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"I wish I was a little bit taller...
...I wish I was a baller..."By (5'2") Suzanne Stoelting
Some time ago, I was getting my daily dose of ESPN's Sportscenter when they began rolling the basketball highlights. As the clips of the Knicks/Hornets game came up, it was just the same old, same old. Patrick Ewing, up for the shot, uh-oh. De-nied! And the proud deliverer of the in-your-face, don't-come-round-here-no-more block, none other than Muggsy Bogues.
"Wait," you say. "You meant Larry Johnson or Alonzo Mourning. There is no way that 5'3" Bogues blocked 7'0" Ewing. Is that logistically possible?" Well, indeed it is. I saw it with my own two eyes.
"Okay, that's cool," you say. "But what's your point?"
Don't worry, I'm getting there. The point is that you can't underestimate the little people. They are running around underfoot all over the place, yet several have emerged throughout the wide world of sports with enough force to make quite an impact in their respective areas of expertise. Let's take a look at a few, shall we?
The obvious place to start is with basketball. In a sport dominated by towering figures, many standing over seven feet tall, anyone 6'0" and below is a tiny tot in comparison. Yet, those of small stature are a continuing presence on the court. Okay, I'll admit that the Bouges block was certainly a rare occurrence, but let's look at the rest of his game. In the '94-95 season, he averaged 11.1 points per game and has been consistently among the league's leaders in assists and steals over the last several seasons. Not bad.
And then there is the relatively small John Stockton. Standing at 6'1", he is not exactly an imposing figure to look at. But his record-breaking number of steals and assists certainly prove otherwise. And 5'10" Toronto Raptor Damon Stoudamire was no small fish in the big pond of the NBA, finishing the season as a contender for Rookie of the Year honors and averaging 19 points per game.
Perhaps one of the most famous players of apparent Lilliputian lineage is Spud Webb. A veteran of the game, he might not have made as much of a mark as Michael Jordan, but who can forget the image of his 5'7" frame soaring to the hoop as he stole the Slam Dunk title from his Airness?
And on the women's side, a few diminutive dames have stood tall amongst the giants. Dawn Staley, point guard of the women's Dream Team reaches only 5'6". Even Yale's own team boasts a few small great ones. Most notable is recent graduate Kathleen Offer, MC '96, who matches Staley's height and broke the all-time Ivy League assist record last season.
And moving onto a court of a different domain, who would you expect to be able to chase down nearly any tennis ball the competition could serve up? Hmmm, how about the lanky long-legged Pete Sampras? Or tremendously tall 6'6" Todd Martin? Nope. The player widely regarded as having the best court coverage is the 5'7" Michael Chang.
As much as I would like to continue to prove that petite players can dominate any sport they choose, it is just not the reality. In most sports, the shorter players are at an obvious disadvantage. Less height equals less wingspan, less vertical potential, and less body mass. It is simply more difficult for a smaller person to cover the same area as their larger counterparts.
Any of the bantam ballers out there who always have to look out for the blocked shot or the tennis lob know what I am talking about. Or even those vertically-challenged few out there whose peers have stood next to them with a ball elevated up over their head, saying "Ha-ha, come on, get the ball now!" know what an advantage height can be.
But those same people have proven time and again that size is relative to heart. By accepting their limitations and working with what they have, the smaller athletes have honed their skills to enable themselves to be competitive with players of any size.
I hear that in rugby there is a little competition among the two types of positions. The forwards, who are known to be the larger and stronger team members, have a saying for the generally smaller, sleeker, quicker backs: "If we catch you, we kill you."
The backs can, and do, always respond, "Well, you have to catch us first."
Size and strength can get you so far, but when you see a little guy competing at the top of his or her sport, you know it is a testament to the talent and dedication that player has committed to obtain that skill level.
Dear readers, large and small, I will leave you with these parting maxims: "The bigger they are the harder they fall," "Good things come in small packages," "Teeny-tiny athletes take twenty trophies, tops" (repeat 3x really fast), and never forget all the little people out there.
(Note: Since I am an athlete standing at only 5'2", this article represents a completely biased opinion.)