magic with one, will be anxious to keep her hand in the game, so I have invited her to conduct a series of clinics for the players in my daughter's league -- the Daddy's Little Princess Basketball League.

Swoopes electrified the basketball world with a 47-point performance -- best-ever for a man or woman -- in leading her Texas Tech teammates to the 1993 NCAA women's title. She then cut a 52-0 swath through collegiate and international competition on the way to an Olympic gold medal in Atlanta this summer.

Nike has named a shoe after her -- Air Swoopes -- and she faced Michael Jordan one-on-one, after which he said she played pretty well for a girl.

She is just the role model we need for the girls in the Apple-Cheeks-and-Flying- Ponytail division of the DLPBL, where the socks that peek out of the $60 high-top basketball shoes are trimmed with eyelet lace.

The girls in the Little Princess League are 9 and 10 years old and coached by their fathers, who have turned the notion of "Little League dad" on its head. For most of the girls, this is the first experience with organized basketball, and the only requirement was that their hair bobs match their uniforms.

And while we have a couple of Bobby Knights in this league, most of the fathers on the sidelines appear to be graduates of the Fred Rogers School of Coaching. They pepper their daughters with shouts of "Let's make sure our shoes are tied" and "Hands up. Let's be trees, not mushrooms" and "Let's pretend the basketball is a hot potato" until the mothers in the bleachers bury their heads in their hands.

Hormones rage through the gym during these Saturday morning games, but it is not testosterone, and the coaching fathers are without a time-out strategy when one of their little baby dolls bursts into tears instead of getting back on defense. A broken heart is not the same as a twisted ankle.

But the girls are not without gumption, and Joanna, point guard on my daughter's team, has steadfastly refused to take my husband's suggestion that she look for an open person before she passes the basketball. Joanna determinedly answers that it would not be fair to pass only to the girls who are open. "I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings," she says.

The notion of fouls is also lost on the little sweet potatoes in the Princess League. Instead of raising a hand and turning their backs to the ref so the scorer's table can record their jersey number, the girls cover their mouths with their hands, turn bright red and start apologizing to anyone who will listen.

And the coaches are clearly unable to manage players who don't like to score because then everyone will be looking at them or who raise their hands with a question during a fast break.

None of this is what we mothers had in mind when we signed our daughters up for basketball and insisted that our husbands coach so they could bond with their daughters in a meaningful way. Any introduction to the rough-and-tumble world of sports is necessarily neutralized when you wait on your daddy's knee before going in as a sub.

And there is a noticeable lack of discipline on the bench, where the girls are arranging play dates instead of watching the game unfold.

But the father-coaches sacrificed their credibility when they made such poor decisions in the area of uniform color. When last year's orange was followed by this season's bright yellow, my daughter and her teammates rebelled, refusing to be seen in public until one of the girls found matching socks and scrunchies at The Gap.

To counteract this hugs-and-kisses coaching philosophy, I sent my daughter and her friend and teammate Emily to basketball camp last summer. It was an all-girls camp, taught by women collegiate players, but I have to say the results were mixed. Jessie and Emily learned to box out under the basket for rebounds and to French braid each other's hair.

I must admit I have seen some improvement this season because Emily and Jessie can now throw an elbow into their brothers' stomachs and no longer think it is impolite to steal the ball from an opponent. However, their bottom lips still quiver when the ball is stolen from them.

It is clear that the Daddy's Little Princess Basketball League has a long way to go to prepare these girls to bring the ball up the court in life, metaphorically speaking.

My women friends and I would handle this task, but we are very busy just now with the Momma's Boy Soccer League.

We can't do everything.

Pub Date: 2/02/97

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