Media Coverage for Women's Sport
Julie Conner has only directly experienced girls basketball governed by the same rules as boys. In her eyes, though, the game has gone through enormous changes from her high school days in uniform as a Lady Devil to coaching them.
Hoops are a passion for her. She coached for high schools in Florida before taking the ABAC job in 2000 when their women’s program restarted. When a chance to coach her alma mater opened in 2008, she jumped at the chance.
She got her basketball love honestly. Dad Johnny Rutland coached the hardwood Devils while her mother, Freida Zipperer Rutland played for a pair of Lowndes County squads. She started off as a Lowndes County Golden Eaglette, then became a Vikette when Hahira High closed as the school’s name simplified to Lowndes.
Freida Rutland remembered having to adjust not only to each team, but to each team’s court. “Some schools had smaller floors,” she said. Those included courts originally purposed as proper auditorium stages, such as in Lanier County and the one in her hometown of Naylor. “On each end(line) was a wall.”
The floors Conner saw as a player and coach were uniform, all regulation size. The uniforms were not. “We had long shorts,” she said. Jersey tops were also in variation. Some schools during her playing days still hung on to a semblance of sleeves, a staple of modest girls uniforms. The size of the ball changed, too, she said, to a smaller size.
The last hinges of inequality are disappearing. Long thought unladylike — the intramural Chatham County school league was set up as a “wholesome” alternative — hard play is now a virtue.
“Girls are so much more aggressive,” Conner said. “Overall the aggressiveness [has changed]. It’s not frowned upon.”
And coaches are ready for it. Dona Fields had much praise for the coaches from her era, but Conner believes they have gotten even better, even tougher.
“There are are some great coaches. All the teams are going to be prepared. Coaches are more knowledgeable.” She said that all coaches are constantly going to clinics now to be on the cutting edge of strategy.
After finishing her Tift County hoops career, Conner next suited up for Georgia College after earning a scholarship, a relative rarity as programs were still developing. She said it was quite a contrast now as “all my girls think they can get scholarships. That orange ball can get you a college education.”
The opportunities continue to grow, and not just from college. Camps are increasing. The Lady Devils recently attended one out of state and another at Pelham (“a good little day of basketball”). Not just the high school players are benefiting, either. Conner remembers her first camp being in seventh grade. “Now they’re going at three and four years old.” Her camp, which had sessions earlier this month and picks up again July 15, is open to students from Pre K through sixth grade.
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