Dec 14, 2012, 2:42 PM EDT
The women’s basketball team at Mission College in Santa Clara, Calif., is getting plenty of notice this season, and not because head coach Corey Cafferata has turned the program into a winner. It’s because of the team’s newest player, Gabrielle Ludwig, who is 6-foot-8 and 50 years old. And she also used be a man.
Yep, the Lady Saints have a transgender player who played high school basketball in the 1970s as a guy. Meet Gabrielle Ludwig, whose path back to the sport is in equal parts unconventional, controversial and courageous.
Ludwig is a father, military veteran (he served in Operation Desert Storm) and former basketball coach who had gender reassignment surgery this past July. Ludwig played basketball as a high schooler in New York, and had played in Rec leagues since, but still had college eligibility. So after meeting Cafferata at a college function, he invited her to join the team.
“If the example I can set for the kids who are transgenders in high school, for the people who hate transgender people and for those learning to deal with transgenders, transsexuals, if they see me as a normal person and we are not the boogeyman and love life and raise kids just like you, maybe some of this mystery of who these people are will be taken away and there can be more blending into society,” said Ludwig, a scientist at Roche Molecular Diagnostics in Pleasanton.
“People are afraid of what they don’t know. I am willing to put myself out there. It was not like that before. It was just about playing basketball. It’s about more because I see an injustice.”
Mission College is on the San Francisco Peninsula, just north of San Jose and adjacent to the new stadium being constructed by the San Francisco 49ers. In the past, the only thing the women’s basketball team has been noted for was a notorious 90-game losing streak, but that’s changed.
Cafferata has led the Lady Saints to two straight conference playoff berths, and the team looks strong again this season, in no small part due to Ludwig. But it hasn’t been an easy road. She’s been heckled at games, has actually received physical threats, and earlier this month was mocked by ESPN 980 (Wash. D.C.) radio hosts Andy Pollin and Steve Czaban on the air (the two were later suspended).
In addition, some opposing players and fans think it’s unfair for a transgender player to be competing on a women’s team. San Jose Mercury News:
Ray Galli, 58, of Folsom, watched the game [at Contra Costa College] with a friend whose daughter played on the opposing team.
“It ain’t right,” Galli said. “For one, she’s 50 years old, and No. 2 … come on, these girls out here are young. Start your own league if you want to do that.”
Galli said he would pull his daughter off a team if Ludwig tried to join it.
“I don’t want to see a 50-year-old man in the locker room,” Galli said. “I mean, you’re born a guy, right? I’m not sure if all the parts are there or what.
“I don’t support gay rights, but I’m not going to condemn them, it’s their own choice,” Galli said. “But this isn’t about personal rights, this is a team.”
Owing to the controversy, Ludwig gathered her teammates before the first game and offered to quit, fearing that she was a distraction, and that this was “their time.” The team responded by telling her that if she didn’t play, they wouldn’t play either.
Teammate Amy Woo, 19, said Ludwig has brought a maternal influence, helping the team keep problems in perspective.
“We all love her,” Woo said. “If someone is going to talk against her, they are talking against all of us because it’s like she is part of a family.”
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