Sunday, July 27, 2003

Mentor shows 'her girls' that she has game, too

By Andrea Uhde
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mary Vicario, 40, tugs on a pair of baggy green shorts, trying not to let the borrowed clothes slip off of her waist. The smell of grilled hot dogs over warm charcoal spirals through the evening air.

Vicario, of Mount Airy, rests on a wooden bench outside of Taft High School and collects money from food sales - money that will help the school's girls' basketball team fund a trip to Chicago to compete in a tournament.

Vicario is a staple at the team's games, cheering as loudly as anyone in attendance. The girls, particularly the two she's mentored, are her family.

Three years ago, Vicario learned that she wouldn't be able to have children. "I felt really sad and kind of empty," she said.

But with one loss came a gain. The same day Vicario received the grim news, Angela Harris, the assistant coach of the team and a colleague at the time at Creative Connections in Walnut Hills, knocked on her door.

"(She) came bouncing into my office,'' Vicario recalls, "and asked, 'Want to be a mentor?' "

Harris and head coach Rhonda Craig were looking for mentors who would cheer on the girls, since many weren't getting that kind of attention in the stands or at home.

Vicario was apprehensive because the she had never worked with teen-agers.

"It was so out of my comfort zone," she said.

At first, she was the only white person in the gym. "A lot of them wouldn't come near me," she said.

This year, Vicario will work with her third student (mentors switch partners each year).

The players have exposed her to a different side of life. Vicario may be a middle-aged therapist, but she's well versed in modern-day slang, such as "holla" (I'll talk to you later) and "shook" (scared).Put in an R. Kelly CD and she sings along on "Ignition."

"I'm amazed at how the world's opened up for me," said Vicario, who the girls affectionately call Ms. Mary. "It's really filled a void."

This year, she got her first Mother's Day present: a painting of dogs begging to be let into a house. It was given to her by her first protege, LaShoan Dunlap, 18, a 2002 graduate who is student at the University of Cincinnati.

The painting hangs in the front entrance of Vicario's home, a reminder of her new family.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor to a member of the Taft High School girls' basketball team, contact Rhonda Craig, 765-5508.

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