Playing with the Big Boys

Women who compete on coed teams

"The guys decided that they wanted to be more competitive," she says. "And that meant they were deciding to be all men."

Passionate about the game she discovered as an adult, Reich had played with men since day one. "I was like, 'I don't get to play with you because I'm a woman?' " Reich recalls. "It was literally the first time I was faced with that. And I was shocked. "

Todd Muller, a male member of the Exterminating Angels, remembers that time too— but a bit differently. "The interesting thing came when a number of the women on the team wanted to form their own team because they wanted to win, and they wanted to play in an all women's league," he says. "So then the men formed our own team."

Mixing it up: going up for a rebound at a regular coed pickup game
Andrew Goldberg
Mixing it up: going up for a rebound at a regular coed pickup game

Nothing, apparently, is necessarily simple about coed teams— not understanding how they work or why they sometimes don't. But athletes like Reich and Muller say they're worth the effort. Affection for, and belief in, coed play remains strong for both.

Reich is happily ensconced on a women's team now, and still plays that weekly coed pickup game with Muller and others. It's a good balance. In the now less intense atmosphere of the gym, she and her coed teammates can emphasize passing and execution and total participation.

The payoffs are many. "Being really aggressive and really physical with men in a totally nonsexual way was so liberating for me," says Reich. "I love that."

Dori Carlson had insights of her own when she joined a coed softball team. She, like many other women, talks about discovering abilities and confidences she didn't know she had. "It was all these revelations," she says.

But when Rich Reid's attempt at an unassisted double play sent her to the hospital, some of her peers were quick to question coed play. "That's the problem with them," friends told Carlson. "You wouldn't have been hit as hard if it had been a woman."

"Honestly, till that point I didn't really think of it as being a coed league," says Reid. "I just thought of it as playing softball. When that happened it kind of made me say, 'Oh my God, should I be playing this hard?' "

Almost a year after the accident, Carlson still doesn't know if the vision in her injured eye will ever be the same. But she knows she doesn't regret joining the coed team that summer. She proved that she could do it, and gained a healthy dose of confidence in herself along the way. "Things happen," she says. "That's part of the nature of sports."

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