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Past articles:
  • Leslie Gball's Player of the Year

  • Hitting the last-second shot

  • Scholarships,
    Part I

  • Scholarships,
    Part II

  • Media Coverage of Girls' Sports

  • Carleton hoopsters visit Thailand

  • National Girls and Women in Sports Day

  • Improving Agility

  • Lisa Leslie wins Flo Hyman Award

  • March Madness

  • New Trier High School

  • Hoops & Heroes Awards

  • High School Champions

  • One Nation, One Flag, One People

  • Amateurism

  • Cross Court Options

  • Coaching Boys

  • WNBA 2001 Rookies


  • Poise vs. Boys

    By Shelly Wilson

    "My fourth grade friends liked to play hop-scotch, which I found very boring. Instead, I enjoyed bouncing my cousin's basketball and shooting it through any available basket. My mother wondered why.

    "'Basketball isn't for girls,' she said. 'It's just for boys.'

    "Mother dear, I love you very much, but you are so wrong. I didn't say that to her, but she would realize that soon enough."

    These are the words of Lois Fitzgerald. She's not a former collegiate superstar nor the coach of a premiere program. She's a mom and a teacher. But in her own small way, she and seven friends helped legitimize women as athletes, and girls' basketball in particular, by doing the unthinkable--beating the boys at their own game. And this is their story.

    The year was 1966. The location, West Milford, N.J. And Lois, (then Lois Pirog) was now in 8th grade. It had only been three years since the Equal Pay Act was passed, requiring that men and women be paid equal amounts for doing the same work. It would be six more years before Title IX would require that all public schools provide equal funding and resources for women's sports. And it would be another 15 years before the first woman would be appointed to the Supreme Court. In short, opportunities for women were very different than they are today.

    Meanwhile, sports highlights were filled with images of Peggy Fleming winning Olympic gold in figure skating and Wilt Chamberlain dominating in the NBA. New shows like Batman and The Monkees were tops with television viewers while the Beach Boys and Beatles topped the charts. Kids were playing with the latest fad, the Ouiji Board, and a new pair of sneakers cost only $5.00.

    In the four years since fourth grade, fortunes aligned, and despite the odds, Lois fell in with a crowd of other girls more interested in the drive, cross-over dribble, and shake-and-bake, than jump ropes, Barbies, tea parties, and other "girlie" trappings. In 1963, twin sisters Sheila and Kathy Rafferty (pictured above, with Lois on the left) moved to her neighborhood and became her classmates. With two brothers and a hoop in their driveway, the Rafferty girls played constantly, with Lois always joining them.

    The following year, two more sisters, Kathy and Mary Klink enrolled at their school. Also amateur hoopsters, their mom had actually sent them to basketball camp the previous year--very unusual for girls of that era. Then there was Eileen Reilly, Lois' good friend who modestly said she played "a little bit."

    "Eileen came to play with the Raffertys, Klinks, and me one day and 'Wow,' we thought. 'You've played more than just a little bit. In fact, you're better than any of us,'" recalls Lois. Apparently, that "little bit" of game with her numerous male cousins had paid off.

    The group brought two more girls into the fold, gave them a crash course in the game, and by the start of 7th grade, they had a team--a good team. They won four of their five matches against other grade schools. And by the beginning of their 8th grade year, they had 14 games scheduled.

    But then they faced their toughest obstacle--success. "Five games in, some of the teams didn't want to play us," says Lois. "We had won all of our games by at least 20 points and were told it was unfair to the other teams because we were much better than they were. [But we thought] it was actually unfair to us not to play the games we were promised. And even if those other teams couldn't beat us, they were still improving and should not have quit."

    But quit they did, leaving the St. Ann's squad long on talent but short on competitors. It was then that league champions, the St. Joseph's boys' team, stepped in to fill the gap.

    "We had seen some of the girls shoot in the gym and dribble, but we honestly never paid much attention to them," recalls Ed Littler, co-captain that season at St. Joe's. "We knew some of them were taller than us, but we weren't concerned. After all, they might have been good for being girls, but we were sure they couldn't play basketball on our level. We thought it would be good practice for us."

    "They had no regard for our ability as basketball players," adds Lois, "and had said so many times before the game."

    It was the first time anyone had heard of a girls' team playing a boys' team in grade school ball, and the girls were not only about to rise to the challenge. They were about to make local basketball history.

    The first quarter started sloppily, with the girls throwing passes out of bounds and dribbling off their feet. Nerves. Then Kathy Klink sank three shots (one for each of the three boys guarding her), and the ladies of St. Ann's hit their stride. By the end of the first quarter, St. Ann's had tied St. Joseph's 10-10.

    "They certainly showed they weren't apprehensive about playing against boys, and they had obviously played plenty of basketball," says Littler.

    After a quick pep talk by their coach, the girls were ready for the second quarter. Lois stunned one hopeful when she, to his astonishment, blocked his shot.

    "I just smiled as if to say, 'Yeah, girls can do that.'"

    But even though the boys assumed they'd win, and the fans watched wide-eyed to see if a girls' team could possibly pull off an upset, for the girls' of St. Ann's it wasn't about gender. For all four quarters it was about the game.

    "Back and forth it went, basket for basket," recalls Lois. "And I was really enjoying myself, thinking, 'This is a close game. This is really fun.'"

    The girls took their first lead in the second quarter, and as halftime neared, St. Ann's led St. Joseph's 21-18. Then Eileen got the ball.

    "As I and another guy guarded Eileen, we thought she would just bounce the ball until the clock ran out," says Littler. "She had other ideas. She faked to her right and my teammate lost his balance. So it was just me versus Eileen. I backed up a step before she dribbled toward me, to make sure she couldn't drive by me. That proved to be a major mistake. She had all the room she needed to make a move on me, pull up, and make a shot just as the half ended."

    The girls of St. Ann's left the court leading 23-18. "Most of us couldn't believe what we had just seen," says Littler. "But as it turned out, much to our misfortune, they were just getting warmed up. They scored the first eight points of the third quarter, and before we knew what hit us, they stole the ball twice. We just couldn't keep them from scoring."

    St. Ann's followed with rebound after rebound, lay-ups, defied steals, and a zone full-court press. The boys reeled in the presence of the taller, quicker, and more skilled girls' team. And in the third quarter, St. Ann's outscored St. Joseph's 14-5.

    In an attempt to save face, the boys rallied at the start of the fourth quarter and went on a six-point run. But the lady hoopsters soon answered with six straight of their own, regaining their lead and thrilling the crowd.

    "The crowd absolutely loved seeing a girls' team do quite a number on a hot-shot group of boys," remembers Littler.

    When the final second ticked off the game clock, the girls of St. Ann's had trounced the St. Joseph's boys' basketball league champions, 49-33. "In the four years I had played organized basketball, I had never been on a team that lost a game by 16 points," says Littler. "Now I was, and it was to a girls' team."

    With such a huge success under their belts and their athletic prowess established, St. Ann's tried hard to get more games with more boys teams. In fact, they asked at least a dozen, but no school would dare. One, St. Mark's took up the challenge, but only two days before the match, backed out.

    In the years to follow, these girls would not go on to become star athletes. In fact, they wouldn't even play in high school, because many high schools back then didn't sponsor girls' basketball teams. Instead, these seven women would go on to play informal club ball in college, instruct occasional basketball clinics, start families, and remember fondly the day when they changed some minds about what females, and female athletes in particular, are capable of--proving that girls have game, too.

    "All of these years later," says Lois, "I'm in touch with several of the guys we competed against that day. One of them in particular shares a smile with me about the game, knows I'll never let him forget it, and readily admits that losing to the girls of St. Ann's that night served him well in the long run. He said since then, he's never taken a woman for granted in athletics, business, or his personal life."

    A lesson you all continue to teach each day on the court.

    Shelly Wilson is an Assistant Editor at Gballmag.com




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