When Tara Heiss was 4 years old, she could ride a two-wheel bicycle with no trouble. When she was 11, she rode a unicycle and bounced a basketball at the same time.
After watching his 12-year-old daughter, Mary, make three straight shots the first time she touched a basketball, Marion Briese decided it might not be wise to challenge her to a game of one on one.
Jane Zivalich honed her basketball skills battling her older brother, Tony, in furious pickup games in the backyard of their home in New Orleuns.
Before becoming the star player at Union Catholic School in Scotch Plains, N.J., 6-foot-3 Kris Kirchner gained confidence when she destroyed the top male player in a one-on-one contest at a local high school.
Those four players are members of the Maryland women's basketball team.
Since most of their daughters showed their athletic abilities at an early age, most of the parents were not surprised that their offspring earned a trip to Los Angeles this weekend to play in the AIWA national basketball finals.
The Terrapins will play Wayland Baptist in a semifinal Thursday at 10 a.m. EST. Montclair State faces UCLA in the second semifianl.
The winners will meet for the national title Saturday at 9 p.m. at Paulsy Pavillon.
Many of the parents of the Maryland players were former athletes in high school and College and encouraged their daughters to stay on the courts, despite the frowning of neighbors.
"We never viewed basketball or softball as a man's game. Our family is very athletically inclined," said Joanne Zivalich, who now lives in Boca Raton, Fla. "We had eight children and if they were interested in a sport, so were we. As parents, you should be interested in what your children like."
Since Ben Franklin High in New Orleans had no organized girls' basketball program, Jane was forced to play against an older sister and brother.
Eventually Jane and her sister travellewith an AAU team. "Jane wanted to enroll in a school with a good premed propram and women's athletic program. Maryland had both," said Zivalich. "It's the spring holiday and we would lovr to have her home but . . . I'm just so thrilled she's in California playing for the championship."
Ruth Heiss, a former player, teacher and coach, used to play her daughter one on one before Tara became a High School.
"I was a better foul shooter and had a better hook shot," said Mrs. Heiss, "But I could never beat her."
Like many other parents of the Terp players, Heiss didn't have to do much encouraging. Once her daughter discovered how well she could play, the long practice sessions at the neighbourhood playground became a regular thing.
"She progressed a little faster athletically than other kids so I knew she was going to be talented in a sport. It was just a matter of her choosing one," Said Heiss.
Kirchner's mother, Jacquelyn, still plays for the grade school where she teachers.
"Everybody around here now (New Providence, N.J.) became our friend when Kris became a good player. Everybody wants to be like her," said Kendra; one of four Kirchner sisters.
The youngest girl in the Kirchner family, 12-year-old Keighlyn, already has perfected her medium-range jump shot and announced she is following her sister to Union Catholic and Maryland.
"She's my favorite sister and I'm going to do everything she did," said Keighlyn, "I was the leading scorer on my team this year and now I'm getting ready for the rec (recreation) league."
Briese, from a family of six children, was "a natural from the start" according to her father.
"I didn't belive what I saw when she began to play," he said. "I played a little but Mary was far better than I was. My wife was not very sports minded at first but has become delighted with the game, now. We've been very pleased with Mary and Maryland."
Heiss' sister, Mary, is planning to fly to UCLA to root last games and I want to be there," said Mary, also a senior at Maryland. "I yell louder than my mother anyway. Tara says she can hear me on the floor.