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Playing (And Beating) The Boys

Playing (And Beating) The Boys

Playing (And Beating) The Boys

Before there was Title IX, athlete Debbie Millbern Powers had to fight just for her right to play sports. In 'Meeting Her Match,' the author recounts her struggle from a kid athlete without a team, to successful college hoops coach.

I dove for the basketball as it was heading out of bounds. The stinging pain of gravel penetrated my elbow and knee causing me to grimace. My hand touched the rough leather-bound sphere just in time to flick it back onto the court. Still lying on the ground I felt a congratulatory slap on my back.

“Great save, Debbie,” Billy shouted, as he punched me.

Billy was eleven, a year older than me, and my best friend in our neighborhood. A grin spread across my face as I picked myself off the ground and wiped the sweat off my forehead with my grimy hands. I glanced down at the bright red blood dripping down my leg onto my white sock. Uh oh, I thought, Mom’ll be mad. She shouldn’t be too surprised, though, since my knees were constantly covered with scabs. She’ll probably just sigh and shake her head like she always does when she gathers my bloody, sweat-stained clothes for the laundry. My earliest memories as a young child were running and playing with balls. I loved to kick balls, throw balls, and catch balls. I was in constant motion, so by now Mom knew how rough I was on clothes.

With little hesitation I sprinted hard toward the basket with my hand raised to signal that I was open. Freckle-faced Paul bounced a pass to me behind my older brother Mike, and I laid the ball up against the backboard for an easy two points. Oh, how I loved to play basketball. I loved everything about it---the swishing sound as the ball sailed through the net, the clank of the rim when the ball hit it, the feel of the ball’s rough texture on my fingers, and the sensation of flying through the air when I shot. To me the game was both magical and beautiful. I exulted in the pure physicality of it. I even liked the sweat and blood. Both were badges of effort.

“Debbie, I’m open,” Billy shouted. I dribbled to my left and executed a quick cross-over dribble. Striding out to my right I threw a perfect overhead pass to Billy. He jumped to shoot. I rushed past my defender toward the basket in anticipation of a rebound. Billy’s shot bounced off the rim directly into my outstretched hands.

I put it up and in for an easy two points.

“Debbbieeee!”  My mom swung the front screen door open and appeared on the stoop, calling my name. Ignoring her, I crouched down to play defense.

“Debbie, come in and set the table for dinner,” she shouted. I acted like I didn’t hear her as I shuffled my feet while guarding Mike.

“Debbie!” I heard my name even louder, “I could use your help.”

The game stopped. “Aw, Mom, do I have to?” I pleaded, even though I knew what her answer would be.

Begging for equity I asked, “Doesn’t Mike have to come in, too?’

“No. He’s a boy and you’re a girl. You need to help me in the kitchen,” she answered.

Her words burned in my gut like a lightning bolt. “Because I’m a girl,” I mumbled under my breath. “What does that have to do with it?”

Saying nothing, all of the boys glanced at me and then stared nervously at the ground. Mike laughed as he held the basketball on his hip.

“It’s not fair,” I shouted as I grabbed the ball from Mike and slammed it to the ground.  

Mom retreated into the house and I followed slowly, wiping my sweaty face and newly-formed tears with my sleeve. I looked back at the boys as they fought each other for the ball and started playing again.

“No fair,” I whispered again to myself as I defiantly stomped toward the bathroom to wash my hands.

“Use plenty of soap and hang up the towel,” I heard Mom shout from the kitchen. I washed my hands and stared at my grimy face in the mirror.

“Boys are so lucky,” I said to my reflection. I wiped my face and bloody knee with a towel and threw it to the floor.


Excerpted with permission from Meeting Her Match by Debbie Millbern Powers.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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