GIRLS rewriting rules of boys' games

Monday, August 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Logan Hall races toward the end zone, her eyes fixed on the ball in the air. She takes a breath, holds out her arms and clings to the pigskin as tight as an 11-year-old can.


Meanwhile in Toronto, more than 2,000 miles away from Logan's home in Tucson, Ariz., 18-year-old Christina Lee is lacing up her skates for her hockey game. She's been playing since she was 5, first with boys and then on a girls' league. She invests at least four days a week and countless hours on the ice perfecting her slapshot.

Thanks to the emergence of the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association) in 1997 and the WUSA (Women's United Soccer Association) earlier this year, females have been inching their way toward the mainstream of sports.

But in other traditionally male-dominated sports _ like boxing, baseball, ice hockey and wrestling _ women are still fighting for attention and respect.

Athletes like boxer Laila Ali and former pro hockey goalie Manon Rheaume have crossed the gender lines to follow their passions.

Now younger athletes are following suit.

Logan's mother, Kris Hall, says that Logan showed an interest in baseball when she was 2, but couldn't join an actual baseball team until she was 5. ``She's been playing with the boys ever since.''

Last year, Logan began playing NFL Flag Football, a coed national football league for kids 6-14. Over 250,000 children participate, of which 40 percent are girls.

In addition to flag football, Logan is the starting shortstop on her recreation league softball team and wants to be a point guard on the basketball team when she starts junior high in the fall.

``Whenever I first get on a team with guys, there's always a little bit of talk about me being a girl,'' says Logan, who plays wide receiver in football. ``But once they see me play it usually stops.''

Static from the guys is the least of the problems some young female athletes face. In some communities, playing with the guys is the only option aside from not playing at all.

Lucky for Christina, she lives in hockey-loving Canada, where girls' teams do exist. Nonetheless she decided to follow her brother's footsteps _ or blade tracks in this case _ spending the first eight years of her hockey career playing in the boys' leagues. But when she turned 13, she switched to a girls' team.

``The guys suddenly got a lot bigger than me and started hitting a lot harder,'' she says.

Christina says she's happy she found other girls to play with, and the sport has somehow become more elegant and enjoyable.

``Girls definitely play hockey with a lot more finesse than guys. There's no checking in girls' hockey so it isn't as scrappy as when guys play.''

In girls' hockey, the emphasis is more toward passing the puck than roughing up the other players, Christina explains.

Tricia Saunders, 30, started wrestling boys when she was 8. Now she's the top-ranked wrestler for the U.S. Women's Wrestling Team and she's training for the World Championships in September.

After training with men, she says it took a while to get used to finally wrestling women when she was 22.

While competing in a wrestling meet in 1990 in France, she noticed that the foreign women wore bright leotards instead of dressing in sweats and trying to looking like men.

This was a culture shock for Saunders, who felt that women in the United States were still trying to prove themselves in the sport while other countries had well-organized and well-trained teams.

``You can still beat someone up in a pink leotard,'' Saunders says. ``A point is a point.''

Nancy Theberge is a sociologoist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario who spent two years traveling with a women's hockey team. Her book ``Higher Goals'' (University of New York Press) explores how involvement in a male-dominated sport affects female players.

``Being involved in these sports is a way for women to be strong and have a sense of accomplishment,'' Theberge says.

Many of the women featured in her book came from different backgrounds and represented different age groups. But since they all had hockey as a common denominator, they worked together to form a highly competitive team.

``These women weren't always given credit for what they were doing but they were just as passionate about their sports as the men.''

But despite the drive and talent to excel in their sports, many women and girls still face rough spots.

When Logan was 9, she was the only girl on an all-star baseball team. Before the first pitch to Logan, the opposing team's coach went to the mound and mumbled something to the pitcher. The young boy shook his head ``no'' vehemently, but it appeared the coach's insistence won out when the pitcher threw his fastball _ and hit Logan right in the back.

``If she wants to play with the boys she's going to have to take the hits,'' the coach shouted as Logan cried at home plate.

Logan's mom recalls the uproar from the parents, but also remembers that Logan later got a hit and stole bases all the way home.

``And then when the game was over, everyone was shaking hands and saying 'Good game','' Kris Hall says. ``And Logan looked up at the coach and said, 'Good game.' He said nothing. She said it again, and finally he shook her hand.''

Christina's problems involve more geography than physical risks. She has some relocation issues to sort out if she plans to continue playing hockey.

Although women's hockey in Canada is well organized for younger girls, if she wants to continue her passion once she is done with high school she will have to look for a college program in the United States.

She has already been offered one hockey scholarship from the University of Wisconsin-Superior but since she has another year of high school to finish, she is holding off and looking at other schools.

As for Logan, she is already hoping to play either softball or basketball in college, the University of Arizona being her first choice.

And no matter what the future holds, both girls say that being involved in their sports is the best thing they ever did for themselves, regardless of what sacrifices they made or the taunting they had to endure.