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Lacie Jacobson
McManama-Kearin
Anthropology 1010
25 April 2019
Ethnography

Girls’ High School Basketball

Introduction

The culture that I chose to observe and study for my ethnography was Girls’ High School

Basketball. I was able to conduct my research on a local team here in West Jordan, Utah. I

compiled and summarized my findings into nine different topics: language; human rights; race,

racism, ethnicities, and nationalism; gender and sexuality; kinship and family; class and

inequality; economy, politics, and power; health and illness; art and media.

I selected Girls’ High School Basketball culture because I am passionate about sports, and I used

to play basketball when I was younger. I wanted to see how much the team and game dynamics

change from middle school – when I played – to the high school level. Obviously, there is going

to be a few changes, but it was a little different than I thought it would be.

**Just a reminder that the information found on this team DOES NOT reflect all other teams**

Methods

The main location of my research was at Copper Hills High School; the secondary location of

my study was at West Jordan High School. My fieldwork consisted of a handful of games – both

home and away –, a team practice, as well as formal interviews with three of the Varsity players.
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I attended two Varsity games, two Junior Varsity games, and one practice totaling a time of

about nine and a half hours of observation; this did not include the time I spent interviewing

three of the players.

Language

All of the girls on this team speak fluent English as their first language. Some of them also know

a few words and phrases of other languages such as Tongan and Spanish; either from growing up

in families that speak these languages, or taking classes at their high school.

This team also has their own unique focal language that sets them apart from other teams in

Utah. Part of the reason that focal languages vary from team to team is because they do not want

their opponents to know their plays and strategies when competing against each other.

On this specific team, they use colors when referring to their defensive plays; some of the colors

they use are green, blue, white, purple, and orange. Three of their offensive plays are called

“Carolina,” “Ace,” and “T-Series.” ** For confidentiality reasons, I am not going to disclose the

specifics of these plays. **

There are also a couple of phrases that this team frequently uses. The first one is “let’s get this

bread.” This is something they will say before the game or after a good shot or play, and it means

“let’s get this win.” Another phrase they use is “kua-dig” (pronounced /Kʌ Dɪɒ/). This phrase has

a variety of meanings including “ohh yeah,” “that’s cool,” and “ditto.” The third phrase this team

uses is “talk nice to me,” which can mean “congratulate me,” or “respect me.”
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Human Rights

This culture values human rights, especially freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and gender

equality. They want to be free to express themselves both on and off the court, as well as be

treated equally to their male counter parts (Boys’ High School Basketball).

While playing on the court, the players’ speech and conduct is being restricted mostly to

maintain player safety and sportsmanship. This is a right they must voluntarily give up in order

to participate in the sport, and they must acknowledge the possible consequences that will be

enforced if they do not.

Gender equality is in need of the most improvement. Compared to Boys’ High School

Basketball, the Girls’ team is treated and valued significantly less. The Boys’ team gets a bigger

budget so they can afford team shoes, water bottles, and other matching accessories; meanwhile,

the Girls’ team has to buy and provide their own stuff. Even the student body will choose to

attend the Boys’ away game over the Girls’ home game.

Race, Racism, Ethnicity, and Nationalism

This team is not very diverse in race and ethnicity; the majority of players are Caucasian with an

exception of a few Polynesian/Pacific Islander Americans and one Latin American. Even though

they are not too diverse, they do not discriminate; anyone is welcome to tryout and join the team.

Most of the races and ethnicities in this culture feel valued in the current American Society; they

are all American citizens, and they have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
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Gender and Sexuality

Everyone on this team – except two people – are females; the head coach and one of the assistant

coaches are the male exceptions. The players on this team are all straight females; there are not

any current players who are openly homosexual. There has been one known homosexual player

in recent team history, but she graduated a few years ago. Both of the male coaches are straight,

but the female assistant coach is homosexual. There is not a lot of sexual diversity on this team,

but players and coaches are not discriminated against because of their sexuality.

Girls’ High School Basketball is a female sport, so there are very few males in this culture. The

protocol for transgender players has not been addressed or set; this team is not sure how they

would handle a transgender – male to female – who wanted to play on the Girls’ team. This

might be question of concern in the near future due to the progressive gender rules and norms in

today’s society.

Kinship and Family

In this culture, the idea of family is seen as being related by blood and marriage, but also close

friends and others who support you. This culture views their teammates and coaches as family.

They treat each other with respect, motivate each other, and truly care about the wellbeing of

their teammates.

The sense of family on this team is strong. At their practice, they started with dribbling drills.

There were times when some players would mess up or finish slower than other girls, but their

teammates would cheer for them and say “it’s okay, you got this,” “you’re doing good, keep it
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up,” and “you’re almost there, don’t give up!” Before they ended practice, everyone gathered in

a circle at half court and yelled “FAMILY!”

Class and Inequality

The majority of the people on this team are in a family who identifies themselves in the middle-

class; there are a few players whose family falls into the lower-class. Most of the players are

content with their social class because they have enough to get by and be happy, but there was

one girl in particular who wants to be in the upper-class. Her reasoning for this change was so

she can have enough money to support her family and help others in need; she wants to use her

status and money to help better the lives of those who are less fortunate.

Inequality is not a huge issue for the individuals on this team. One player said, “I have the same

rights as everyone else, and I have made the decision to take advantage of those rights for my

own benefit.” The issue of inequality mostly appears on the gender scale; again, they talked

about the Boys’ High School Basketball team being “treated better and given more opportunities

than [the Girls’ team],” (Refer to Human Rights).

Economy, Politics, and Power

All of the players on this team are in high school and still rely on their parents’ paychecks. Their

parents have a variety of careers including a business owner, health care professional, police

officer, elementary teacher, and airport employee. Each player has at least one parent or guardian
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who has a job. The coaches on this team make a living by teaching classes at the high school

while also coaching the Girls’ Basketball team; some of them coach other sports as well.

As citizens of the United States, all of the members of this culture have power in our society. Not

all of them can vote, but those who can, do. The girls who cannot vote still have the opportunity

and right to use the freedoms expressed in the Bill of Rights.

The coaches hold the most power in this culture, but chosen players can also have some power

on their team. Most often, coaches will assign Team Captains to help them run practices and

decide what plays to call. Seniority within the team can also help raise your “power” status.

Often, senior players will get more game starts and playing time – on the Varsity team – than

juniors; the skills and abilities of the players will also factor into this.

Political views are rarely – if at all – discussed in this culture; they are there to play basketball,

not debate over politics.

Health and Illness

All players who wish to participate in Girls’ High School Basketball are required to go into a

doctor’s office and receive a yearly check-up which is called a Preparticipation Physical

Examination (PPE); in fact, all high school sports require athletes to do this. During the PPE, the

doctor will ask the athlete questions about their medical history and complete a physical

examination. Athletes who are in their teens or older will also be asked questions relating to

puberty, sexual activity, and drug or substance use and abuse. The doctor will then record the

athlete’s height and weight, take their blood pressure and heart rate, test their vision, check their

ears, nose, lungs, throat, heart (and other areas as needed), and evaluate their flexibility, strength,
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posture, and joints. Getting a physical is required for the safety of the athlete; doctors want to

ensure they are healthy enough to participate in their chosen sport.

Art and Media

The players on this team listen to a wide variety of music including hip hop, R&B, country, rap,

soul, rock, slow jams, pop, and classical music. During warm-ups before games, they will blast

music over the sound system to get pumped up and in the zone.

Not only does this team enjoy listening to music, but a few of them are also musically inclined.

Some of the athletes can play piano, guitar, ukulele, and sing. To get hyped up before games, the

girls like to do freestyle rap and riff-offs.

Along with music, this team enjoys – and participates in – other art forms such as visual art,

theatre, dance, movies, poetry, and literature. To show their support, these girls will attend plays,

talent shows, poetry slams, and art shows that their teammates are involved in.

This culture not only creates art, but is a form of art itself. These players work hard and work

together to express themselves and their team through the game of basketball. Some describe it

as “poetry in motion,” or “magic on the court.” The ball movement and team chemistry can be

extraordinary to watch, especially when everyone does their job so the play works exactly how it

was designed.
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Conclusion

Some people try to compare Girls’ Basketball with Boys’ Basketball and say things like “it’s not

as entertaining,” or “it’s too slow,” or “they suck at playing.” It is not fair to compare the two

because they are not the same. Some people think that girls should not play sports at all. We need

to get rid of this ethnocentric way of thinking and see things with a cultural relativism ideology.

If people immersed themselves in this culture and actually tried to understand it, they might

change their perspective.

The Girls’ High School Basketball culture was fun to research. There was always a good

atmosphere and I was welcomed by both the players and the coaches on this team. I gained a lot

of insights while observing their games and practice, but I wish I had extra time to examine this

culture at a deeper level and interview more players. This experience allowed me to learn more

about the Girls’ High School Basketball culture and the reasons behind why they do what they

do. I gained more respect for these girls and the passion they have for basketball.
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Bibliographical References

Edward, James. “High School Girls Basketball: Contenders Abound as New Season Tips off
(Team Previews).” Deseret News. November 27, 2018. Accessed January 29, 2019.
https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900043921/high-school-girls-basketball-contenders-
abound-as-new-season-tips-off.html.

Owen, Charles. “The Mentoring Role of High School Girls’ Basketball Coaches in the Collegiate
Recruiting Process.” History Studies International Journal of History10, no. 7 (2018). Accessed
January 29, 2019.
https://eds.b.ebscohost.com.libprox1.slcc.edu:2048/eds/detail?vid=10&sid=9b909c45-cfc9-
4707-af2b-
a243a945d298%40sessionmgr104&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#AN=129285737&
db=s3h.

Picho, Katherine. "The Psychosocial Experience of High School Girls Highly Susceptible to
Stereotype Threat: A Phenomenological Study." Journal of Educational Research109, no. 6
(2016). Accessed January 29, 2019.
http://web.a.ebscohost.com.libprox1.slcc.edu:2048/ehost/detail/detail?vid=4&sid=5b2a8c27-
63c8-4d89-b5aa-7a74b5alf53f@sdc-v-
sessmgr05&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbG12ZQ==#AN=118232296&db=asn.

“Sports Physicals (for Teens).” KidsHealth. July 2016. Accessed April 13, 2019.
https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/sports-physicals.html.
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Appendix

This is a sketch that I drew of the Big Gym at Copper Hills High School. This is one of the
locations that I completed my fieldwork at.

This is a sketch that I drew of the West Jordan High School gym. This is the second location that
I completed my fieldwork at.