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Chicago Daily Herald
During the hour-plus ride last week to the Illinois Elementary School Association's regional finals game in Ford Heights, MCC Academy girls basketball coach Kazir Oz had a simple message for his players, who were about to make history as the first and only team to wear hijabs on the court.
"It was really about drowning out the noise," said Oz, a Schaumburg native. "I told them, 'Don't think, just play. Focus on the play itself, don't worry on the antics.'"
The Morton Grove-based team, which finished first in its conference, has spent the season working on its defense and learning plays used by the Niles West High School girls team.
The 13-player roster of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls lost in the regional finals to Cottage Grove Middle School, but the girls say they left the court hoping their presence had taken a step toward challenging stereotypes.
"It's really an honor to be wearing my scarf on the court," team captain Isma Manzoor of Morton Grove tells me. While she said the uniform can sometimes get hot with its pants and long-sleeved shirt, "you can't let that hold you back."
Oz says he considers it the team's job to show competitors "we're all the same, we're here to play the game of basketball, we're all going to play with humility and sportsmanship."
The team's next goal is to arrange an exhibition game with a local public school.
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