Just want to play ball!

by Stephanie Erickess-Caluya

It's 1969, I'm a skinny, long-legged 13-year-old white girl in a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here the John Birch Society is s vocal and thriving "community-based" organization, active at our schools as well as in our local police force. I was a freshman at a high school recently integrated through a federally mandated busing program. At that time race riots surfaced weekly, children punched children, and cops beat my dark-skinned neighbors. Barbara, my mother, helped organize "Black and White Mothers Against Racism", made presentations at City Council meetings condemning the distribution of John Birch society literature, and taught her children daily that the only laws we should obey are the just ones. This was 1969. Dr King Jr had been murdered in the prior year, the U.S. had launched a full-scale war against Vietnam, and I discovered the basketball.

My 8th grade gym teacher told us we could only bounce the ball three times before we must pass it off, and forbade all but certain players to shoot. In class, the ball burned in my hands as I rolled it over and over, adoring the patterns of the seams, hugging it to my chest as I passed, and only allowing it to leave me in order to sweep graciously into its soul mate, the basket. My father warned that too much sports for a girl would lead to homosexuality. My mother told me it was my choice whether or not to wear a bra, no damage done one way or the other. "How did my body feel about it anyway," she asked. It was 1969, I was a skinny long-legged, bra-less girl who just wanted to play ball.

My school district had never before allowed organized sports activities for girls: no teams, no coaches, no uniforms, no equipment. We were teenagers with raging hormones in turbulent times: sit-ins on Mondays against the Vietnam War, student-led classes on Wednesdays to explore "Black and White Solidarity", and Friday demonstrations in front of the Principal's office to demand a girls' sports program. While the Department of Labor was investigating hundreds of schools for compliance with Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I was rolling that basketball around and around, begging the boys' coach to show me how to make a jump shot. (He finally agreed to teach me, in exchange for dust-mopping "his" basketball court.)

After many meetings, letters and demonstrations, we finally had a basketball team in my junior year, 1972, just as the Federal Government passed Title IX, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program receiving federal funds, including athletic program. My mother walked down to our home games, sitting in the bleachers with the quiet intensity of a lioness guarding her cubs.

By 1973, I was the second Pinole Valley High School graduate ever to be accepted to Stanford University. A scholarship to Stanford was perceived in my community as a key that could unlock all doors in a young person's life. We in the valley of Pinole were sure that all opportunities to excel for all people certainly existed in the land of Stanford. Leaving the poorest school in the state for the grandness of a private university was a lifeline thrown to an exhausted marathon swimmer.

The culture shock of life as a freshman in a Stanford dorm lasted all year. While other kids drove their sports cars to the mountains to ski all weekend, a few of us worked the kitchens, collected food stamps, and crammed day and night. I visited the Women's Athletic Department right away, only to find no formal basketball program existed. It was déjà vu. Where was the "palace of opportunity" they promised? I happily discovered two friends at my dorm, Sonia Jarvis and Jasmine Gunthorpe, who also loved ball, and we shot buckets at the asphalt-paved court in the dorm yard. Along with other interested students, we convinced a female staff from the Women's Athletic Department, Shirley Schoof, to sponsor our "team". We started practice in Roble Gym, a one hundred-year old structure build about four feet wider than the basketball court. I'll never forget those early days: sprinting down that court in our red bibs, a symphony of creaking nails crying from the springy boards, and praying hard I'd stop in time before slamming into the end wall, two feet past the end line.

The extraordinary wealth at Stanford juxtaposed to the lack of student facilities for this simple game of a ball, two baskets, and ten sweaty bodies -- the contradictions finally got to us. With the language of Title IX as our mantra, Sonia, Jasmine and I voiced our protests. In the fall of 1974, Mariah Burton Nelson (formerly Maggie Nelson) joined our efforts. We held sit-ins at the office of Dick DiBaiso, Director of Stanford's Athletic Department. We waited hours, over many days, in the hallways to his office, hoping for a chance to discuss improvements in our conditions. We wanted a better gym, uniforms, a trainer, and an experienced coach. "Look," we said, "we just want to play ball!" Like squeaky wheels, it finally wore on him. By 1975, we got a game schedule (all schools within driving distance) and a part-time unpaid coach, Gay Coburn, a graduate student in Physical Education. Later, in 1976-77, we started playing in Maples Pavilion with real uniforms, a trainer, a full game schedule (including out of state school), and nationally renowned, full-time, paid coaches Dottie McCrea and Sue Rojcewicz. We were thrilled to see a few hundred fans in real bleachers. Finally we, the Stanford Women's Basketball Team, were on our way, and that's the year I graduated.

It's 1999, and I'm a 43-year-old carpenter with a motherly figure and a wonderful family, who still loves to sweat. I wept as a mother cradling her newborn when the Stanford Women's Basketball Team won its first National Championship. This 25-Year Commemorative Banquet will be my first visit back to Stanford since my 1977 graduation. My pride as a Stanford graduate lays in those hundreds of sweaty hours pushing our bodies to the limit on the basketball court, in the sit-ins and long debates with school officials, in being selected as team Co-Captain, and in choosing to fight the good fight with so many great sisters of the 1970's, 80's and 90's.

I pass this ball on to my daughter and her sisters of the new millennium -- sweat for the love of it and fight for the joy of justice won!

Stanford women's Basketball
25th Anniversary Celebration
April 13, 1999