Volume 76, Number 11 | August 2 - 8, 2006

Wendy Rubin of Greenwich Village conferring with a teammate at halftime during a women’s basketball game at the Sol Goldman Y.

Team sports are scoring big with women in the city

By Judith Stiles

These days in the sweltering heat, you might not find as many pickup basketball games as usual in the city parks, where the asphalt gets so hot it toasts the soles of even the best basketball shoes. Karleen Sage, a hardcore, city b-ball girl who plays 30 to 40 hours a week, prefers to move inside to the air-conditioned gym of the Sol Goldman Y on E. 14th St., where she comfortably burns up the court with her speed and slick moves.

Sage is part of the Y’s new Women’s Basketball League, and she and her team, the Sole Sistas, took first place, winning the championship last spring. This season, they picked up a few new players from their archrivals, the team known as Black, for their black shirts. On Wednesday, with their newly configured teams, they squared off in a 40-minute game (two 20-minute halves) as the Sole Sistas pulled out a win, beating the black shirts 43-41. The high scorer for the Sistas was Wendy Ward with 16 points, and captain Joy Rivera controlled the game with her outstanding play. Although Sage is 39 years old, she played a sprightly game and kept up with any 20-year-old on the court.

“The older ones have to be more competitive than the younger ones,” she whispered as she surveyed the other teams during halftime.

Sage began playing netball — which is similar to basketball and is also played on a hard court with scoring rings at both ends — in St. Kitts. However, in netball there is no backboard, there are seven on a side, the players can only move in zones and it is played with a goalkeeper.

When Sage moved to New York City, she fell in love with basketball, which she learned to play with mostly men at Tompkins Square Park. She found women to play with in the open basketball sessions every Thursday night at the former Dapolito Recreation Center at Clarkson St. and Seventh Ave. S.

“When 9/11 happened, I just never went back there to play,” said Sage, explaining that when the recreation center became an emergency center for a period after 9/11, the program temporarily stopped, and it just never felt the same again. Soon after that, she took her game to Basketball City and coed pickup games in various parks, and then, with her seven teammates on the Sole Sistas, she joined a women’s league that plays at the High School for Humanities, where they still have a Tuesday night game.

“Basketball keeps me mentally focused and in shape. It also releases all the stress that builds up from living in New York City,” she said, laughing as she bounced the ball on the sidelines.

Mike Meehan, director of basketball programs at the Sol Goldman Y, explained that the women’s league was formed out of necessity and demand. There had been a women’s league in Midtown at the YWCA at E. 53rd St., but it closed due to renovations in 2005. That stranded basketball aficionada Catherine Gill and all her friends on the Green Team, leaving them with no place to play. Gill had taken up basketball in 2003 with other women in their 30s who had simply signed up for a class for beginners to get a little exercise. After one course in basketball, they never looked back and formed a team that played in the YWCA league. Now in their new home at the Sol Goldman Y, the team — comprised of an accountant, medical student, real estate broker, auditor and physical therapist — look like they have been playing for years.

It is no accident that the women’s basketball program at the Sol Goldman Y has been so popular. With seven teams and growing, it is part of a larger city phenomenon where women are taking up team sports — some who played in high school and college, and many who never played at all. In the past five years, basketball, soccer, volleyball, softball, ice hockey, rugby, even flag football teams have sprung up in New York City, comprised of women in their 20s, 30s and older who have a yearning to play team sports.

Listen up all you ladies who are thinking of getting your nails done this week.

Nail salons may be trendy, but the latest and the greatest is the growing group of fearless women who play a wicked game of basketball in the Big Apple. The fairer sex can be found casually shooting hoops at lunchtime at the McBurney Y on W. 14th St., playing pickup games on Thursday nights at the Dapolito Rec. Center, on house teams at Basketball City and in the league at the High School for Humanities. Or check out the hot new league at the Sol Goldman Y. There are a few women in these games sporting long red fingernails, but they are such good ball handlers that they walk off the court with their nails intact, and that is something that cannot be learned in any old coed game.

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