The women's basketball team at Mission College expected the bleachers to be full and the hecklers ready when its newest player made her home court debut. In the days leading up to the game, people had plenty to say about 6-foot-6-inch, 220-pound Gabrielle Ludwig, who joined the Lady Saints as a mid-season walk-on and became, according to advocates, the first transsexual to play college hoops as both a man and a woman. Coach Corey Cafferata worried the outside noise was getting to his players, particularly the 50-year-old Ludwig. A pair of ESPN radio hosts had laughed at her looks, referring to her as "it." And online threats and anonymous calls prompted the two-year college to assign the Navy veteran of Operation Desert Storm a safer parking space next to the gym and two police guards. Last week, Ludwig gathered her 10 teammates at practice and offered to quit. This was their time to shine, she told the group of 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds. She didn't want to be a distraction for the team. The other women said if Ludwig, whom they nicknamed "Big Sexy" and "Princess," didn't play, they wouldn't either. Didn't she know she was the glue holding the team together? "Then let's just play basketball," she replied solemnly, looking each teammate in the eye.
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