Some small Southeast Alaska communities have struggled to keep their girls high school basketball teams alive because of low numbers. In Thorne Bay, the girls team dissolved halfway through this season when their coach and her daughter left town.
17-year-old Maggie Avila wants to play basketball in college and maybe even after. So, when the Lady Wolverines team fell apart, she had to keep playing.
“So I joined the guys’ team and they let me play so I was really happy about that,” she said. “‘Cause basketball is the one sport that I truly love and it inspires me to be better.”
Maggie, whose nickname “The Bullet,” has been playing with the boys team now for three weeks.
“Maggie’s always had great desire to play basketball, and she really wanted to play with us,” said her coach, James Hughes.”She’s been a good asset to the team. She has a lot of spirit, a lot of determination.”
“They welcomed me with open arms,” Maggie said. “It’s just one big family so we’re all happy and deal with each other equally.”
Coach Hughes said he was concerned for her safety at first.
“I was afraid for her safety, having a girl come in with a bunch of guys,” he said. “I was hoping nobody would try to prove a point and say there shouldn’t be a girl on the team or something like that. So that was my only hesitation. But she’s a strong girl.”
In the past few weeks, Maggie has only feared for her safety once. Last Wednesday, when the Wolverines played Klawock, a team with a 6-foot-4 dunking machine named Tyrus Morgan.
“When Tyrus went to dunk the other day, I was right under the basket and I was like oh my gosh, I’m gonna die!” Maggie said.
The Wolverines’ captain, junior Kaiden Hughes, said he was a little hesitant when he heard Maggie wanted to join.
“I just didn’t know if she’d be able to do everything we could,” he said. “But she’s done it just fine.”
Having her on the team has taught him that “girls can do it too,” he said.
Although there are some weird moments. “It’s kinda awkward when we’re changing in the locker room,” Kaiden said.
Maggie was not going to let awkward scenarios like that keep her from playing basketball.
“Basketball gives me the feeling that I can try harder and always give 110 percent,” she said. “And it just is something that allows me to push myself to the breaking point where I can do better.”
She says competing with the boys is helping her become a better player.
The Wolverines competed in the Southeast Regional 1A Tournament in Ketchikan. They lost to Klawock Wednesday, and played Angoon Thursday.
Maggie played for the last five and a half minutes of the game against Angoon. The 5’ 3’’ athlete sped around the boys, her long braid flowing behind her. A couple of her teammates from the Lady Wolverines were in the stands watching.
“I’ve got a sense of pride seeing her out there, just a girl doing it,” said one of them.
They lost to Angoon, 82-46. It was the last game of the season.
“I think it was a good experience altogether,” Maggie said after the game. “I learned endurance, how to stay strong. We learned good communication over the three weeks we were together.”
Maggie has been working on convincing junior high girls to join the Lady Wolverines team next season, so she’ll probably be playing with the girls next year. She says she’ll miss playing with the boys, but just a little bit.