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West Orange High School Hosts First Mixed-Gender Basketball Association Exhibition Tour Tryouts

Jackie Schatell

Friday, November 22, 2013 • 4:22am

WEST ORANGE, NJ - On Nov. 16, the Mixed Gender Basketball Association (MGBA) held its first exhibition tour tryouts at the West Orange High School for a brand-new professional basketball league where men and women will play together as teammates. The MGBA invited male and female players over the age of 18 from local towns like Livingston, Millburn and West Orange and from states as far away as California and New Hampshire to try out for the league via ads on Craigslist and articles in publications including Jett magazine.

On Sat., many of the 40 hopefuls who signed up to try out for a spot in the league, arrived early and shot around the gym in groups. Some brought family and/or loved ones with them, and some came alone.

De’Von Randolph, 24, who played point guard in high school, brought his son Nasir, 3, to the tryouts. The two did some stretches together to warm up.

“This is a great experience and opportunity and I really like to idea of playing with women because they bring more competition,” said Randolph.

Jacqui Burrows, 44, of Nashua, N.H., brought her daughter Krista, 20, for good luck. Burrows said she has been playing basketball her whole life and that she played in high school and currently plays in a men’s league at home.

“All of the men I play with play with me as they would with a guy, they don’t look at me any differently,” said Burrows.

Sade Morales, 19, of Belleville, brought her mother, Dolly Carter to see her try out. Morales, a college student at Passaic County Community College, said that she does not currently play at school.

“I was featured in The Star-Ledger once for scoring 17 points in a Belleville High School game,” said Morales. “I think having men and women playing together is an advantage because men are generally taller so they can get the rebounds and we can all work together as a team.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Sade to make it big—everyone deserves a shot,” said Carter.

Aaron Armstrong, 22, from Jackson, came to the event by himself.

“I think the MGBA concept is interesting,” said Armstrong, a former high school player. “I haven’t played basketball with females since first grade, so this is really something different for me.”

Some prospects said they played basketball in high school, but not in college and felt that the MGBA was a second chance for them to play competitively.

“I think this is an awesome opportunity,” said MaryBeth Asuncion, 27, of Germantown, Md., who said she was offered three division three scholarships, but chose not to take them and instead graduated from the University of Maryland in 2008 with a degree in kinesiology.

“I have been playing basketball since I was seven,” said Asuncion, a personal trainer. “I grew up playing in boys' and girls' clubs and think it is rare to have men and women playing together—it generally only happens in pick-up games at the gym.”

Nina Grandberry, 27, originally from Kansas City, Mo. and a current resident of Brooklyn, said she was also trying out for the NJ Expressions (WABA), the only professional women’s team in New Jersey.

“I played basketball in high school, and played in a club at Lehigh,” said Grandberry. “I really think the MGBA is a great idea. I grew up playing basketball with all of my male cousins and didn’t play with girls until I was 14. Playing with guys makes me a better player. When you are playing with men you can’t be sloppy. Playing with guys is what introduced me to the sport, so I am glad to be playing with them again at the professional level.”

Tosha Longmire, 40, of Cincinnati, a commercial driver, said, “I didn’t get a chance to play in college due to a knee injury, so I thought it would be a good idea to see if I could make this new basketball league.”

Some hopefuls played in college, but didn’t go on to play professionally. They also said that the MGBA was a second chance for them to play competitively.

Sean Mills, 33, of Philadelphia, who was a shooting guard at the University of Bridgeport, and currently plays in local leagues said, “I think the concept is alright—a game is a game to me regardless of who plays.”

24-year-old Brandon Sessoms of Newark, a sports coordinator at the Montclair YMCA, who played basketball in high school and at Montclair State said, “I think its dope. It has never been done before. You get the best of both worlds—some girls are real good and some people I know in their 40’s are at the top of their game and can outplay me.”

Christine Fernandez, 27, of the Bronx said she played in high school and some of college at Lehman College.

“I think the MGBA idea is great as it shows that females and males can come together and play the sport together,” said Fernandez.

Some players like six foot, six inch tall David Zebrowski, 30, of West Orange only played in rec leagues before trying out for the MGBA.

“I think this is something that will work,” said Zebrowski.

A few players had local sponsors.

One such player was Heather LaCasse, 30, from the Bronx, who was sponsored by The Wilshire Grand Hotel. LaCasse, who is currently a counsellor at a residential treatment center for children, said she played shooting guard and forward in high school at the Academy of Mount Saint Ursula in the Bronx.

“This is a great idea,” said LaCasse. “I know that many women as well as men love and live the game and this is a great opportunity to make them equal. There are not as many opportunities for women to play and be paid to do what we love to do.”

Jean Marcellus, 35, of the Bronx, was sponsored by Carmine Ellonardo, the owner of Posture Perfect Chiropractic in West Orange.

Marcellus, who is 6-foot-6 and who graduated from Farmingdale University in Long Island with a degree in criminal justice, played forward for the Division 3 team.

“I like the concept and think it is new and fresh,” said the high school special education crisis counselor and Varsity boys basketball coach.

After Dr. Howard welcomed everyone to the tryouts and explained his vision for the league, the players began running drills and later played a game. During the week after the tryouts, some players like Burrows and Marcellus were notified that they would be playing in the upcoming Exhibition game in December, and LaCasse was invited back for another tryout.

The MGBA motto is “Equal Pay for Equal Play” and MGBA’s mission is to establish a professional basketball league and tournament, structured on principles of gender equity and fairness whereby male and female players join together in team competition in the best interest of basketball. In the MGBA. All players will be paid the same.

Right now, the MGBA, which is owned by Dr. John Howard, Jr., president, and West Orange resident, James Scott, vice president, is offering team ownership for $25,000 a team to interested parties in which team owners will fill their rosters with six male and six female players selected from the tryouts. Teams will compete over the course of the fall and extending until mid-2014. New rules and regulations will be in place for the MGBA including having the teams change from quarter to quarter by rotating between three men and two women and two men and three women. Howard also plans to have a 4-point shot line for women, and “scramble time” where the team that is losing at the end of a game will be able to play up to five women to increase their chances of getting 4-point plays. The sites currently being considered for MGBA league play are: New York City, New Jersey, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, and Michigan. Eventually, there will be teams in every state.

“We believe that this league will be a historic landmark and will be symbolic of the mounting evolution away from separate single gender basketball,” said Howard Jr, who was a Cincinnati Bearcat (1964-1968) and a Harlem Globetrotter in the 1960s, and later went on to be a district superintendent, high school principal and college professor.

Howard’s wife Dawn said, “We are very excited. I think men and women can play well together on the same team and I think it is something that should have been done a long time ago.”

Four West Orange residents have been instrumental in helping to establish the league.

“I have the pleasure of working with MGBA, Inc. as the director of operations, along with Janine Augustus, director of communications and public relations, and Jennifer Jones, director of public affairs, but with any growing company we all wear many hats in providing substance, said Paul D. King. “I proudly take on the many tasks for this vision that will change history for women in sports. Dr. Howard's vision is a great driver toward progress. I believe this is a perfect opportunity to continually bend the iron gate of segregation of the mind with the strong force of reality and time; this will change the once hindering gate of exclusion to a bridge of inclusion in the world of sports, reshaping minds both young and old. There are many loudly rooting for us to succeed and many quietly rooting for us to fail. But, no matter how loudly they cheer for us or how quietly they dissent, it will not matter. If we establish a foundation that is rooted in the right simple things, we will succeed leaving a legacy rooted in gender and economic equality, and what better legacy can I give to my three daughters and future son?”

“I think this is such a great idea on so many levels—for the youth it offers health and activity, for men and women is offers equality in sports and for communities, it offers revenue, jobs, and provides family fun, a chance to see something innovative, entertainment, and good old-fashioned fun.”

“I was a professional dancer and my parents always took me to see Broadway shows that inspired me to be a dancer, and I think the MGBA will inspire America’s youth to play mixed gender basketball and it will provide more jobs as basketball players for women,” added Jones.

Augustus, who inspired the league to hold tryouts in West Orange, and to play the league’s first Exhibition games at West Orange High School on Dec 27 and 28 said, “I wanted to do something in the community to support the youth, businesses and school system in a way that I could give back as they have always given to me.”

“This is a really exciting time in the world of basketball,” said Scott. “We have a lot of interesting people involved, such as five-time Grammy winner, Bernard Bell, who is writing a song for the MGBA, and renowned designer, Kenneth Davis, who is designing our uniforms.”

The Mixed Gender Basketball Association, Inc. was founded on January 25, 2013 in the state of Florida as a For Profit Making Corporation. For information on MGBA and future tryouts visit www.mgbainc.com.

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