You wonder if she ever really knew the name of the school. Or
were the initials, UCLA, more than enough? Did she get confused
sometimes with the initials of that other school on the other
side of town, USC? Did she ever say, "I love playing for USC,"
by mistake? Easy enough to do for an out-of-towner. Maybe she
just took the easy route, using the nickname, Bruins. "I love
playing for the Bruins." Easy enough.
(This is the strange case of softball star Tanya Harding, not to
be confused with the strange case of ice skating star Tonya
Harding. Tanya -- not Tonya -- is the 23-year-old pitcher who
led the Lady Bruins to the NCAA championship at the end of May.
She was overpowering in the tournament, pitching and winning all
four of UCLA's games, with an 0.75 ERA. She also batted .500
with six RBIs and won the MVP award.)
You wonder if she knew the names of her teammates. Not the
nicknames, the real names. Did she know their hometowns and
favorite colors and pet peeves and secret ambitions? Did she
refer to teammates with phrases like "the second baseman" or
"the one with the ponytail" or "the funny one"?
(Tanya -- not Tonya -- did not arrive at UCLA until March 22.
She came from Australia, where she had been a sensation on the
national team. The Bruins already had played 20 games in a
56-game regular season, but she jumped directly into a starring
role. She finished with a 17-1 record, including the four
tournament wins. Two days after the final game she dropped out
of school, registering incompletes in her three classes. She
returned to Australia with no college credits but with one
You wonder if she ever went to the library. Just once. You
wonder if she ever saw the library. How about the bookstore? Did
she ever buy a book? Just one? Did she ever buy a notebook? Did
she ever take a note? Did she ever take a test? If so ... why?
(The total stay at UCLA for Tanya -- not Tonya -- was 10 weeks.
Her whirlwind athletic/academic career has created a large buzz
in women's intercollegiate sports. Are women heading down the
same trail of overemphasis that men have followed for so long?
To those who answer that question in the affirmative, Tanya is
portrayed as an athletic Hessian, a mercenary brought to UCLA to
secure a championship, no matter what.)
You wonder if she thought about joining a sorority. You wonder
if she followed the travails of the student government. Was she
excited when the UCLA men won the NCAA basketball tournament?
She was there for that. Barely. Did she ever learn her way
(UCLA director of women's athletics Judith Holland insists that
the Bruins did nothing wrong. She says that Tanya -- not Tonya
-- was eligible under NCAA rules, which she was. Holland says
that Harding will be allowed to take final exams when she
returns to the U.S. in the summer with the Australian national
team. UCLA officials even say they are petitioning to have her
granted one more year of eligibility. No one seems to mention
moral right or moral wrong or academic hypocrisy.)
Ten weeks. You wonder if she even brought more than one suitcase
with her. Did she simply buy her clothes here? You wonder if she
bothered to decorate her apartment. A poster of Australia on the
wall, perhaps? Mel Gibson? You wonder if she had dates, time to
establish relationships. You wonder if she had conversations
that went any deeper than "Hey, batter, hey, batter" and "Let's
The jurors in the O.J. Simpson trial have been sequestered for
almost twice as long as she was a student. The movies in the
theaters haven't even changed much. She was a one-season phenom
in more ways than one. She never even saw a football game. Ten
weeks. She had just about enough time to order a telephone or
sign up for a credit card. She surely didn't have time to learn
the UCLA fight song. Or did she even know there was a fight
song? Ten weeks.
(The recruitment of foreign athletes, of course, is not new. In
a notable case Seton Hall brought another Australian, Andrew
Gaze, into its basketball program six years ago with similar
results. The school went to the NCAA Final Four and Gaze checked
out of New Jersey three days after Seton Hall lost in the
championship game. Tanya -- not Tonya -- might have brought the
process to a new dimension. Gaze had to go through at least one
round of final exams. Tanya -- not Tonya -- did not even have to
do that. All she had to do was win.)
You wonder how she will describe this little college experience
to her friends at home. What was college like? Hey, it was a
good time. Good games, good food, good trips. We were national
You wonder how hard everyone will laugh at this wonderful
10-week joke. Tanya -- not Tonya -- should laugh the hardest.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION:EVANGELOS VIGLIS [woman softball player with mitt on one hand and trophy in the other riding in pouch of kangaroo that is jumping from UCLA across the Pacific Ocean]