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July 10, 2012

When I began playing basketball eight years ago, I was 10 years old. I started as I might have started any other sport and enjoyed it about as much. I took dancing and swimming lessons; I liked to roller blade and I had ice-skated, too.

As the years passed, basketball slowly became bigger for me.

Then, one year, I had a coach in Spain, where I live, who got the blood into me. None of this nice-nice blandness. We were here to play basketball. We were here to fight. I was going to be tough and do things well because I could. We were going to run because we could. And I became more and more attached to the sheer feeling of playing.

Boom. Boom.
Up and down the ball goes.
Boom. Boom.
The speed. The swiftness. The quick moves, the shoves, the pushes, the elegant swish of a basket.
Boom. Boom.
The basketball pounding and my heart pounding in my chest.
Boom. Boom.
The fast dribble of the opponent as I keep myself light on my feet.
Boom. Boom.
The rush of adrenaline, the endorphins keeping me going. And going. And going.
Keeping the rush up, never failing to making me feel Alive.

Basketball has become something I depend on -- the feeling of picking up a ball and measuring its firmness between my hands. Sure, Im not WNBA bound, and Ill spend a large chunk of summer without playing and live through it fine. But I also know that come September, Ill be itching for that feeling, that rush of energy, that swiftness and the sweat and the griminess it brings.

Not all girls and young women get support from their family, their community or get lucky enough to get the feel for playing a sport and have the drive to keep playing. The older Ive gotten, the fewer teams there have been -- to the point that its hard to get people to replace those who drop out.

Many ex-teammates on previous teams have stopped playing basketball. Some of them say they dont have time with the increase in schoolwork and studying. Some of them dont feel like committing. Others feel out of place and sign up at gyms or for pilates classes. Im sure some feel like it isnt feminine enough, but that feeling is never voiced. Unfortunately, it persists in society today, but since its not supposed to be present, its not whats said.

And it doesnt only happen with basketball. Living in Spain, where soccer is the predominant sport, Ive seen a similar discrediting of womens soccer. I have a friend who is quite plainly a soccer nut, and got onto the junior team whose adult womens soccer team is one of the best in all of Spain.

However good a womens team is, it wont get nearly as much funding, publicity or sponsors. The mens team playing on a lower level is fully equipped and never has any problems getting its complete uniforms and other needs met, while the womens team is always in the shadows.

Unless youre a dancer or a gymnast, traditionally more ladylike, therere very few options. In our society, womens sports are still undermined, considered unfeminine and left to the side.

Still, I am not going to stop playing. I will keep fighting for that ball, that rebound. Its not that I want to keep making that net swish elegantly; its that I dont feel I can stop. And why should I want to, anyway

Sports are a healthy activity. Sports offer exercise and discipline, and are enjoyable when taken the right way. Sports can teach us values, and team sports forge friendships and teamwork. And hey, playing is fun.

The boom. The dribble. The swish. The rush. The speed. The movement. The block. The action. Part of one game, part of my life. I hope the feeling of the game spreads in the future. I hope the differences are left behind. Girls need to start, not quit.

(Image: Amador Valley Varsity Girls' Basketball team plays against rival team Foothill High School.  Photo: John Kay, Wikimedia Commons)