Rose Alvarez plays defense during a game Sunday. - Jamie Lusch

One among boys

When Rose Alvarez, an eighth-grader at Medford's Sacred Heart School, became the only girl on a boys team in the Manny's Basketball Association league, her teammates gave her a gentle inauguration.

"I kind of thought I probably have to be a little more polite now," said Mitch Steadman of the nine-member team called "Thunder."

Six weeks later, it's clear that this 5-foot, 105-pound girl on a team of all boys, some as large as 6 foot 1 and 150 pounds, is among equals.

"Her game does all the talking," said assistant coach Leane Caldwell. "That's what has crossed the gender barrier."

Rose, who also plays with a girls basketball team at Sacred Heart, said she joined Thunder because she thought it would be a good way to hone her skills.

"Boys are more aggressive and competitive," Rose said. "I get a lot of work out of it. They make me stronger."

Thunder coach Fred Barnum said he let her join the team without hesitation. She is an acclaimed point guard and three-point shooter at Sacred Heart.

"If you watch her on the school league, she's quite a ball player," Barnum said. "I was happy to get her."

Caldwell said Rose's basketball skills exceed that of the average eighth-grade female player. On the Sacred Heart girls team, Rose is rarely challenged.

"When she plays against girls, she is so daunting that she's always double-teamed (by her opponents), and she still scores points," Caldwell said.

During the St. Paul Parish School Basketball Tournament in Eugene last week, Rose netted 16 out of 18 points that the Sacred Heart girls scored in a game against tournament champion, Medford's St. Mary's School. As a result, she made the tournament's All-Star team.

Rose inherited her competitive and athletic spirit from her family. In addition to her parents, she has three sisters and a brother: Jasmine, 18, Glenn, 16, Emily, 15, and Xica, 9.

Her parents, Sandra from El Salvador and Jesus from Mexico, immigrated to the United States to provide their children with a better education and other opportunities.

Neither parent studied beyond the ninth grade because high school wasn't affordable in their native countries. Sandra, in particular, encouraged the children in sports.

"I want my kids to practice because I want them to stay conditioned," Sandra said through a translator. "It's important for them to focus and to always be busy and not to think about other stuff."

Like her older siblings who have juggled multiple sports while maintaining stellar grade-point averages, Rose plays basketball, soccer, volleyball and track and is a cheerleader with a more than 3.6 GPA.

In addition to her gender, Rose's ever-present smile stands out on the basketball court, her teammates said.

"If she gets hit and falls on the ground, she'll still be smiling," said teammate Luke Seus during a game Sunday at Kids Unlimited in Medford.

Asked whether Rose has ever stolen the ball from him during practice, Luke, who is the team's largest player, said, "No."

"Yes, she has," interjected teammate Cody Larson as he ran to the court to substitute.

Larson said no one on the team goes easy on Rose because she can hold her own.

But when she steals a ball from one of them during practice, they do take note of her gender.

"They start laughing and say, 'Oh, you got beat by a girl,' " Rose said with a smile.

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