Scratches and bruises. They are marks that make my arms and torso look like a slutty animal print blouse-you know that shirt; every girl has at least one tucked deep in her drawer in the event that her boyfriend is taken out of The Jug by some self-aggrandizing freshman. Well, unlike that vengeful shirt, my stripes and spots come from long nails and sharp elbows. To me, they are marks of distinction. I am a male practice player for the women’s basketball team, and these nicks are part of the game. When I joined the team, I figured my game, although rusty, had to be better than that of any group of Colgate girls-scholarship or not.
I still remember that heady rush on that day last October when I palmed a flyer searching for studs to toughen the likes of sophomores Gillard, Martin, and Cargle. Expecting free athletic gear, cardiovascular exercise, and a little, but not much, competition, I strolled into the coach’s office figuring I could teach these chicks a lesson in toughness. Kinda put the “balls” in basketballs. Five minutes into the first practice, however, I realized that this was no free throw.
In high school, I ascended to a starting role on an elite prep team, so I figured I could leap over these girls like a pale Vice Carter. I soon found out that these girls are anything but typical. For starters, they lack multiple layers of popped collars and a Beta boyfriend with Roman numerals following his name. Although I am the third or fourth quickest player on the floor at any given time, all of the players have skills that trump anything I bring to the court. Freshman Gretchen Polinski boxes me into a Boguesian figure when it comes to rebounding, and Senior Megan Ballard can steal the ball from any And-1 handler, let alone me. Senior Meghan Curtin’s deftness from behind the arc reminds me of Eddie Winslow-a player who, according to TGIF statisticians, never missed a shot in nine seasons with Family Matters.
Wheezing on the bleachers and searching for a defibrillator, I often find myself shocked by the conditioning required to play Division-I hoops. I try my best to keep up, but these girls have bigger and better lungs. Sometimes life as a practice player is downright painful. But despite the day-after soreness that accompanies me on my walk up all 7,000 stairs of Persson Hall, I would not trade being a practice player for anything-anything except the chance to get into a game. Unfortunately, pending some drastic nipping and tucking, this would be a flagrant foul.
Scratches, bruises and jokes aside, I never imagined that responding to a flyer would be my most significant experience at Colgate. Sure, I got the free gear, exercise, and competition, but more importantly, I have sixteen new friends. From practices to pre-game meals to sitting on the bench to celebrating victories, I have been made to believe that I am a member of the team. Truthfully, I need these girls more than they need me. I laugh along with my friends and family when they joke with me about being a girl’s basketball player. I laugh partially because it is funny, but mostly because they don’t know how hard it is being a girl.
When the horn sounded last Wednesday, ending an overtime game with Lehigh, it marked just the fifth win in twenty games for the Lady Raiders. Whether the girls learn more from winning or losing I can’t say for sure. I can, however, say with certainty that everything I have learned this season has come from just playing.