Volume 75, Number 37 | February 1 - 7, 2006


Girls league scores with focus on team play and fun

By Judith Stiles

Pilar Muhammad in action at G.V. Youth Council Basketball League.
Eleven-year-old Madeline Fried of Greenwich Village has always adored the legendary book “Madeline” by Ludwig Bemelmans, in which Paris is the setting for the adventures of “twelve little girls in two straight lines.” Her parents loved the book too, and years ago when choosing this storybook name for their baby daughter, they had no idea that their Madeline would someday be rambunctiously high-fiving her basketball opponents, in a not-so-straight line, after a rowdy game of basketball.

In the Greenwich Village Youth Council’s Girls Basketball League, you will not find Miss Madeline Fried in any prim and proper straight line. Instead, every Saturday at P.S. 41 on W. 11th St., New York City Madeline can be found galloping up and down the basketball court, intensely dribbling the ball and skillfully playing the game.

When her father, Alan Fried, was a young Greenwich Village resident, girls barely played basketball, and if they did, it was in pleated gym skirts, with the three-dribble rule, in which three bounces were allowed, and then you had to pass the ball. That restrictive rule was thrown out in the late ’60s, and soon girls began to wear shorts in gym class. By 1994, pioneer Harry Malakoff founded the wildly popular G.V.Y.C. girls basketball program, just in time for Madeline and the girls of her generation.

How was the league born? Twelve years ago, when Malakoff’s own daughter Michelle was 10, he coached her all-girls basketball team at the then-Carmine Recreation Center in a co-ed division. The team lost every game but the girls did not want to add boys to the team because as they put it, “Boys on the other teams never passed to their girl teammates.”

What was a father to do? Malakoff invited the few stray girls on the other teams to join his brand-new all girls basketball league. With the help of John Pettinato of the youth council, he started the program with 40 players and the enrollment has almost tripled today. The players are grouped by age, and with a dedicated staff of mostly volunteer women coaches, the young girls are learning the basics of the game. “We are not here to produce high school and college players,” Malakoff says proudly. “We do not have standings, everyone gets the same trophy, and our games are about learning how to play basketball and having fun,” he adds.

When the younger girls division began their game of Team Chocolate Bar versus Nanci’s Knicks, both teams were peppered with experienced players and novices, as well as giants who already had their growth spurts, playing side by side with tiny 10-year-olds. This mix of players seemed to present no problems, as the league encourages a positive atmosphere, in which the veteran players mentor the newcomers, even on the court. They all played with vigor and great enthusiasm, never afraid of taking shots, even if some were air balls that completely missed the backboard. Lisa Redd, mother of Pilar Muhammad, remarked on the sidelines that she loved these games, and that she was “living a childhood she never had,” referring to the lack of similar programs when she was a youngster.

In the game’s first quarter, there was a fair amount of wobbly but earnest dribbling, a bit of traveling with the ball, and over 18 renegade shots that missed the net, leaving a score of 0-0 at the end of the quarter. It is not in keeping with the spirit of the league to single out players as stars on the court, but it is noteworthy that the experienced players were not ball hogs; rather, they passed the ball often to the newcomers.

One minute before the game ended, coach Ken Crowe of Nanci’s Knicks belted out with a smile, “Now is NOT the time to be shy about taking shots!” as the final score drifted up to 9-6 in favor of Team Chocolate Bar.

In just a few years, this rookie basketball group of 9-to-11-year-old girls will morph into the older girls division, where highly skilled games are played because the girls in this program are quick learners. The coaches give the players excellent training sessions every Friday night at the Children’s Aid Society to prepare them for the Saturday games. Besides witnessing some excellent basketball in the older girls division, the games are quite the fashion show of shoes, with snazzy red-and-white patent leather sneakers or the latest styles in black leather high-tops. Ponytails and fancy hair braiding abound on the court, and high socks are totally out, while anklets with pompoms are in.

Of course high fashion isn’t required in this league, and if your daughter is looking for some winter fun on the basketball court in 2007, sign up early for next year, before there is a waiting list. The year goes by quickly, but stop, don’t buy the spiffy sneaks and socks just yet. In the mercurial world of fashion, high socks may be all the rage next year, and pompoms may be kaput. And in spite of the fickle finger of fashion, you can bet that pleated skirts will continue to be a no-no, while lively games on the court will still rule with the girls of Greenwich Village.

For more information, e-mail: HSM380@hotmail.com.

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