It might be the worst pregame ritual in America.
Isolated in a barren, dimly lit high school bathroom, away from coaches and teammates. There's no locker, no bench, no filtered water. Want to put on your team socks and lace up your high-tops? That's fine. Have a seat on the toilet -- it's the only place to sit down.
Lacy Asdourian, a junior at Liberty Christian High School (Redding, Calif.), lives it.
She lives it because it would be inappropriate for her to change in the same locker room as her basketball teammates. She lives it because she's a girl on a boys' team.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Asdourian was slotted to be one of the stars on the Liberty Christian girls' team, but a new rule implemented by the California Interscholastic Federation led to a mass exodus of players. The new rule allows students to transfer to another school's athletic program and play after just 30 days. In the past, transfers had to sit out an entire year. After Liberty Christian saw an all-state freshman bolt to play for another school and one of its post players leave to swim at another school, the trickle-down effect left seven girls interested in playing, one of whom had a bum knee and had not even finished therapy.
It's not like one of those last-guy-off-the-bench situations. When she goes in, we all understand and recognize that she definitely earned her playing time.” -- Junior guard Joseph Lynch,
on Lacy Asdourian
"We had to make the decision that, for the first time since the 1960s, we would not have a girls' basketball team at Liberty Christian," said athletic director Todd Franklin, who doubles as the boys' basketball coach.
At that point, Asdourian was faced with three options: sit the season out and hope Liberty Christian could field a team next year, transfer to another school or play for Franklin's boys' team.
"I was so confused at first; I didn't know what I wanted to do," Asdourian said. "I didn't want to leave my school, because I've been here since kindergarten, but I really wanted to play. At the same time, I was nervous about playing with the boys because I didn't want to slow anything down."
Asdourian's ensuing decision to commit to playing a season on the boys' team has resulted in a three-month journey that has blended beautiful play on the court with enhanced character development off of it.
On the court, the team went 10-2 in conference play before plowing through its sectional tournament. But the journey gained even more momentum Wednesday night when Liberty Christian beat Ripon Christian 67-55 in the first round of the California state tournament.
Asdourian, who could play either volleyball or basketball in college, hasn't owned the box score for Liberty Christian, but she is certainly a regular tenant. She is averaging about 10 minutes per game, and her presence is most felt on the defensive end. Even with a diminutive stature, the 5-foot-5 guard can come in and lock down the other team's primary ball handler.
Her defensive efforts are so valuable, she can spell the team's top two scorers, guards Joseph Lynch and Tyler Green, without any internal conflict or teammate resentment.
"It's not like one of those last-guy-off-the-bench situations," said Lynch, a junior. "When she goes in, we all understand and recognize that she definitely earned her playing time."
Some may say that kind of selfless awareness is a rarity within the high school boy demographic, but it resonates on this Liberty Christian team, and that could be a direct result of the growth stimulated by Asdourian's joining the team.
"Looking back on it all, I think it's been the best thing for our guys," Franklin said. "We're in a society that has lost track of how to treat females: opening the door for someone, giving up your seat in the video room. These are some life lessons that they may not have gotten had these things not occurred."
It's no wonder, then, that when Asdourian toed the free throw line in the fourth quarter of the first round of the California state tournament Wednesday, she was the one in the gym who least cared about making the shot. Sure, she wanted to contribute a point or two, but her teammates wanted it more. Her coaches wanted it more. The Liberty Christian fans wanted it more. Heck, even the opposing fans might have wanted it more.
The first of her two free throws ripped through the net. It was as if crème brulée was a sound and a sight and an emotion all at once. You couldn't tell by the team's demeanor, but something certainly danced inside all 13 of Asdourian's teammates.
At some point, this historic Liberty Christian playoff run will end. It may be Saturday night against its second-round opponent, St. Joseph, the defending Nor Cal champions and the tournament's No. 1 seed. It may be on March 22 in the state championship game at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. Regardless, Asdourian will likely leave the court of a boys' game for the last time -- Liberty Christian intends to field a girls team again next year -- and get to reflect on a decision that has positively impacted so many in her community.
And she'll get to reflect alone. In her own private locker room. Until the boys are fully changed, at least.
"As for us," said the freshman Green, "we'll just be a boys team with one less girl. But we'll carry with us the respect we've gained for playing with other people and with different kinds of people."