Women’s All B-Ball Lets Women Hoop It Up

Rita Forte of Oakland and her friend Amanda Lesky of San Francisco have created a way for women to play basketball for post-college age play.


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Photo by Paul Haggard

In all the pick-up games on all the neighborhood basketball courts in all the Bay Area, it’s not often you see women out there hooping it up.

Not because they don’t want to. They definitely do. But most don’t necessarily want to jump in with a group of men, preferring a game with players of equal strength levels and with plenty of court time for all.

This play gap was not lost on Oakland native Rita Forte and her friend Amanda Lesky of San Francisco, who both love the game and had played throughout high school and college, but found slim opportunities to do so as adults.

So in 2015, they decided to change the game, founding Women’s All B-Ball. It’s not a league, not a team, but an overarching basketball organization, aiming to provide opportunities for women to play basketball recreationally and competitively beyond the college-level. And solely with women.

To this end, Women’s All B-Ball offers regular $5 pickup games, 3-on-3 tournaments and connections to league play for women of all ages and skill levels. Since the organization began, it has grown to a network base of about 2,000 women with a core group of more than 200 active participants who consistently show up at games and clinics.

“We’re clearly filling a need,” said Lesky, who in daily life is the executive director of The Food Education Project in San Francisco. “It’s always been really hard to play in the Bay Area, especially if you’re hoping to play outside street ball. It’s all men. Even with pickup games that are co-ed, which means usually 80 percent male, if not more.

“We found that to be pretty jarring for us as women,” she said. “We wanted something that would give us a fair amount of playtime and allow us to be treated as players, not just as women.”

“Recreational sports for women in general is underserved,” said Forte, owner of the Oakland marketing firm The Olive Street Agency. “You see it on the national level with the pay, the super unequal media coverage. I’m all about ‘Go Warriors,’ but, hey, the coverage of the WNBA is miniscule. Women want to play basketball, too.”

Forte and Lesky met in 2014 and formed a fast friendship, bonding over their dogs and their love of the game. “Basketball is such a great game,” Forte said. “It’s quick, it’s easy to understand, it involves a lot of strategy. When you’re in the moment, you have to decide what to do right now. You have to be able to move quickly and make those decisions right away. I love that aspect.”

The two had also deeply missed playing on a regular basis since they’d graduated from college in the early 2000s. So they started offering monthly pickup games in early 2015 in a high-school gym at Immaculate Conception Academy in the Mission district, where Lesky was then teaching. From there, it expanded to games in the East Bay and the Peninsula. They soon added a summer tourney to the mix, and last year began offering league play. “We’d put together an actual team of about 10 players that wants to play more competitively and enter them into a league,” Forte said.

While there are indeed a handful of women’s leagues in Northern California, “we’re definitely the only group in the Bay Area and within at least 100 miles north and south that offers as many opportunities as we do strictly for women to play basketball post-college age,” Forte said. “Women travel from as far as Sacramento to come play with us because this is so needed.”

Now entering their fifth year with the organization, Lesky and Forte say they’re at a turning point, deciding whether to form a nonprofit or a corporation, possibly with a membership model. And while this is not a money-making venture for the women, they did launch a successful crowdfunding campaign in July to help pay for facility rentals, equipment fees, and more.

“From my perspective, this is something that’s really important, where women lift each other up, respect each other, and play the game with cohesiveness and a sense of pride,” Lesky said. “I do believe that’s been very hard to find in the Bay Area, but we’re around, and we’re here to stay.”

 

Learn more about Women’s All B-Ball at WomensAllBBall.com.

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