It was the first morning of winter break for Fairfax County students, and McLean High School was silent except for the thump of basketballs on the hardwood floor of the girls' gym. The junior varsity and varsity girls' basketball teams were going through light but spirited workouts.
In a small office next to the gym, Mary Lou Carroll thought about the status of girls' sports in Northern Virginia and said, "The situation for girls' sports is very definitely improving, but it's not at the limit it could reach. It's not at its peak."
Carroll is in a good position to evaluate girls' sports in the area - she has been a physical education teacher and field hockey and basketball coash at McLean since 1956, just one year after the school opened. She began coaching varsity basketball 11 years ago.
Carroll played field hockey and basketball for four years at Madison College (now James Madison University) in Harrisonburg, Va., and played hockey, basketball and softball for Falls Church High School in the early '50s.
"There were only four high schools in the county when I played for Falls Church (the others were Mount Vernon, Fairfax and Herndon), so we had to play in places like Fredericksburg, Quantico and Chevy-Chase to get a full schedule," Carroll recalled. "The facilities were terrible. Falls Church had no gym. The boys used to practice basketball at W.L. (Washington-Lee High School), but the girls had to practice outside on the asphalt all winter. I don't remember too much griping, though, because we didn't know anything different."
A number of area outdoor athletic facilities for girls still need upgrading, according to Carroll.
"There are places where the fields are treacherous," she said. "They're undersized, uneven and loaded with rocks. I've played on fields where I've sworn I'll never put a team on them again. If field hockey were a boys' sport, it would be taken care of."
Correcting the major and minor inequities between girls' and boys' sports makes a difference in the performances and attitudes of female athletes, according to Carroll.
"Last year, the Girls Athletic Association and the boosters club bought us glass backboards (for about $1,800)," Carroll said. "One reason for having them is that it's part of the push for girls'sports to get equal time and facilities in relation to boys' sports. And the glass boards play differently than the metal ones. We'd play at school with glass boards and we weren't used to them. That can be a disadvantage."
Carroll acknowledged that individuals around school may have complained about spending money for glass backboards, but, she said, "If there was any, we didn't hear a lot of it."
Evidence of McLean's pride in its girls' sports program is found in the gym, where gray and red signs painted by art students proclaim, "Home of the Hustling Highlanders," in Carroll's office, where a student-made poster reminds, "Winning isn't everything, but it sure beats coming in second," and in a trophy case glistening with statues of female athletes holding basketballs, hockey sticks and softball bats.
Most of the trophies were won by Carroll-coached teams. A partial list of Carroll's successes includes nine district championships in field hockey, at least two district tournament winners and one district championship in basketball and berths in the last two regional softball tournaments.
Despite the improved facilities, pride and successful teams, McLean shares a problem common to virtually every area girls' team - attracting fans.
"People are just not used to the idea of a girls' game being a big even," Carroll explained in the same slow, thoughful manner she uses when coaching. "That's a product of our society. People are used to paying to see boys.
"You know, at the high school level lots of kids just come to an athletic event to socialize, not to watch the sport itself. That's not bad or wrong, but girls' games aren't social events of that magnitude yet."
When McLean's girls' basketball team beat defending state champion Robinson, 29-28, at home two weeks ago, a crowd of about 250, described as "good" by Carroll, watched. The next day school officials announced the victory to the McLean student body, and Carroll said, "Lots of faculty members and kids congratulated us."
But, team leaders Robin Lombard and Sheree Adair agreed, if the boys' team had beaten last year's state champion, "The school would have gone wild and the gym would have been packed."
We have the respect of the student body now," said Lombard, a first team all-regional selection last year as a junior. "They know we're good."
"We feel it's too bad more students don't come out to the games," added Adair, who cwon the most valuable player award in last season's district tournament. "They're missing out on a lot of good basketball games."