Madeleine Blais

In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle

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In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle Summary

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American author Madeleine Blais’s nonfiction work, In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle (1995), takes place during a single year of high school, focusing on the evolution of the high school girls’ basketball team, the Amherst Lady Hurricanes. The true story recounts the team’s journey from a rock-bottom game during a regional tournament to a triumph the following season at the Massachusetts state championship. Blais’s book has become known for adding some rare female representation to the sports history genre, detailing the social dynamics of the industrious and ambitious Amherst team.

In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle begins in the postseason of 1992. The Lady Hurricanes, the women’s basketball team of Amherst-Pelham Regional High School, succumbed to an embarrassing defeat in the Western Massachusetts Semifinals. At the beginning of the next season, which began in the fall of 1992 and lasted into 1993, Coach Moyer called the team’s first-ever organizational meeting. At the event, he galvanized his athletes, including aspiring players who had yet to try out, with a powerful speech about the importance of commitment in competitive endeavors.

Just after Thanksgiving, the Lady Hurricanes held tryouts. Coach Moyer assembled the team’s starters, which included Jen, Jamila, Kristin, Kathleen, and Gumby. The alternates included Kim, Jonesbones, Lucia, Sophie, Jade, Patri, and Jan. At their first practice, Coach Moyer analyzed the girls’ social dynamics as much as he analyzed their playing styles. He made several eccentric alterations to the team; for example, he nicknamed Kathleen “Skippy,” in an attempt to make the extremely friendly girl appear more aggressive. He named Jamila and Jen team captains.

The Lady Hurricanes’ first game of the season was against West Springfield. The team performed relatively well, and soon enough had won a string of minor, but promising, victories. Blais asserts that the girls’ off-court victories were as crucial as their on-court ones. She draws profiles of the athletes that stay true to the realities of their high school experiences; full of anxiety, they often held on only tenuously to their basketball careers. Jamila and Jen butted heads over their leadership responsibilities. Patri, unexpectedly, moved out of town with her family. Kim nearly quit in the middle of a game but persevered after her teammates motivated her. Blais credits the girls’ intensive training, emotional closeness, and innate sense of teamwork for keeping them motivated. Each time a girl was on the verge of giving up or quitting outright, another teammate stepped in to help. After the main part of the season, the Lady Hurricanes emerged nearly undefeated, confirming that their efforts had paid off. They went on to win the Massachusetts state title.

Blais spends part of her book contextualizing the Lady Hurricanes in the eccentric university town of Amherst, Massachusetts. It is situated between three huge university campuses, which are in turn surrounded by farms. Blais shows how the girls’ personalities were informed by the combination of elite intellectual institutions and relatively uneducated rural communities. She also highlights how young women’s sports programs have fewer resources than young men’s sports, and enjoy only minimal representation in literature and culture. She criticizes what she perceives as the routine marginalization of girls’ basketball, especially during the time of the Lady Hurricanes’ victorious season. She contends that biases against women in sports prevented many athletic associations and universities from funding women’s teams. This disenfranchisement affected the Lady Hurricanes personally: many of them, Blais argues, excelled in part because they could only assume there would be few playing opportunities afforded to them in the future. In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle advocates gender equity in basketball and other sports industries as much as it chronicles the Lady Hurricanes’ compelling success story.