Gar-Field basketball Coach Larry Bell can smile now when he says, "I thought there could never be anything worse than losing to Woodbridge."

Even though the Indians lost Friday to their rivals two miles away, 81-76, Bell had reason to smile. Friday marked his return to Gar-Field after a month of recuperating as a result of a near-tragic car accident on Jan. 20.

That night, Bell's car skidded on ice. He maneuvered to avoid a head-on collision, which may have saved the two occupants in the car from any serious injury. Unlike his passengers, Bell was not wearing a seat belt and ended with fractures of the fourth, fifth and sixth vertebrae of his back. He since has undergone two operations.

"The doctors said they don't know why I wasn't paralyzed, and I don't really care. I'm just feel really fortunate," said Bell, who came to school Friday as a visitor in a neck brace and hopes to start teaching again in March.

Assistant Matt Greening has taken over for Bell since the accident. Greening was in charge Friday when the Indians played well to stay close to Woodbridge, but the game proved to be an incentive in Bell's remarkable recovery.

"I'm doing pretty well now," he said. "And I got out just in time for the big game."

Northern Virginia girls basketball coaches are fully supporting a proposal that would allow the use of a smaller basketball, similar to the one NCAA women's teams began using this season.

A poll conducted by the Virginia High School League showed 77 percent of the coaches want to begin using the smaller ball next year. Although no breakdown was done by geographic area, at least 77 percent of the local coaches support the smaller ball.

The ball currently used by boys and girls is 29 1/2 inches in circumference. The new ball is 28 1/2 inches, but many of those who are familiar with it believe the smaller ball will play an important role in the development of girls basketball.

"I think you well see a better controlled game because girls' hands are smaller and the new ball will be easier to handle," W.T. Woodson Coach Karen Turner said. "But I think most of it will be mental. I tried it one day at a practice without telling the girls and they played about 10 minutes without noticing the difference."

Claudia Dodson, the VHSL's director of women's athletics, said two states -- South Dakota and West Virginia -- have used the smaller ball on an experimental basis.

"What we have been told by those results is that for the first two or three years, the shooting percentages and scoring will probably go down instead of up," Dodson said. "What happens is that with a smaller, lighter ball, the players feel more confident and start throwing up shots from five feet farther than normal."

If the new ball is adopted, it will cost every school about $500 for game and practice balls. The school principals will vote on the measure at their meeting in Harrisonburg in two weeks. Dodson said even if the principals approve using the smaller ball, it will only be implemented if the National Federation of High Schools passes a similar resolution when it meets March 25-26 in Kansas City.

Ralph McGirk, coach at T.C. Williams, said the new ball should be approved in consideration of athletes who will go on to play in college.

"A lot of people feel we are being put at a disadvantage right now," McGirk said, "because the NCAA has adopted it and our girls who go onto college will not be used to the smaller ball."

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Parking at Mount Vernon High School for tomorrow night's Gunston District basketball championship games will be restricted to the main parking lot by the football stadium and at the side lot because of fire restrictions. Anyone needing special parking arrangements must contact Athletic Director Bruce Patrick . . . The spring VHSL track and field clinic will be held Monday, March 11, at Falls Church High School at 7:30 p.m. . . . A special baseball clinic concentrating on pitching, catching and care and prevention of injuries will be held Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Gunston Community Center in Arlington. The clinic is geared for potential volunteer youth coaches. Clinic details are available from the Arlington Recreation Department's sports section.