They've won. If the Mason High School girls basketball team never makes another basket, if they never block another shot, if they never dribble another ball, they are winners.
And I don't mean in some figurative, imaginary - ''they tried their best but came up short'' - kind of way. I mean they are successful. Right now. Today. They're good kids. Is that too much pressure for a teen-ager?
Maybe so, but surely no more pressure than playing in front of 4,000 people, some of whom think it's life or death. Or coming out of the locker room to find dozens of little girls, dressed in your school colors, who want your autograph.
And who, not incidentally, want to be just like you.
Sweat and business
They used to say sports builds character. That was before athletes were using their bodies as billboards for everything from tennis shirts to obscenely expensive shoes.
Here is a little clue to the character of Mason's team: A sixth-grade basketball team was among their cheering section, so they found out where the younger girls played and showed up to cheer them back. Pretty good sports, wouldn't you say?
And if sports is not something more than endorsements and point spreads, if it's not more important than a bunch of people wearing expensive shoes, then what is it doing in our schools?
This week at Mason High School, the girls practiced for an hour and a half after class, just as they usually do. Coach Gerry Lackey made them run all over the place.
After watching a particularly grueling series of sprints, I was exhausted and had to revive myself with a peppermint drop. They were hardly winded. They are athletes, fast and aggressive.
You do not get to be two games from a state championship by waiting politely in line for the ball. Mr. Lackey says they have talent, and he has coached talent before. ''But I've never had this combination of talent and desire.''
Nice kids, right? ''They are,'' he says, probably not wanting to gush too much because some of them are in his precalculus and algebra classes. Have I mentioned that these girls are good students?
The starting lineup has a grade-point average of 3.9 out of a possible 4 points. (It doesn't matter if I gush, because I don't have to make them run sprints or know about square roots and vectors.)
On Tuesday, about a dozen kids were playing euchre in a circle beneath the athletic department's ticket window, waiting for tickets to go on sale. People were standing in line. To see girls play basketball. My old gym teacher would be shocked. She knew if we worked up a sweat, we'd expire on the spot, plus we might go on to other unladylike pursuits, such as college.
She threw us off the basketball court when it was time for the real team - the boys - to practice. The athletic girls were told to be cheerleaders. She's probably at a very ladylike rest home, where they won't let her on the shuffleboard court when the men want to play.
It wasn't her fault. This was before Title IX, a federal law which says schools that want public money have to give the public's sons and daughters equal athletic opportunity.
Studies show that girls who are involved in athletics are less likely to be unwed mothers and victims of domestic violence. It is hard to imagine that an experience of teamwork and accomplishment will not bear personal dividends.
''It's more than just basketball,'' Mr. Lackey says. ''They are good students, and the younger kids notice that, too. It perpetuates itself.''
Friday night in Columbus, the Mason Comets will play the girls of Rocky River Magnificat. If the Comets win, they will play Saturday for the state title. Whatever happens, Katie Barnes, Dallas Williams, Kendra Meyer, Anne Lippert, Beth Jones, Susan Lippert, Andrea Shafer, Lindsay Rauch, Danielle Wallace, Christina Webb and Julie Lowe are already winners.
Not to mention the kids dressed in green who want to be just like them. Good students. Nice kids. Strong. Tough. Hard workers. Winners.
Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.