Back in the Game
Growing up in Southern California, Youshea Berry fondly recalls shooting
hoops with her father in a local park, not far from the Great Western Forum,
then-home to the Los Angeles Lakers. Berry's parents fostered her love for
the game, which she continued to play throughout her high school years, clear
on through law school.
But Berry – now a sole practitioner in Washington, D.C. – got
sidelined from the sport for roughly five years, as the realities of an East
Coast law practice set in.
"What I found was [that] most of the events in the legal profession revolve
around either golf or tennis," she laughs, "but you don't find much in between."
I'm not a person
that likes to be
in the stands.
I like to be
on the court.
That was, until the fall of 2005, when a small group of law students and
alumnae from Georgetown Law Center, sharing a common love for the sport, formed
the "Women's Basketball Club".
"The women at Georgetown would get together on an ad hoc basis, or they would
get together during open gym, and that's how the idea started," notes Berry.
The informal pick-up group proved so popular that a one-day tournament followed,
in which the ladies of Georgetown competed against all-female teams from other
area law schools. This did nothing to diminish the fervor, and thus Get in
the Game Hoops (www.getinthegamehoops.com)
"After that tournament, they pulled all the women that played and said, ‘Is
this something that you'd like to do during the regular year, on a regular
basis?'" Berry explains. "And the response was, ‘Yes,' and so basically
they created a league for us to play."
"It's a great opportunity to just get out and meet some other attorneys in
a non-traditional way," she adds.
The "Lady Lawyers League" – now more than 80 strong – wrapped
its second season last fall, with Berry's team finishing third in the championship
out of a field of seven teams.
"Basically, they randomly assign you to a team," says Berry. "They have a
law student team. They have alumni associations that have teams. They have
law firms that have teams –
I was on Hogan & Hartson's team, just because I didn't have enough players
to create my own team."
"You have a range in the skill levels, so there are people who never played
in school to people who played in college on Division I teams," adds Berry,
who usually plays guard.
Because of this balance, she notes, "you really go into a game like, ‘We
can win this.'"
Players' ages range from their early 20s through 40s. "There may be older
players," Berry acknowledges,
"but seeing them on the court you'd think they were 30 or 40."
Games are held every Wednesday evening, with players paying a flat registration
fee for the season.
"They're working on getting their own 501(c)(3) status," Berry explains. "The
great thing about it is that part of the proceeds go to a nonprofit; each season,
the additional income over what they need in operating expenses will go toward
a nonprofit. They'll donate it to an organization that sponsors either what
they call ‘girl power' or female development on the athletic side, or
some other related cause."
The league's popularity has also proven to extend well beyond regional boundaries,
recently expanding to Berry's native coast. "The program started here," Berry
says, "but one of the organizers moved to San Francisco to take the bar exam,
and she said, ‘[It] would be great if we could have something like what
we started at Georgetown here in San Francisco. And so they started just like
they did here: they start with a tournament, and then they gauge interest to
see whether or not they want to do a league. So they did that in San Francisco.
They're trying to expand to Los Angeles, as well."
Moreover, Berry foresees the possibility of inter-league play. "That's kind
of the vision, I think – that there could be this Lady Lawyers championship
that maybe involves the western conference and the eastern conference. We're
all pretty competitive, so I definitely see people wanting to take it to the
next level, schedules permitting. A regional championship could definitely
But even after a long day's work on little sleep, Berry brings no less to
her playing time than she does her day job, concentrating in the areas of real
estate and business law.
"While I may be really tired, when it's game time it's game time, and I'm ready
to be fierce and intense. If I'm there, I'm present; I'm not just going through
the motions. I'm really ready to make a difference and make something happen."
Yet, Berry gratefully acknowledges her sideline-support. "[My husband] came
out and was almost like an informal coach," she explains. "He was on the sidelines
with us, he came up with some plays for us. He's a very mild-mannered person,
so he's not the coach you would think – you know, like [NBA head coach]
Pat Riley, screaming from the sidelines. I call him ‘the quiet storm',
because he really will come up with a plan and say, ‘This is what I see,
this what I think you all should do.' He's a really solid coach, I think. He
can see what a problem is and how I can improve or how the team can improve."
But for Berry herself, there is but one place to be. "Other than professional
basketball, I don't like to really go to games and be in the stands," she admits. "I'm
not a person that likes to be in the stands. I like to be on the court. I like
to participate. It's really in my blood."