'At her level, it's like having Shaq on a high school team'

Funny how some people behave when the shoe is on the other foot.

Young girls were kept off playing fields far too long because they weren't supposed to be tough enough, then denied a chance to play against boys because they weren't supposed to be good enough.

Those who still don't believe times have changed should check out the video of glamour girl Danica Patrick's near-dust up with rival driver Ryan Briscoe after he knocked her car out of the Indy 500 last weekend. And then there's a much less-publicized item from earlier this month: 12-year-old Jaime Nared was barred from playing in a boys' league in Beaverton, Ore., because she was simply too good.

"She's still playing and practicing and she doesn't talk about it much," her mother, Reiko Williams, said Tuesday. "But Jaime's teammates have been supporting her. She gets a ton of text messages from the boys saying, 'Wish U were here."

Small wonder. Jaime stands 6-foot-1 and has been wearing out the competition everywhere she plays. Not long ago, Jaime dropped 30 points on a league opponent, prompting complaints from some parents that Jaime go back to playing against girls her own age. Jaime's coach, Michael Abraham, tried that and didn't see the point.

"We beat one team 90-7," he told the Oregonian newspaper recently. "At her level, it's like having Shaq on a high school team."

Just like Shaq, Jamie has been asked to produce a birth certificate on more than one occasion, and it explains a lot. Her father, Greg Nared, played basketball for Maryland two decades ago and her older sister, Jacklin, 17, will play for the women's team there next fall after leading all scorers in Oregon's Class 6A high schools. Jaime wound up on the sidelines when Greg volunteered to coach Jacklin's select girls team in seventh grade, and it didn't take long for the couple, who have since divorced, to realize they had another special player on their hands.

"She could have jumped rope, or drawn pictures, or done some of the other things we think girls should do, but she just held onto a basketball and imitated everything she saw, every drill, over and over," Williams recalled. "She was only five, but after that, she was never without a ball in her hand. Let me tell you, she broke lots of things around the house.

"For the longest while, I always pleaded, 'Put the ball down.' But not anymore."

Neal Franzer, who's in charge at The Hoop, a private basketball facility in Beaverton where Abraham's teams have been competing for years, did not return a call seeking comment on Jaime's dismissal from the boys team.

He denied pressure from opposing parents prompted the decision, instead telling the newspaper that new management at the gym decided to enforce a rule barring mixed-gender teams that's been on the books for some time &

even though it wasn't invoked in previous years.

Franzer contended the boys played "differently against her because she was a girl. They'd been taught to not push a girl, so they weren't fouling her hard."

Abraham laughed that explanation off. Jaime has played on his boys team since second grade without it ever being a problem.

"If she were 4-feet-9 and no good, we wouldn't be having this discussion," he said in the same interview. "To appease a small minority of parents, in this day and age, is stupid. This is a decision that really targets her. ... "I can't think of one boy that we've played against that's had a problem with her. Maybe their dads do."

Williams knows Jaime's days of playing competitively against boys &

let alone dominating the games &

are limited. Tennessee coach Pat Summit, who runs one of the premier women's college programs, regularly has her team scrimmage against men to raise their game &

which is all that Jaime wanted in the first place.

"We're taught boys are stronger and faster and if you compare them at just about any age, that's true," Williams said. "But it's not until 13 or so that the difference in strength and speed makes competing unfair.

"They recommended we have her play against high-school girls, but we don't want her playing on the road unless her dad or I can be there," she added.

In the meantime, Jaime practices with her sister or on her own. She's back playing with a sixth-grade girls team and high schoolers when the game don't require travel, but her parents plan to put Jaime back in a boys league as soon as they find one that will accommodate her.

"One difference between men and women is that men are always telling women what they can't, or shouldn't be doing. But somebody has to blaze trails sometimes," Williams added. "If every woman bought into the idea there's a ceiling on how high they can go, Jackie wouldn't be going to school on a basketball scholarship and Jaime wouldn't have her heart set on following her."

is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org

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