For Anda Ramat Hasharon, success goes beyond the basketball court

Anda Ramat Hasharon is seen by many Israelis and fans throughout Europe as a team that has crusaded for women's equality in sports.

women basketball 298.88 (photo credit: Ido Rosenthal)
women basketball 298.88
(photo credit: Ido Rosenthal)
The women's basketball season does not start for another two months but Anda Ramat Hasharon's players are already looking forward to the upcoming season. The team lost in the 2005/06 FIBA EuroCup Women quarterfinals to Spartak Moscow, which went on to win the championship. Even though the team got knocked out earlier than it had been hoping, it did not see that as a failure, but rather one more thing to add to its long list of achievements on and off the court. Anda Ramat Hasharon is seen by many Israelis and fans throughout Europe as a team that has crusaded for women's equality in sports. Even through controversial moments such as at the end of last season when a player, Deanna Nolan, who came from the WNBA, got on the microphone and verbally abused coach Orna Ostfeld, the team maintained its composure and didn't lose sight of the larger picture. "It definitely was painful and I took it personally, but it is... history," said Ostfeld. "When a player is part of a team, there is a certain code of behavior and she went against all of the rules. It was tough, but it died off after about two weeks and she sent a letter of apology saying she would recommend any player from the WNBA to come play here." Ostfeld and club chairwoman Rachel Ostrowitz were at the forefront of fighting for WNBA players to be able to play in Israel to begin with. To go to court to gain rights in sports for women is not a foreign concept for these two women. Both have worked for years in women's sports to receive equal funding and media opportunities for female athletes. THE ISSUE of media equality is number one for Ostrowitz, who saw last year's incident as merely indicative of how the media always functions in accordance with female sport. "The media only covers scandals and bad things that happen in women's sports," said Ostrowitz. "Anyone who has been involved in sports knows how hard it is to keep people from different backgrounds happy on one team and they should have come out to condemn her actions. The media wanted to be as 'yellow' as they could." Despite the shortcomings that still exist between the following of women's sports in comparison to men's, Ostfeld and Ostrowitz feel that things have improved 10-fold since they began in the field and hope to only see it continue in the same direction. In 1999, the team played in the final of FIBA Europe's Ronchetti Cup and had two TV stations covering the event. This was the first time that women's basketball in Israel had received so much coverage and it was contagious. OSTROWITZ SAID that men and women enjoy watching women's sports, but there is no chance for them to be fans and follow it when they are not exposed to it. When there has been exposure to women's sports, the response has been extremely positive. The chain reaction of women being involved in sports is important in all aspects of life, she said. "There is a tradition with males that sports are the masculine domain and hasn't completely internalized yet that women can achieve and that it empowers women," said Ostrowitz. "It makes women healthier and decreases the instances of anorexia and other disorders. Women in sports have been found in research to excel in many aspects in life and are more likely to be involved in management and higher corporate positions when they are older. There are so many good things that come from being involved in sports and women deserve to be a part of it." THE TEAM has been a positive force for female Jews not only in Israel but also from North America. Three Jewish players have come to Anda Ramat Hasharon from the United States, including Jennifer Fleisher from the University of Pennsylvania - who is set to join the team for the upcoming season. Ostrowitz said that this integration is positive because the women's basketball season is shorter in the US and it gives the players an actual opportunity to cultivate their skills, but that it also has a personal benefit for the players. "Families take them in for the holidays and they become a part of the community," said Ostrowitz. "We also do a lot of community volunteer involvement and all the players are involved with this." The team was named two years ago by Henri Zimand in memory of his late wife, who died from cancer. He is a major philanthropic contributor to the team and other charities and the team says it is lucky to be chosen by him but that it is not a coincidence. "He chose our team because of our ideology of empowerment for women," said Ostrowitz. The team competes in a spectator sport but, as mentioned by Ostrowitz, also serves a greater community service. Members of the team visit with cancer patients and there is a project where at the end of each game the number of points by the top scorer is multiplied by companies in funds donated to cancer patients and research. FUNDING FROM the team also is put into other sectors such as the environment and supporting relationships between Arabs and Jews in sports. In Taiba near Kfar Saba, two girls' teams run with professional and fiscal support from Anda Ramat Hasharon. "If we are discriminated against, for them it has to be 10 times as hard but they also want the chance to play," said Ostrowitz. In sports, teams are turned upside down sometimes yearly by management changes and disputes but Anda Ramat Hasharon has managed to maintain a consistent leadership. Ostrowitz attributes this to the female presence on staff and the team's affirmative action for women. It is the only team that has both a female head coach and manager. "We want stability - not just to win and go home," said Ostrowitz. "We have the long term purpose to educate people. The same management gives stability to the players and this is unique." For Ostrowitz, the commitment she gives to the team cannot be matched by any male because she understands the struggle first hand. "My role as a chairwoman on a women's team is different than others who are only concerned with winning and their own team," said Ostrowitz. "I am looking for equality in women's sports; bylaws from the basketball federation, budgets, money from municipalities, equal pay and media coverage." When asked how she feels holding a position usually held by men, Ostrowitz responded, "No men can give me a hard time, I am not fooled anymore by discrimination. No one can say discrimination against women is right and get out of the conversation alive." Players in Israel also recognize the uniqueness represented by Anda Ramat Hasharon and choose to come to the team because of it. "Ramat Hasharon I feel it is really something different because of the ideology," said Tamar Maoz, team captain. "The spirit is something else. All the time they tell us that the way there is more important than the title." Roy also points out the team's community service and how it is just as important for growth as a basketball player as the physical training. "We do a lot stuff in the community," said Maoz. "We organize to meet with a lot of young girls, talk to them about ourselves and our careers being basketball players. To teach them that it is not just about playing basketball but that it is about much more and being ourselves." MAOZ PLAYED for Ramat Hasharon for three years and then went to Ra'anana but returned to Ramat Hasharon because she "felt so connected." The attitudes and messages portrayed by Ramat Hasharon are not just a feel good philosophy but have brought the team many successes on the court both in Israel and Europe over the last 20 years. The team has been to the league finals five times in Israel, winning four times, and has also won the league-State Cup double three times. In Europe, they have been to the Ronchetti Cup finals once and also have made it to the semifinals and quarterfinals. With the success, the team stays humble and prefers to promote women's sports in general as opposed to talking up their own team. "In spite of all the obstacles, if women have drive like this team, then they will be able to achieve," concluded Ostrowitz.