Most coaches involved in Catholic Youth Organization Athletics stress the importance of sportsmanship and values over winning at all costs. Jeanette Marvin is no exception, and she and the girls she coached took that philosophy to heart during last year’s basketball season.
Marvin has coached CYO Athletics girls’ basketball teams for St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua since 2003, but the 2005-06 season will always stand out in her memory. That’s when she coached a team of girls — ranging in age from fourth-graders to eighth-graders — who voted to give equal playing time to each girl, even if it meant losing games.
As the basketball season opened last year, Marvin had expected to coach one team of seventh- and eighth-grade girls and another team of fifth- and sixth-grade girls. Only a handful of girls showed interest in participating, and Marvin didn’t think she’d have enough players to field two full teams.
Marvin had previously coached a team with only seven players, which is difficult to do since five players are needed on the court at one time. With only seven players, the team members didn’t have a chance to rest during games and there were no replacements for ill players or those who had scheduling conflicts.
She decided to sidestep these problems by putting all the interested girls on one team regardless of age and have the team play in the seventh- and eighth-grade league. The team soon grew even more diverse when one of the players’ younger sister, who was in fourth grade at the time, wanted to be part of the team as well.
Marvin at first made the fourth-grader the team mascot, but the girl was very determined to play, and Marvin said she eventually let her become a regular player. Marvin said she always made sure to ask permission from the opposing team’s coaches before sending the fourth-grader into a game.
When the season began, Marvin coached the team as she always had. She tried to instill sportsmanship and ethical values in her players, but at the same time she coached the team to win. Midway through the season, however, she changed tactics.
“Last year was the first year that we had a team that could actually win. We had a very good team, and we ran through the first half of the season with win (after win), but it didn’t feel good,” Marvin said. “It didn’t feel good when we lost all the time, either, but we had more fun.”
Marvin shared her conflicting feelings with her sister, who asked her if she remembered her own days as a high-school athlete.
“She said, ‘Do you remember what it felt like to be the one who sat on the bench all the time?’” Marvin recalled.
Marvin did remember how that felt, and she didn’t want her players to endure the same feelings. She called the girls together and told them they had a choice to make. They could either play to win — and probably win a lot — or they could give equal playing time to everyone, even if that meant they might not win as often.
“We all voted, and we all agreed to play everyone,” said Katie Kristan, who was an eighth-grader on the 2005-06 team. “We kind of changed the way we played last year.”
Now 14 and a freshman at Canandaigua Academy, Katie has fond memories of her last season with the St. Mary team.
“As the season went on and we got to know each other a little bit more, we got more comfortable with it. Our focus was not on winning, and it was a very friendly environment,” she said. “I enjoyed it. There was less pressure. I like playing to have fun.”
Marvin was proud of the girls’ decision and the favorable response it received from the parents.
“They were very supportive. We did explain to them that the team voted and this is the way they wanted to play,” Marvin said.
Most of the other coaches in the league also accepted Marvin’s team, although some seemed a bit puzzled by its composition and philosophy, she said.
“Some of them looked at you kind of funny, but they accepted it,” she said.
Members of the St. Mary basketball team have become known for being models of sportsmanship both on and off the court, said Marvin, who teaches the girls about the importance of faith, integrity, respect and perseverance.
“Besides teaching us basketball, Jeanette also taught us respect and friendship, and caring and how to be kind to your teammates. I learned not to judge people and to respect my elders,” said Katie, who has come back to the St. Mary team as a volunteer, helping the younger girls with drills and practices.
This year, some of the rules governing CYO Athletics leagues were changed, and only parish-sponsored teams are now allowed to compete, Marvin said. Three of the teams in the Finger Lakes league, which the St. Mary team belongs to, had been sponsored by public schools or secular entities, so this year it’s even more important for St. Mary to field two separate teams, she added.
Although several of the girls who played together last season are now on separate teams, the bonds they formed are still strong. Marvin occasionally lets some of the younger girls play on the seventh- and eighth-grade team during tournaments, which are not governed by the rules of league play, she said.