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W. hoops forms strong relationship with fan club

Sometimes when one is watching the women's basketball team effortlessly sink a perfect basket or sneak a sly pass past the opposition, it is hard to imagine that the Tigers have not been playing basketball forever. There is, after all, a rhythm to the game that transcends the way the ball drums the floor or swishes the net, a rhythm that can't be pinned to any one thing but proceeds from the whole. But though the Tigers partake in this rhythm, they have not been playing forever, and so it follows that they must have learned from somewhere or someone how to move in this singular way.

For many of the women today at Princeton, however, there wasn't a whole lot of support for women's sports when they were growing up.

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"Basically your dad coached the team," senior captain and guard Kate Thirolf said. "If there was a ref [at your games] you were lucky."

But today, thanks to programs at many universities across the country, younger girls are receiving encouragement and instruction in the game of basketball.

Princeton's program, called the Tiger Cub Club, started with the women's basketball team during the 1995-1996 season and had only about 25 girls in its first year. The members of the club not only got free admission to all the games, but also were invited to participate in clinics run by members of the women's basketball team, from whom they learned the fundamentals of the game.

Role Models

"When I was a kid, I used to go to [a similar program at] the University of Montana," senior captain and guard Maggie Langlas said. "I looked up to them. I idolized them. It meant the world to me."

Senior center Brooke Lockwood became particularly close to a Tiger Cub named Kelsey Bair when Bair began to write letters to Lockwood on a regular basis. When Lockwood began to reply they became pen pals and started going to each other's games.

Every Tiger Cub receives personal attention from the Princeton Tigers. On Saturday, which was National Girls and Women in Sports Day, the women's basketball team, along with several other Princeton women's teams, held an interactive sports fair for its younger fans. After the Yale game that evening, the team also held an autograph session.

Pack the house

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But the Tiger Cubs are not the only group to benefit in the exchange. One of the reasons for originally founding the club was to increase attendance at women's basketball games.

"They're great fans to have," Thirolf said. "They basically are our fans for many of the games. They're really loud."

In addition, some of the Tiger Cubs serve as ballgirls and bring water and towels to the players during games.

"They put everything in perspective for you," Langlas said. "I absolutely love the Tiger Cubs. They're all so uplifting to have at the game."

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During the 1997-1998 season, the Tiger Cub program was expanded to include both boys and girls. It also began to include all sports. Now, the club has over 400 members. But the success of the program will always owe a debt to the fans and the players of women's basketball and their efforts to reach out.

The relationship may seem to be a simple enough transaction — a good deal of benefit for players and fans alike. But the future of the game itself also depends on this transmission from one generation to another.

"They could be the next people here playing," Lockwood said.

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