Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It began as a game

We take our women's basketball pretty seriously here in Connecticut. One of the most successful franchises in the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association) is not only located in Uncasville, between New London and Norwich on Route 32, but it's owned by, and is the namesake of, the Mohegan Sun. But none of that would mean anything without the UConn Lady Huskies.

They have won seven national championships in fifteen seasons, have angered to the point of boycott one of the coaching institutions of the women's game, Pat Summitt, and may shortly after nine o'clock this evening have set a brand new longest consecutive win streak, at 89 games, in college basketball, men's or women's. Not everyone has focused on the singularity of that achievement but, rather, have decided to tear and compare the UConn Lady Huskies to John Wooden's UCLA Bruins.

People much smarter about basketball than I (the rim is still ten feet off the floor, right? That's my level of expertise) are all over the map on the accomplishment of the program from Storrs, Connecticut and whatever side folks are on is alright by me. As a dad of two kids who grew up in an America where 'goodness knows, anything goes' it was helpful to have an example of good people doing right things the right way about a fifty minute drive from the house. I've long admired the work ethic and the single-minded relentless pursuit of perfection with which everyone on the team carries themselves on the court.

We live in an era where there's a national broadcast schedule of high school football games every week--two years before the kid was playing Pop Warner and two years before that, Midget, and now he's Mr. Saturday night and he's fourteen and in two more years when he's getting into trouble and 'acting out' none of us will have any idea why. High school basketball has been on regional TV for years. All hail big time sports.

A study the NCAA released in 2009 (of research conducted from 1984 to 2002) of graduation rates of students playing sports tends to harden the cynicism of many about how much life-long learning is going on in the hallowed halls of higher education but all the indicators are women collegiate athletes graduate at a vastly higher rate than men.

I'm a graduate of a Big East school (barely, says my transcript) where basketball is taken very seriously, on both sides of the gender divide, and all of this has been fun to watch, never forgetting at this level that college sports is a money-making machine for the universities with the established programs.

I'm hopeful tonight the women of the University of Connecticut triumph and they can then have a moment to themselves (maybe escort everyone from the Hartford XL Center and lock the doors) to jump and shout, run up and down the bleachers in the arena, sing and dance and straighten their hair and check their wardrobes in the mirror (all of these teams have dress codes for travel and no one ever looks like a dumpster threw up. No one) and then unlock the doors and let everyone back in.

The streak, to whatever number it finally reaches, will end. Whether it is tonight, in a week or in a month, matters not. I would hope the knowledge that such an end awaits should in no way distract the young women and their coaches from enjoying their moment. The effort needed for such an accomplishment is what matters (and should be what is celebrated) and by the time tonight is over it's very possible we'll never again hear the pejorative 'plays like a girl,' and that will be best thing about the streak.
-bill kenny

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