Volume 77 / Number 35 Jan. 30 - Feb. 05, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Ozier Muhammad

Isabella Samonetti, 8, got an autograph from Columbia University’s Christina Gordon at a clinic the college basketball players gave for Greenwich Village girls.

Columbia players score with skills-building clinic

By Judith Stiles

The players in the Greenwich Village Youth Council’s Girls Basketball League recently enjoyed a welcome change of pace. There were no scores, no standings and everyone came out a winner on an evening of shooting hoops with the stars of the Columbia University women’s basketball team. 

Even parents on the sidelines could take a breather from scrutinizing their daughters, as more than 40 local girls between ages 8 and 14 learned basic skills and a few tricky moves from women who had traveled a similar journey through youth basketball programs.

In the P.S. 41 gym, as parents relaxed and chatted about our changing world with a woman running for president, all agreed that girls’ sports in America had also come a long way, too, since the day of the three-dribble rule and girls playing basketball in skirts.

“My grandma comes and watches me play sometimes, and she still can’t get used to the fact that players are allowed to cross the midline,” said Judie Lomax, a sophomore and forward on the Columbia women’s team. 

Lomax volunteered to coach in this skill-building clinic because it was a chance to give something back to the community of girls basketball. And although there have been great changes in girls sports in the last several decades, she believes there is room for improvement. In her view, the standard for playing a healthy, aggressive game is different for men and women, and she would like to see that change.

Because Lomax, who is from Washington, D.C., grew up playing basketball with three older brothers, she is comfortable with playing a very aggressive game, while many young girls are not. At the clinic, it was an eye opener for the girls to see the college women play with such force, passion and intensity, even when they were just having a shooting contest.

Under the leadership of Harry Malakoff of the Greenwich Village Youth Council, the emphasis at the Girls Basketball League has been on development and skill-building in a fun environment. At the clinic and during games this underlying philosophy had a curious effect on the budding athletes. The girls played an uninhibited and unself-conscious game, in which balls sometimes rocketed willy-nilly, completely missing the backboard, when the very youngest tried to shoot again and again. They simply were not worried about making mistakes as they lined up to try out new techniques.

As the players practiced their new moves, they and their Columbia coaches were divided into six stations around the gym, including shooting, passing, rebounds, layups, defense and dribbling. Each station was run by two Columbia players dressed in practice T-shirts that said “Excellence” across the back. At the shooting station, Columbia’s Katrina Cragg from Jupiter, Fla., reminded the girls that every time they scored, it was “money in the bank!” Pretty soon this became the mantra of the clinic, as girls could be heard shouting the catchy phrase from every corner of the gym.

Assistant Coach Jenna Gambino, originally from Staten Island, organized this high-energy evening, bringing her own enthusiasm and love of basketball to the event.

“It is so important for young athletes to have someone to look up to,” said Gambino as she recounted her own experience of being mentored by her older cousin, Karen Erving, a star in 1991 at St. Francis College in Brooklyn.

At the end of the evening, when everyone was sweaty and cooling down, Sarah Maffucci, 9, blurted out, “Do we get a trophy?” The Columbia players laughed and shot back that there were no trophies, just bragging rights for having attended the clinic.

As the girls lined up to get autographed posters from the Columbia players, they enthusiastically compared notes on what they learned. Polly Carr, 13, said she had tweaked her layups at the shooting station, while her kid sister Cally noted, “The defensive station was the best because it taught me a better stance and how to slide better.”

Although the event was technically over, most of the players lingered as long as their parents allowed them, as if they were soaking up every last bit of girl power that had filled the gym. Finally when they headed out the door, everyone agreed the evening surpassed their expectations. And, yes, it was definitely money in the bank for the next game, and for that matter, any venture in life.

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