By Peter Schwartz
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In 1979, female basketball star Ann Meyers had a three-day tryout with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.
Manon Rheaume took things a step further. She was a goalie on the Canadian women’s national team who played five years of men’s professional hockey and played in preseason games with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992 and 1993.
Danica Patrick has certainly carved out a niche for herself in auto racing.
And let’s not forget tennis star Billie Jean King, who beat Bobby Riggs in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes.”
There have been some other examples over the years of woman being able to compete with men.
And now we have the latest female athlete who is ready to see what she can do with the boys. And it’s right here in our area.
Earlier this week, the New York Lizards of Major League Lacrosse claimed goalie Devon Wills from the league’s player pool. The Dartmouth College graduate, who ranks second on the school’s all-time saves list with 538, is currently an assistant coach at the University of Southern California.
“I’m very excited for this opportunity,” said the 29-year-old Wills. “I have a lot of respect for the MLL organization and all the players who compete in it, and having the opportunity to try out is once in a lifetime.”
When she takes to the field at Lizards training camp in April, she will be putting her skills on display while also drawing plenty of attention to the sport.
Some will look at it as a positive story and some might be a bit skeptical.
While many lacrosse experts might feel that the odds are against her, Wills is not going into this just for the attention. She wants to be on the Shuart Stadium field at Hofstra University when the Lizards open their 2014 season on April 27 against Rochester.
“I am focused on competing and earning a spot on the team,” said the two-time Women’s World Cup gold medalist.
Wills will certainly have to earn her spot on the squad, but she also might need to earn some respect from the lacrosse community. There might be some who look at this as a publicity stunt. The question will certainly be asked if the Lizards did this to create some sort of buzz and to bring attention to the franchise and the sport.
Wills doesn’t think she is getting into something that is not legit.
“People are entitled to their opinions,” said Wills. “I do not want to participate in anything that would discredit the Lizards organization or any of their players. I trust that they wouldn’t put themselves in any position to negate their reputations or the reputations of the league.”
As for making the team, Wills will make a case for herself by the way she performs on the field. Ultimately, the decision will be made by head coach Joe Spallina, who also doubles as the head coach of the Stony Brook University women’s team on Long Island.
Spallina’s experience with the women’s game certainly gives Wills a unique opportunity with the Lizards.
“I think Coach Spallina has a different perspective into my abilities because of his insight from being in the women’s game on a daily basis,” said Wills. “I think that provides legitimacy to his decision to offer me a tryout. This isn’t a favor he is giving me.”
It certainly appears that this is a legitimate opportunity for Wills. She is hopeful that she can land a spot on the roster, but she knows that the Lizards will do what is in the best interest of the team. If she doesn’t make the squad, it will certainly be a disappointment, but Wills will understand.
“I do not expect any special treatment because I am a female, nor would I want any special treatment,” said Wills. “I want to earn a spot the same way as the guy next to me. If I am not capable of doing that, I will respect their decision, and still be grateful for the opportunity.”
If Wills earns a spot on the Lizards’ roster, she will make Major League Lacrosse history. But just getting invited to training camp is a huge accomplishment and it certainly opens up the door for others to follow in the years to come.
Most importantly, she has established herself as a role model for young female athletes who aspire to dream what was once the impossible, but is now the opportunity.
Good luck, Devon!
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