Champions. Winners. Teams that achieve greatness, inspire their fans, and energize their home cities. The Houston Comets.
The Comets gave us four great seasons that helped establish the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association). They gave Houston more seasons where they played with heart and grit even when they lost. They introduced us to Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes, Janeth Arcain, and Kim Perrott, who died so tragically young. All were legends of the sport in their own ways.
Goodbye, Comets. May you not rest in peace. May the tragic news of your demise arouse the generous spirit of a new owner(s), the shame of a fickle public, and the ire of frustrated fans. You’ll always be champions to us. You shouldn’t end like this.
I’ve been a Comet season ticketholder from the beginning. The Comets offered great athletic competition at an affordable price. At games I was surrounded by a sea of jubilant and diverse fans, many of them women and girls, an audience mix unlike that of any other sport. That different fan base also meant a different feel to the arena. Games were almost like family reunions in the stands, with a huge “girl power” vibe.
I enjoy most sports, my favorite being baseball, but I believe in putting my money behind women’s sports. I even learned to love, and understand, soccer when the U.S. women’s Olympic team won gold. We didn’t have a Houston team, but I followed the short-lived pro women’s soccer league that sprang up in the wake of the Olympic run and attended games in other cities.
Unfortunately, sports are a business, and no owner can afford to lose money indefinitely. When the WNBA stepped in to take over the team and shop it around for new owners, I made a few calls and had meetings with management representatives. Ten million dollars for a money-losing franchise is a steep hurdle in the best of times, but the current economic conditions made a sale impossible. The Houston Comets and the team’s many fans deserved a better fate.
As a college student at Rice, I directly benefited from the new wave of women’s sports created by Title IX, which seemed to promise a level playing field for publicly funded men’s and women’s sports in the 1970s. If you look at photos of Rice teams, you may spot the one and only Rice women’s softball team. After one inglorious season, playing with hand-me-down volleyball uniforms and our own equipment, Rice found a way around Title IX rules and disbanded the team.
There were no scholarships. We never had a hope of playing beyond college. (And quickly found that we wouldn’t play any more in college unless we transferred away.) We played because we loved the sport.
There are more opportunities today for girls to find their fields of dreams. But there are still too few for women to play at the elite levels they have worked so hard to attain.
It’s a good thing I’ll have other things to do with my free time this summer.
Annise D. Parker is Houston’s third-term city controller and one of the highest-ranking openly GLBT-elected municipal officials in any of the 10 largest U.S. cities. Her website is www .houstoncontroller.org. The City Controller’s webpage is www.houstontx.gov/controller/index.html. To receive the controller’s newsletter, send an e-mail to [email protected]