Betty Laham played basketball throughout her four years at YULA High School. When she returned to Los Angeles after graduating from NYU, she was eager to find an organized women's basketball league and hoped to recapture the challenges and excitement of regular play.
She searched for three years, but failed to find anything.
So Laham and four other women started to play pick-up games every Thursday at one of their homes. Laham also began to collect names and e-mails of any other women who were interested in the sport. When she'd gathered enough names to fill four team rosters, Laham approached Jewish Sports League (JSL) organizer Sam Samson and asked to create a women's league. In exchange for a small fee, JSL would organize gym time, referees, shot clock and score keepers.
The Jewish women's basketball league started by Laham is now in its inaugural year.
"I didn't set out looking to start this whole unique experience for Jewish women. I just wanted to play basketball in an organized way," said Laham, 26, a member Mogen David of Beverly Hills.
The league has four teams, games every Sunday, optional practices on Wednesday, and a playoff series. The games are played in two 20-minute halves, and are refereed according to collegiate women's rules.
"The league is fantastic. I didn't know many people in L.A., and now I've met so many," said Carly Mann, 23, who has played basketball since she was 8.
League play is competitive, but fun, and is open to women of all skill levels and abilities. Some women are completing no-look, behind-the-back passes, while others are scoring for the first time ever. "If you haven't played in your life or if you've played your whole life, there's a place for you," said Laham, who plays forward.
Participants don't have to be good; they just have to be interested. At Wednesday night practices, players develop an understanding of the game and work on their fundamentals. There are no coaches, so the more experienced women often share their knowledge of the game with less experienced players -- even with their opponents.
"Everyone's so great and so excited to be playing. Women on other teams will even explain why something is a foul or go over a rule with you," said Shira Heby, 23, an employee at Emek Hebrew Academy.
While the league is open to women who are not Jewish, it was created by Jewish women with Jewish women of all denominations. Many observant women, like Heby, even play in skirts. There are no games or practices on Shabbat or holidays; Sunday games were cancelled when they fell on Tisha B'Av, the fast day.
"Some girls play in long shirts and skirts, others in shorts and T-shirts, some women cover there hair, others don't," said Devorah Becker, a member of B'nai David-Judea. "The women in the league are all different, but we all want to play. It's great."
For many of the women, it's about more than just the game -- it's about camaraderie, community and it provides a competitive outlet. "Plus, it's a great way to lose weight," Becker said. " Playing a sport makes exercise go much quicker than running on a treadmill."
The games draw a crowd. Children, friends, spouses and boyfriends show up to cheer the women on. The players are happy to have a cheering squad, but what they really want are more participants.
Laham's goal is to expand the league, adding players and teams with every season. "We'd love to see lots of new women out here playing," she said.
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