By Masha Shollar
Special to The Chronicle
At first glance, this looks like any other pickup basketball game: It started with a few practice throws, a brief discussion about the fairness of the teams, the squeak of sneakers, appreciative cries of “Nice!” “Shoot that!” and “Stick with it!” And yet, some elements are different.
Prior to the start, one of the players removes her blue, dangly earrings and drops them on the floor next to her purse, adjusts her tichel and darts back onto the court. These teams, who play in the Hillel school’s gym twice a week, are made up of only Jewish women, with most of the participants clad in knee length skirts and head coverings. One of the women claps her hands together, bobbing back and forth on the balls of her feet, gathering adrenaline. Another pulls her teammates close and delivers a warning: “Just because we have more people, it doesn’t mean we can slack off. We want a 10-point spread!” “If you guys destroy us, I won’t be able to handle it,” says a woman from another team. “Let’s do this,” says another, and the game begins.
These women don’t play for a crowd; they play for themselves. But the level of play is impressive. “This is not Basketball 101,” said Shayna Creeger, the Squirrel Hill resident who started the team 10 years ago. A timeout is called at one point so one of the teams can discuss, in a tight huddle, a better system of blocking shots. “All the way!” whoops one woman, after her teammate steals the ball and sprints down the length of the court to make a basket. These full-court efforts don’t always pay off — later in the game, another woman’s shot just misses the basket after a remarkable steal, and she drops her head in frustration.
Creeger’s husband had already started a men’s basketball team, when she realized that there wasn’t a women’s alternative for those who might not enjoy running on a treadmill or elliptical. “So I was like, ‘Hey, why not start a women’s basketball game?’” She created the team because “it’s hard to exercise on your own, but when you’re with friends and other women who are looking for the same type of goal, it’s much easier.”
As the men were already holding their games in the Hillel gym, Creeger arranged for the women’s team to play there as well. Creeger said Hillel has been instrumental in making these games possible. “They don’t charge us anything, and that’s something that is un-
heard of; every other establishment charges something, because initially I had asked a few different schools, and it was like, you have to pay this fee and that fee, and Hillel has been doing it completely free all these years. They are facilitating this need for women here.”
Letting women know about the team was mostly through “word of mouth” and a Facebook page that Creeger set up. “We kind of capped it at 10 interested people, and then not everyone can play every week, so most of the time we have about eight players.” They are always looking for new players, although Creeger emphasized the higher level of play. “We’ve had people come who don’t know how to dribble balls and we’ve trained them, but at this point we’re pretty much a competitive league.” The team started off “playing Sunday nights” said Creeger, “and then we asked if we could play a second night, so we added Thursday to the schedule. So we play twice a week.”
Throughout the years, though some team members have “married and moved away” and others have had to take a hiatus while pregnant, they’ve had “a nice established core group of women.” Creeger said that she feels “really lucky” to be part of the group, because “no matter what our differences are or whatever kind of life we lead, we all have something in common, and that’s that we’re … Jewish women looking to exercise and have fun.”
Masha Shollar is an intern for The Chronicle. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.