Once upon a time – around the turn of the century – I was contacted by a woman named Jessica Ryan, who asked if I would be interested in writing a story about an upstart women’s basketball league in Ithaca. The Ithaca Women’s Recreational Basketball Association was in its second season, I was told, would be self-governed and self-officiated, would welcome players of all ages and abilities and would play once a week.
Here we are in 2020, and I connected with Jessica Ryan once again to get an update on the league and her involvement in it. Ever the jokester, Jessica said, “I call myself the President Emeritus, and I have handed over the management to Naama Menda.”
I asked Jessica to describe a cross-section of players, and she said, “We can take players 16 and up, but most are in their mid-20s, late 30s to early 40s.” She laughed and added, “And then there’s me! The only over-50 white haired lady out there!”
I recall the big bash thrown last year for Jessica’s 50th. Her husband, Joe, pulled off a big surprise party/basketball game wrapped into one event, and the players were clearly grateful for all Jessica has done over the years. I wrote a fake story about it, our designer-extraordinaire photo shopped a hilarious image, and it was a lot of fun. The IWRBA’s Elder Stateswoman drained a few buckets, ate a few pieces of cake and was the toast of the evening.
While many leagues in many sports struggle to keep the numbers up, the IWRBA is thriving. “We play Wednesdays and Sundays at BJM gym,” Ryan said, “and we’re happy that we are pulling in enough players to add that second night.”
While the games are self-officiated and friendly, make no mistake that the women come to play. Ryan said, “Many of our players participated in the Gus Macker Tournament at Ithaca High, and that is a huge event. Our league was able to field three or four teams and one of them actually won the tournament! We’re bonafide!”
The range of skill can be wide, and Jessica said, “Everybody has at least some high school experience and some played in college. We had a player from Hobart-William Smith, and a woman who played a few years ago actually played for the Egyptian National Team! The level of play is good. They know the game.”
The structure is simple, and Ryan stated, “We see who shows up (Wednesdays and Sundays at 7 pm at BJM), we mix ‘em up and we play.” She laughed again when describing those “garish yellow pinnies” they use for “uniforms,” and when I asked her about the level of intensity seen at the games, she said, “Well, last year I cracked my head open when I hit it on the floor,” but she was quick to add that such injuries are rare.
Jessica called the IWRBA “a great community-based league,” and she said “We do play some in the summer, but we mostly follow the ICSD’s calendar, from September to June.”