Priscilla Sheffield grabbed a rebound, raced the length of the Springbrook High School basketball court and passed off to a teammate for a basket.

That could not have happened 10 years ago. Ten years ago, girls played half-court basketball. People didn't think they were strong enough to play the boys' full-court version.

Another aspect of the scene that would have been unlikely 10 years ago, if not impossible, was the 400 fans, parents and friends in the stands working up a frenzy over the game, Springbrook vs. rival Paint Branch -- two teams ranked in the top 20.

That's the glass-in-half-full way of looking at it. From the half-empty side, two-thirds of the 1,200 seats in the gym were empty.

"A lot of the guys (on the boys' team) would have come to our game tonight, but their (away) game is at the same time," said senior guard Debbie Johnson.

"Except for some games, like against Paint Branch," added junior guard Kam Hoffman, "mostly just the parents come."

The crowds aren't there yet. But the level of expertise is, and that leads to enhanced respect -- self-respect accompanied by some new appreciation from another quarter.

Dozens of interviews indicate that, while discrimination hasn't vanished, today's female high school athletes have never encountered the bias experienced by their predecessors.

Title 9, the federal law barring sex discrimination in school sports programs, has opened doors for female athletes and coaches. One of its requirements, coed physical education classes from grade school on up, has resulted in the girls acquiring more finely honed skills and the development of a sense of camaraderie among the boys and girls.

Diane Hackett, a former student and now field hockey coach at Madison High, remembered, "There was a time when girls' sports had no status. No respect was given girl athletes especially by the boys.

"Now the boys enjoy coed classes and respect the girls for their talent. The girls aren't considered a jock or some kind of freak."

"I know there have been a lot of changes because my mother has told me about them," said Clare Domenici, a Woodward High senior who plays three sports. "There's a lot more time and money put into girls' sports now. Female players are given a little more credit . . .

"There's been an increase in interest. You see more girls going out for basketball this year and there's been a positive, good reaction. I don't feel awkward around boys because I play sports. We have something in common to talk about that other girls don't have."

"Guys don't give you any hassle," said Kathy Lemanski, a senior who plays field hockey at Edison. "They encourage you. If you're good at it, they look up to you."

Mount Vernon senior Shari Solis has a slight variation on the theme. "The boys would rather have you running around," she said, "than sitting around getting fat."

"There's a whole trend of people wanting to be able to be 'free,'" said Bob Eavenson, soccer coach at T. C. Williams. "Most of the girls have only participated in academic challenges and for the most part have felt comfortable.

"But now they're participating on the athletic field and I think it's been very positive. The more they compete, the more comfortable they feel with it and the more confidence they build in themselves.

"They're not as concerned about whether they're as good or better than the boys. They don't compare it. There's a sense of comaraderie between the boys and girls. For instance, at a track meet last year when the girls lost by three points, the boys' team . . . insisted on the girls running a victory lap with them."

That camaraderie is apparent in the hallways and athletic rooms. No boys flinch when a girl walks into the weight room to work out, or joins the boys in a pickup basketball game.

"We play basketball in gym with boys and they don't seen to mind," said Vicki Thomas, 16, a small forward on the Paint Branch team. "They treat us just as fair as they treat the guys . . .

"They don't let up on us at all. If we make a mistake, a foul, they don't hesitate to tell us at all."

But, as successful as the coed p.e. classes have been in destroying stereotypes, few students opt to take them after the course requirements have been filled.

"Since p.e. is mandatory for 10th graders there is no problem with participation," said Wanda Oates, for 15 years a teacher and coach at Ballou High. "But in the 11th and 12th grades, it's an elective and our participation falls off about 75 percent.

"Of the 400 or so girls who took p.e. in the 10th grade, only about 50 enrolled in coed p.e. the following two years . . . It doesn't bother me that the girls don't want to continue in p.e. because the gyms aren't adequate and there's not enough equipment to go around," Oates said.

"P.E. doesn't meet the needs of the athlete, so she skips it and concentrates on sports instead," said Vinna Freeman, who coordinates the athletics and physical education programs for girls in District schools.

"I didn't take p.e. after the 10th grade because it was a hassle," said Ballou all-Met basketball player Maria Nicholson, a senior. "There were too many people and not much going on. It's too crowded to do much. So I took other electives."

"I think we (teachers) are responsible for the decline," said Einstein's Liz Bouve. "What the kids want now is specialization -- nine weeks of volleyball or nine weeks of tennis. Before, it used to be two weeks of this and two weeks of that -- your basic grab bag of p.e. classes."

Until Title 9, physical education programs were often the cornerstone of organized girls' sports. The adjustment of a full-blown athletic program for girls has been difficult in some quarters according to Barbara Adrian, assistant athletic director at Prince George's Parkdale High and a coach for 12 years.

"It's hard to throw this new coed (p.e.) program and athletics for girls at some women teachers who have put in 20 years," Adrian added. "Young teachers are used to this Title 9 idea and adjust to it better . . . (But) I think the caliber of athletics was improving even before Title 9 came through."