This is the second of a two-part series with MPBN’s Lisa Richards.
Lisa Richards has provided thoughtful insight for the viewers of MPBN’s Eastern Maine girls tournament coverage for the past thirty years. During that time and even dating back to her playing days at MDI High School, Richards has seen significant change in the girls game. Not only in the way the game is played by the participants on the court but by the manner the contests are received by fans at large.
In order to “prop up” the girls contests, the Eastern Maine tournament schedule, up until 2004, each session featured a girls contest, followed by a boys match-up. The only exception to this was the Class A semi-finals, in which the girls games were played on Thursday night with the boys competing on Friday. Richards noted that over the years fan interest had grown to a point the girls game was no longer just a prelim to the boys contest. Since the format change in ’04, the girls have proven they can draw interest at a level similar to the boys.
From the time Richards played, to when she started announcing, to where the game is now, Lisa stated how the game has become much more athletic. Teams today are generally deeper, more talented, and better conditioned. Some of this development stems from more women’s games being on television, to the increased amount of opportunities and growth in youth programs. As the next generation comes through, more former female players are getting involved in coaching and officiating. According to Richards, it is great that coaches have high expectations for their female athletes and treat them like athletes on par with their male counterparts.
Richards, a middle school physical education teacher and coach at the William S. Cohen School in Bangor, does have some concerns as to where the game is headed. Overall, she believes the current youth sports climate is healthy but cautions against the trend of specialization in one sport. In her years as an educator, she has seen the rise of overuse injuries.
She firmly believes the best athletes and in turn the best basketball players are two to three sport athletes. By playing multiple sports, kids learn to play different roles on various teams, which in turn develop better leaders. She also shared concerns regarding overloading young players during the season. While Richards is a proponent of travel basketball for middle schoolers, in recent years the travel season has overlapped with the middle school season. In many cases this creates a conflict with different coaching styles and systems within the same season.
Not only does playing on two teams within the same season create conflict, many times those coaching the travel teams do not see the big picture. Some of these programs are too focused on winning instead of developing skills and fundamentals. Many times a parent will coach one of these teams and will concentrate on developing their kid at the expense of helping to build a program.
Overall, Richards sees a bright future and continued growth ahead for girls basketball. She points to the success and interest of the University of Maine women’s team. Girls go to those games and aspire to play at that level. She has great optimism the game will get better and better with more kids going out in the future.