Friday, February 23, 2018

SISTER SPORT

Sneakers squeak on the court. There are quick passes, blocks and steals, and making a goal almost always requires hitting nothing but net.

But this isn't basketball, it's netball, the sister sport played primarily by women and girls in Great Britain, the Caribbean and Australia. Netball enthusiasts in the U.S. hope to raise the game's profile here and they're counting on ambassadors such as 11-year-old Candace Ramsay, whose team from Kingston, Jamaica, was invited to play last month in the Florida Netball Classic's junior tournament in Delray Beach.

Candace wanted American girls to know that netball was a lot like basketball, with this key difference: "Girls can play some boys sports, but netball is a girls sport only."

Netball is played with a ball that's about the size of a soccer ball. Feet must be planted on the ground to shoot and there is no backboard or dribbling. The ball is shot through a rim slightly smaller than a basketball goal and about the same height. There are seven players per team. They can only take one step before passing and can't hold the ball for more than three seconds.

Netball was adapted for women from basketball and took root in England.

Only two players on each team can score, and they must shoot from within a 16-foot arc around the goal.

It's not yet in the Olympics, but it is a highlight of the Commonwealth Games.

The New York State Netball Association hosted a demonstration for the United Nations Inter-Agency Games recently, and Netball America is co-hosting teams from 12 countries in Miami in 2016 for the FISU World University Netball Championship.

"This is the major sport for females in Jamaica," says Grace Bourah, Candace's coach at Our Lady of the Angels Preparatory School. "Track and field takes its starlight, but netball has its starlight and we are trying to spread it as much as possible for the development of women's sport."

It's an easy sell to immigrants from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the English-speaking Caribbean, who grew up playing and want to pass the sport down to their daughters. It's tougher to attract Americans who only know basketball.

U.S. organizers emphasize netball's perks: it's a non-contact, social way to exercise that puts teamwork above ball-hogging, and it's a way to polish skills used in basketball or volleyball.

Organizers lament the lack of netball scholarships. Even in Jamaica, Bourah said, girls who play netball will take up basketball for a chance to study in the U.S. on scholarship.

"As soon as you develop a junior team and they get to a certain point where they know they can get a scholarship to go to college, we lose them. So every time we keep starting over," said Grace Bailey, president of the 250-player Florida Netball Association.

The two national netball associations in the United States, USA Netball Association and Netball America, organize various clubs, leagues, camps and tournaments. Netball America has partnered with Miami-Dade County and the New York City Housing Authority to teach the sport in schools and community centers.

Ayanna Brown, of Miramar in South Florida, started playing netball at 13 at the insistence of her mother, who played in Jamaica. Even though Ayanna plays basketball, she thought netball would be too difficult because of the rules and lack of backboards.

Now almost 15, Ayanna played April 28 with her club team against a visiting team of English college students. Because of netball, her shooting accuracy has improved in basketball, and now she's trying to recruit her teammates to play netball.

"I tell them it will help them with their basketball," she said. "I think it's cool because there's a sport dominated by women for once."



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