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Girls' Night Out

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Williamsport, Ind.

Night is closing in fast here, and up and down East Monroe Street, families are putting on their coats, turning on their porch lights, and locking their doors behind them. Game time is still two hours away, but the school parking lot is already full, and cars are beginning to line both sides of the street.

A small town of about 1,800 not far from the Illinois border, Williamsport is "Hoosier Hysteria" with a modern twist. The fans settling into their seats at the gym love high school basketball, but it's the girls' version of the game that sends them into a frenzy.

Indiana basketball history is filled with tales of the fresh-faced, small-town boys whose prolific scoring carried their underdog teams to great heights. But the star on this team has a ponytail. For four years, Stephanie White, Seeger High School's 5-foot 10-inch scoring machine, has played to packed houses in Williamsport and in gyms across the state. USA Today has called her the best point guard in the country, but in Indiana, she's proof that the girls' game can be every bit as exciting as the boys'. This season marked only the 20th girls' state championship, but while attendance at boys' games is sliding, crowds at girls' games are growing.

In White, the girls have found a local hero of their own--one who fits the mold of boys' legends from the past. She enters tonight's match-up averaging more than 40 points a game. Fresh off a 66-point performance, White is zeroing in on the state's girls' career scoring record of 2,616 points.

As she and her teammates lazily shoot around in street clothes, waiting for the junior-varsity game to start, three tow-headed little girls approach. Dropping to one knee, White takes time out to sign each of their programs, just one kid giving an autograph to another kid.

"She is just the nicest person," says Joan Fisher, the co-owner of a funeral home across the street from the elementary school. "She's a straight-A student, too, you know."

Families from Williamsport and all over the county have pitched in to help White pay for travel with national amateur basketball teams. White's bond with her fans is such that she has decided to enroll next year at Purdue University just a few miles down the road in West Lafayette. Purdue has a good aviation program, and she may decide to be a pilot, but it's more important to play ball close to home.

"I grew up here," White says pointing to the gym floor. "Everybody here is just such family that I wanted to go somewhere where they could all see me play."

--Drew Lindsay

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