Melany Javier is used to the weird looks by now, the whispers and questions, too. The Alfred E. Smith junior is one of two girls, along with sophomore Rosalba Perez, to play on the school’s boys’ volleyball team. They are the only two females in the PSAL playing the male version of the sport.
“Even the referees are like, ‘Why are they playing?’” Javier said.
Last year, coach Tracy Peterson attempted to sustain Smith’s 3-year-old girls’ volleyball team. But the school has just 120 girls in total and there wasn’t much interest. She spent the better part of the fall 2007 practicing with five girls, but the Warriors had to forfeit matches because they didn’t have enough players. Eventually, they couldn’t carry on like that and the season was canceled altogether.
“I really want the school to have a girls’ team,” Perez said.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t a possibility. But Peterson didn’t want all that practicing to go to waste. According to PSAL rules, if a school does not have a girls’ team in a particular sport, a girl can play on a boys’ team. So, last year she brought Perez, Javier and Ruthy Martinez, who has since graduated, onto her boys’ team.
It has obviously been a transition. Smith plays in the same division as Kennedy and Walton, two of the best teams in the division and, as Perez puts it, “the boys hit much harder than the girls.” But the pair is making the most of their opportunity. Perez is actually sixth in the division in digs (46).
“She’s not afraid of anything,” Peterson said.
Perez, who is 4-feet-10, but quick and athletic, also plays on the boys’ soccer team, because Smith doesn’t have a girls’ team. She is hoping to join the school’s girls’ basketball club, which is currently in the works. Playing with all guys has not intimidated her in the least.
“At first, I was shy, but when I go out there I just play,” Perez said.
That shyness was helped because she has Javier on her side. The two have leaned on each other when being a girl on a guys’ team can get odd or lonely.
“I feel more comfortable because she’s there,” Javier said. “I think it’d be scary to be the only girl.”
The boys on the team have no problem with Perez and Javier. They treat them as equals. And with such a dearth of females at Smith, it can’t hurt to have some around, junior captain Leandro Gil said.
“It’s better to see more than less,” he joked.
Junior Bilal Gidron, who is new to the team this season, said Perez actually gives him tips in practice. Before Smith’s game with Clinton on Thursday, Gidron needed Perez to get him ready to play, because he was unsure of how the game would turn out.
“She was calming me down,” he said. “She said, ‘Bilal, be easy. It’s gonna come out as a better result if you calm down.’”
Obviously, Perez and Javier have to change in different locker rooms and Javier says she knows teams hit at them on purpose, because they must not be as good as the boys. But both play regularly and hold their own out there on the court. Javier, a setter, has good hands and Perez is incredibly scrappy.
“We do our best and that’s just what it is,” Javier said. “Teams pick on us, because they they think it’s an easy point. But we’re good.”
Smith is just 2-7 in PSAL Bronx IV, but that win total is the most it has had since 2006. The Warriors didn’t win a single match the past two seasons.