Newspaper article International New York Times

In Mixed Gender League, a Collaborative Appeal

Newspaper article International New York Times

In Mixed Gender League, a Collaborative Appeal

Article excerpt

John Howard's ideas for his Mixed Gender Basketball Association include 4-point shots and lineups whose men-to-women ratio changes from quarter to quarter.

When Heather LaCasse heard of a proposed coed professional basketball league, she passed the information to her boyfriend, Jean Marcellus, and suggested he try out. As an inducement, she promised to keep him company on the drive from the Bronx to New Jersey.

But on the morning of the tryout, Marcellus, who is 6-foot-6 and played some college and overseas pro ball, talked LaCasse, who is about a foot shorter and played in high school, into packing gym gear, too.

"When we got here, he gave me the pen and I said, 'I don't think I'm going to do it because I haven't done organized ball in a long time,"' LaCasse, 30, said. "And then he and everybody at the sign- up table said, 'Just do it."'

Making a snap decision at the sound of a well-known slogan, she did.

Mshangwe Crawford, who played football in college, hit the court mainly to provide support for his girlfriend, Amanda Hill, a former high school standout who was intrigued by a paying league that paired men with women.

"I play with her four nights a week, and I don't know anyone who loves the game more than Amanda," Crawford said.

Women assisting men. Men helping women. Before a ball was dribbled Saturday in the West Orange High School gymnasium, John Howard's belief in the societal benefits -- and potential commercial appeal -- for what he is calling the Mixed Gender Basketball Association was heightened.

A few women, most notably Ann Meyers and Nancy Lieberman, have played with men in a professional setting. Many top women's college teams routinely use men as practice players. This year, the Dallas Mavericks' owner, Mark Cuban, suggested that Brittney Griner, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 W.N.B.A. draft, audition for his team. The offer was panned by critics who frowned on imposing male standards on women with leagues and challenges of their own.

"Whether he was serious about it, I don't know, but Griner's going into the N.B.A. and playing in an otherwise gender-segregated model is not what I'm talking about," Howard said. "My model is not antagonistic or just competitive. It's collaborative."

He has created a red-and-blue logo (of a ponytailed woman outleaping a man for the ball), a website and a company based in Florida, M.G.B.A. Inc., with national staff directors. He said he was building a network in several areas around the country with the intention of selecting teams to play a series of exhibitions to roll out the concept regionally.

"When I show people the plan or the website, the first thing that comes out of their mouth is, 'Are you serious?"' Howard said. "I tell them, 'Yeah, I'm serious.' And they say, 'Well, tell me more about it.' They want to see how it works. …

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