By Michael Mandarano
Cynthia Wallace has the hot hand. The Ottawa Shooting Star guard has drained four free throws in a row and is on a roll.
Unfortunately, it’s not the final seconds of the fourth quarter, but the basketball team’s last practice before the season opener Saturday against the Gloucester Wolverines.
Wallace, 14, and her teammates make up the midget division of the Ottawa Shooting Stars basketball club, which began in 1991 at Arlington Avenue’s Glashan Public School. The team now practices at Turnbull Learning Centre on Fisher Avenue.
“I really enjoy playing basketball,” Wallace says. “So I decided to try out.”
Since 1991, the club has grown from one age group to seven. Watching these girls play, it’s clear that girls’ basketball is on the rise.
During practice, it’s all business as coach Jeremy Sims puts the girls through their paces. If the skills are lacking, the work ethic is certainly not.
When taught how to exploit a zone defence, the girls easily pick up on the subtleties of the game.
After just a few attempts, they grasp the fundamentals and generally know where to position themselves.
Sims, who teaches girls and boys basketball, says girls are easier to coach.
“Girls are not so concerned with going behind the back and between the legs to dribble,” says Sims. “They take direction better, and they’re more concerned with the fundamentals [than boys].”
More girls are playing organized basketball today than ever before, according to Canada Basketball’s website.
Not only are more girls playing the sport, they’re playing it at a level that’s unprecedented in Canada.
A bronze medal finish at the recent Americas Under-18 tournament was the best ever for a Canadian girls’ national team. The result also means that club will advance to the world championships in 2005 for the first time.
With women’s basketball getting more exposure on television and other media, it only follows that more girls are interested in playing the game.
“Seeing other girls play really helped the rise of girls basketball,” says Paul Armstrong, technical director for the Shooting Stars.
The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has also helped to attract girls to the sport since its inception in 1997.
“There is a lot more exposure to basketball, and opportunities for girls now,” says Sims. He says after only one year of playing basketball, Shooting Star Sue Menchini already wanted to play basketball professionally.
“Her mother came up to me and said, ‘Sue has always liked basketball, but after this year she wants to play in the WNBA. Thank you so much.’ That was awesome to hear,” Sims says.
Avril Ford Aubry, a 13-year-old guard for the Shooting Stars, says she likes the team aspect of basketball.
“I love sports, and having teammates,” says Aubry, who cites Brockville native and WNBA star, Stacey Dales-Schuman as her basketball role model. “It’s a lot of fun; I’ve been playing with some of these girls for three years.”
Aubry also helped Glebe Collegiate to its fifth straight city championship this year.
The Shooting Stars midget team is entering the season on a positive note.
It finished last season with a 19-18 record, and five of last year’s players are returning this year.
Both Aubry and Wallace are talented newcomers to the Stars, while returning players like Emily Cork and Menchini will give the team the depth they’ll need to improve on their record.
And with a sparkplug like Wallace running the plays at point guard, the Shooting Stars might be flying high this year.