Play Like a Girl: 4.5 Questions with Barbara Carroll Roberts

Cindy and Lynn: How are your brackets doing? If you are a participant in the madness, we hope you filled out a Women’s NCAA basketball tourney bracket too! Their games are exciting as well! In the meantime, while you wait for another men’s or women’s game to tip, we are bringing you an interview with debut author Barbara Carroll Roberts. We featured her book, Nikki On the Line, recently but we wanted to know more. Read on for some women’s sports history you can share when you booktalk Roberts’ book.

1.     Cindy: We love debut books. It’s fun to read an offering by a brand new author. What has the experience been like for you to BE the brand new author?

Barbara: It still feels a bit unreal. I worked on this book for many years, so to see it on bookstore and library shelves – or even better, in readers hands – is wonderful. The best part has been hearing from young readers who have enjoyed Nikki’s story.

 

2.     Lynn: As I wrote in the review, it is rare to find a book about sports and a female athlete that actually has sports action in it. Nikki on the Line had such terrific and authentic game, practice, and tryout scenes. I also really loved the way you addressed the experiences of juggling practice schedules and homework and that struggle that many star players experience when they move to a higher level team with equal or better players. How did you decide to write a book with a sports focus and what personal experiences guided your writing?

Barbara: I love this question, because when I was trying to find books about girls who play sports for my sports-loving daughter, I noticed the same lack of actual sports action in the very few books I found that had a female protagonist and a “sports theme.” Instead, in most of the “sports books” about girls that I found, the sport was simply a background element of the story.

But my daughter and the other girls on her teams were passionate about playing sports. So I decided to write a book for and about those girls.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I began researching this book when I was in high school, playing competitive sports, feeling all the aches and pains of sore muscles and bruises, and juggling homework and family chores. But I also spent many years watching my son and daughter play team sports. Their experiences, and particularly the high levels of competition they faced, inspired much of the action in Nikki on the Line.

 

3.     Cindy: When I booktalk Karen Blumenthal’s nonfiction book about Title IX, Let Me Play (S&S/Atheneum, 2005), my students don’t believe me when I tell them that as a forward playing junior high basketball in the early 1970s I wasn’t allowed to run the whole length of the court. We had 3 defensive players and 3 offensive players on each team that stayed at their respective ends of the court and only 2 guards on each team were able to run across the center line. What memories of playing sports in those days do you have?

Barbara: Oh, I love this question, too! I’ve also seen expressions of disbelief on the faces of young people when I tell them that “experts” used to believe that it was harmful for girls to run the length of a basketball court.

I started playing high school sports in 1970, two years before Title IX was passed. We wore our hideous, one-piece, seafoam-green cotton gym suits for every sport – no actual uniforms. We did play full-court basketball, but our team was only allowed to play in the gym if the boys weren’t using it. All the rest of the time, we had to practice and play outside on the blacktop. I grew up in northern California, so it wasn’t terribly cold in the winter, but it still made me angry that we were treated like second-class athletes.

I didn’t see a lot of changes right after Title IX passed in 1972, though our sports teams did get new gym suits. They were one-piece, pull-on polyester suits with gold and white stripes that snapped at the shoulders. They moved a lot better than our old cotton suits. But they were still hideous!

 

4.     Lynn: The sports is a highlight but you do so much well in this story. I particularly appreciate the depiction of Nikki’s struggles with changing friendships and her relationship with her mother and little brother. Of course, we love the fact that Nikki’s mom is a reference librarian! Both Nikki’s mom and brother are such well developed and wonderful characters! Did you begin writing this story with both these characters so clearly defined or did they evolve as you worked on the book?

Barbara: Nikki’s brother, Sam, first “appeared” to me jumping on his pogo stick, asking a million questions, but he definitely evolved as I got farther into the book. I think the same is true of Nikki’s mom. I wanted her to be someone who wasn’t interested in sports, because I wanted Nikki’s achievements to be all her own, rather than influenced by a “sports parent.” I started out with a clear idea of who she was, but her character certainly developed and deepened as I kept working.

 

4.5  Cindy & Lynn: Did you have a lovely cotton one-piece snap-up jump short gym outfit too?…Female athletes today don’t know how good they have it.

Barbara: I’ll answer that with a photo from my 1972 yearbook. I’m #11 and my sister, Kathleen Carroll Au, is #12. I cut the sleeves off my cotton gym suit to get a little more freedom of movement.

1972 Monta Vista High School (Cupertino, CA) yearbook photo

 

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