After a four-year hiatus from competing in an international basketball tournament in Canada, the Greenbelt Lady Angels took a new team of women to Montreal to win the championship for the fourth time this past summer. Herbert Allen founded the Lady Angels in 2009 with team captain Jeaneen White. She was playing college basketball at the time but was looking for more local opportunities to practice in the offseason. Allen started holding Ladies Night at 8 p.m. on Thursdays at the Springhill Lake Recreation Center for local women to play basketball. “We had a lot of women that came faithfully and he decided, ‘Hey, why don’t we put together a team to go and play in some tournaments?’” recalls White. She had been playing basketball in the area since the sixth grade, so it wasn’t difficult for her to recruit. “I knew a lot of players who wanted to do something else out of their normal collegiate activities, some other challenge, so I invited them to come here,” White said. They had never played competitively as a team before, but the Lady Angels still blew out the other seven teams at the tournament in Montreal. White won the Most Valuable Player award in their first 2009 tournament.
The following year, White said the tournament was a little bit more competitive, and in 2011 a lot more competitive, but they still won the championship three years in a row, even with a team of just six players one summer. “Yeah, you’re happy to win [easily], but it’s not as exciting to play,” White said. “The third year a couple of the games were close, so it was more exciting because you have to battle it out.” =
In 2012, the Lady Angels lost in the championship game. Then the core of the team became busy with full-time jobs and raising families, so the interest to compete in Canada fizzled out. But Allen still kept up Ladies Nights on Thursdays. Now, there’s a new group of women at Ladies Nights, and Allen took the team to the Montreal tournament to win the championship again last July. They are ordering their fourth championship banner to hang in the Springhill Lake Recreation Center. Brian Butler, one of the center’s recreation coordinators, helps train men’s basketball but he is always amazed watching the Lady Angels practice. “I am in awe most of the time when I’m watching the young ladies because I’m like, ‘Honestly, son, they are better than the guys,’” he said.
Butler said the women play smart and communicate more on the court while the men are talented players because of their athleticism. “Their IQ is two times higher than the gentlemen that I’m working with,” he said. “There is a lot of communication going on in the game, like they actually know the game of basketball. But when you’re dealing with young men, 90 percent of the time it’s more athletic ability.” Yet the Lady Angels are more than just a team that consistently wins a Canadian basketball tournament representing Maryland and the U.S. The Thursday night practices provide an outlet for local women to stay active and form community. “There are not too many places that look at women who are beyond college years [to play basketball],” White said. “If you don’t go pro, if you don’t go semi-pro, there is nothing else for you. But this gives you somewhere to go, so I appreciate that from Herb and the space to make that happen.” Whether women are looking for a place to exercise, play competitively or connect with other active females, Ladies Night is a great local opportunity, according to White. “It’s a very welcoming environment,” she said. “And it’s more than just basketball, it’s a community, it’s ladies being there for one another.” Women will even watch each other’s children in the stands during practice, White said. White also emphasized the time and effort that Allen puts in to make Ladies Night happen, from extending the times on Thursdays and welcoming each and every woman. “Herb has just been very open and honest with everyone that comes in the door, he’s a sweetheart,” White said. “You can’t help but want to love him and support whatever he is a part of.”
Women of all ages and skill levels are welcome to practice. “It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, he will welcome you. It’s about having the heart to be out here and to want to try,” White said. Butler described Allen as a leader in the community. “He is a very community orientated person, and he believes that women’s basketball doesn’t get the notoriety that it deserves,” Butler said. “So he decided some years back to bring women’s basketball back to Greenbelt and that’s what started it all.” Allen has coached basketball in Prince George’s County for over 40 years. He came up with the team name himself. He originally thought about calling the team the Greenbelt Ladies. Then, because he is a minister by profession, he came up with the Lady Angels and the name stuck. The Lady Angels hold an annual benefit game in June to raise money for their tournament. They have also received grants from the Greenbelt Community Foundation. Allen is currently working to apply for more grants and organize a local basketball tournament for the Lady Angels next summer. “If the girls want to go back to Canada next year, I’m all for it,” he said. But the team could save money if they hold their own tournament. “The goal is to do a tournament here.”
Maria Herd is a University of Maryland graduate student in journalism writing for the News Review.