is a female living in a male world.
It’s a world she has no intention of conquering, and it’s a world that she hesitantly entered because she loves her school and she loves basketball.
She doesn’t want to be the poster child who inspires more girls to take the same route she did. She just wants to play hoops. That’s why Asdourian put her misgivings aside and joined the boys basketball team at Liberty Christian (Redding, Calif.)
. It wasn’t her favorite option, but it was the only one that gave her the chance to play the game she loves and to stay at the only school she’s ever known.
The junior point guard is not only surviving with the Patriots, some would say she is thriving. She plays a significant role on one of far-Northern California’s better small-school boys programs. The 16-year-old is doing this because of what is important to her. It’s not about anything more than that, her coach said.
“She doesn't want to be a circus event. She doesn’t want everyone to cheer when she touches the ball,” Liberty Christian coach Todd Franklin said. “She wants to be a basketball player.”
It’s hard to be just a basketball player when you are the girl playing on the boys team. But she’s trying.
“It’s how my personality is. I would rather blend in,” Asdourian said. “It’s the boys’ season and I don’t want to take anything away from them by getting extra attention. I’ve never liked being the center of attention.”
And though that may be true, she got a pretty big dose of satisfaction on Friday as the center of attention – and she liked it. Asdourian finally added points to her season stats, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws in a 75-43 victory over Mercy (Red Bluff, Calif.). It took plenty of goading from Franklin over the weeks to get her to want to score.
“It was like pulling teeth to get her to shoot,” Franklin said. “We finally had to tell her it’s selfish not to.”
She didn’t want to be the center of attention, but Asdourian relented in her resistance and went with the flow. The results were spectacular.
“Coach definitely had made it one of our goals before the game. We ran over some plays in practice the day before,” said Asdourian, who also added two steals against Mercy. “It kind of felt like a weight was lifted off of me. It was definitely a good feeling.
“I don’t really hear much of the crowd while I’m playing but everyone told me that it was pretty crazy when I made it.”
Franklin, also the athletic director, had to cancel the season
after just a few practices because there simply weren't enough able
bodies. Asdourian was faced with a brutal decision just weeks into what was
supposed to be the girls basketball season. Transfers had left the
Patriots program to deplete the roster, and other players left
basketball to work, to play club volleyball or to nurse injuries.
When only four girls, including Asdourian, showed up for practice, Franklin suggested she stick around and practice with the boys. Soon after, he laid out Asdourian’s options to her and her parents, Jack and Jana: Play with the Liberty boys, play no basketball but stay at Liberty Christian (120 miles south of the Oregon border), or transfer to another school and play basketball there.
It took three weeks, but she chose her sport and her school, even though one of the state’s top Division III girls teams plays just up the street at Enterprise (Redding, Calif.).
“I wanted to stay at Liberty because I’ve been here since kindergarten and it’s in my comfort zone,” Asdourian said. “My parents still wanted me to play because I’ve always been involved with a sport. I just wanted to be involved.”
The idea was never hatched out of a desire to make statements about gender equality. Nobody was trying to get the spotlight put on Asdourian, or to make Liberty Christian a nationally recognizable name by pulling a stunt. It was genuinely about giving her a chance to play basketball, and lucky for her it is a chance to play on what is the Northern Section’s first or second-most illustrious program since 2004.
The Patriots, who are 17-7 and ranked third in the section Division V playoff points standings, have gone 189-50 under Franklin since the 2004-05 season, won in three of the six section title games they have played in that time frame and won three games in the CIF Northern California Regional playoffs.
There was some much-needed honesty when the family and Franklin sat down. After all, the boys game is a different animal than the girls game, and Asdourian was possibly opening herself up to a bigger chance of getting injured.
“I am a parent. I have a daughter, and basketball is a physical sport. You’re putting a female athlete out in a male arena and there is that question: Is this the best thing for this child?” Franklin recounted. “That’s why we took so long thinking and talking about it.”
Dec. 28 was her first contest, a home game against Fremont Christian (Calif.) at Liberty’s home tournament. And both admitted that Asdourian was slightly apprehensive about getting into a game.
The next day against Trinity (Weaverville, Calif.), she was right in the mix, playing physical defense and handling the ball. It’s been more of the same since then.
She's not the first girl to join a varsity boys basketball team. And she likely won't be the last.
Back in 2011, Vermont player Hannah McNulty found herself in Asdourian's situation and made the same choice
Another example is Tampa Bay-area player Aliyah Farley, who played for her school's JV team in 2008 and it ignited a firestorm of controversy
when her school was told it had to forfeit the game.
Asdourian has learned a lot about herself and about the boys game, with much less drama than Farley's situation. What shouldn’t be forgotten is what Franklin, Asdourian’s teammates and opposing teams have learned.
The tight-knit community at the small Christian school creates a situation where kids and their families all know each other. Asdourian was anything but a stranger joining the team, but it took time for everyone to coexist. Apprehension wasn’t the problem. No, far from it.
Her teammates weren’t shunning her – they were trying too hard to protect her.
“It's been very good for them. In our society, we have lost a little of how to treat women like ladies. These guys have done a good job of being gentlemen and standing up for her,” Franklin said. “I said treat her like your sister. She gets fouled and one of my kids wants to go punch the guy. So then it was treat her like she’s my daughter. They are learning how to practice with her. It's been good for our guys.
“In practice she is not treated any differently at all defensively or offensively.”
It’s nice to have a group of teammates stick up for you. But don’t think that Asdourian needs to be coddled.
“I’ve got hit a couple times. I’m used to it because I had a brother (Richard), so I’m not touchy about that stuff. Our whole family is really competitive,” said Asdourian, a volleyball and softball player as well.
“They are all really close because our school is so small and they’ve been really accepting. It’s a hard situation and they are supportive. They are talented guys and I am lucky to be on their team with them.”
A defense and passing guru now, Asdourian didn’t take long to realize that the male game is much more demanding.
“The game is played a lot harder by guys," she said. "The speed is a lot different, it’s a lot faster. I definitely have run a lot harder than I had before. But it’s getting better now.”
And though she had a wonderful night scoring on Friday against Mercy, don’t expect Asdourian to light up the scoreboard much as the postseason approaches.
“Teams guard her harder than they guard other people. It’s a mission for teams of not letting her score and she’s had battles with that. She’s a scorer in girls games and she has to understand her benefit to us is her defense and her passing,” Franklin said.
Local preps reporter T.J. Holmes, of the Redding Record Searchlight, also has noticed opponents’ defensive considerations when facing the Patriots.
“From what I’ve gathered from an opponents’ perspective, no one wants a girl to score on them,” he said. “She catches your attention when she goes in because most of the players tower over her. But she’s very court savvy and knows how to defend. All the basketball fans in the community for the most part are rooting for her – to play, to score, to succeed.”
The predicament-turned-success has gone almost as perfect as possible for Franklin, Asdourian and the Patriots. She’s contributing, the team is winning and the team and school have found a reason to bond.
Don’t expect it to be the same next season.
Both coach and player said that Asdourian belongs in the girls' game, and that situations like hers should be extremely rare.
“My personal idea, I would rather have girls play against girls," Asdourian said. "Even if you are a really good girl, if you go against a guy you would get beat. But if you get the opportunity to, if it’s right there in front of you, it has made me a lot better for when I go to back to girls.”
“I think it should be saved for unique cases," he said. "I don’t think we would suggest it no matter how talented a girl may be. Like even a Brittney Griner from Baylor. It’s important to let kids play on their separate teams and to let them experience basketball.
“She’s a good kid stuck in a tough spot and she is making the most of it. She is going to have a phenomenal senior year because of it.”