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For the love of the game

Sunday, January 2, 2005

(Photo)
Terri Johnson guards a ballhandler in a YMCA Church League basketball game.
SIKESTON -- If it weren't for Traci Jackson and Terri Johnson, the senior high division of the basketball church league with the YMCA of Southeast Missouri technically wouldn't be co-ed.

But lucky for the 17-year-olds, being the only females in the league suits them just fine.

"It's interesting," admitted Jackson about playing basketball with the boys. "I don't treat it any different than if I was playing with a bunch girls."

And Johnson thinks playing with the guys is definitely different than playing with the girls.

"The attitudes are a lot of it. I think I was more aggressive when I played school ball," Johnson said. "I definitely see where they back off when guarding us and at practice, the guys will be a little more standoffish."

Feelings about the girls playing with the boys are mixed among the team and other players in the league, to say the least, Johnson said.

"A lot of our team is made up of our church youth group, and they know Traci and I aren't just really bad -- and some aren't as accepting," Johnson noted.

For example, sometimes those who are less accepting may not pass Johnson the ball as much during the game, which gets a little discouraging, she admitted.

"But it's my choice to come to church league basketball, and even if I don't get the ball all the time, I still enjoy being there," Johnson said.

Jackson on the other hand admitted sometimes there's a little resentment, but she doesn't think she's treated any differently by the players.

And teammate Tyler Wallace, for one, said he doesn't mind the girls playing at all. "They're just like the other players of the team. They've played with us for three or four years," Wallace said.

Even though Wallace said he knows the girls have faced a lot of discrimination, they're strong young women.

"They're pretty good players, and they stand their ground and hold their own. Besides nobody has any room to talk about how anyone else plays," Wallace said.

Although the girls have played basketball since their childhood, it wasn't until the ninth grade that the best friends decided to play for the First Baptist Church team in the church league.

"In the ninth grade I was worried with the really long practices for school ball, I wouldn't have time to keep up the grades," Johnson recalled. "My other friend told me about the league."

Johnson told Jackson about the league, and rather than give up the game they love, the two decided to play. Now there were "no three hour practices every day after school or multiple games during the week," Johnson said.

And with church league, the season lasts from December through February, and practice is only two days a week for about an hour and a half. There's only one game on Saturdays.

"Church league is more fun, but you still work hard," Jackson said. "And it's a little more relaxed."

Johnson noted one of the highlights over the past three years is when her friend packed one of the other team's major male players, she said.

Despite the advantages of playing in the church league, for whatever reason, there aren't many young women who play. It could be because they chose to play basketball in high school, but Jackson thinks maybe it's because some girls don't have the guts to play with the boys.

Either way, any female considering playing co-ed ball should just go for it, the girls said. "If the guys don't want you to play, then too bad," Johnson said. "Our church just hopes we can do this to reach out to other people, play ball and have fun."

So go ahead and play, Jackson encouraged. "It's about what you want to do," Jackson reassured. "If you love the game, then you need to play."