WNBA team sets schedule for inaugural season

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The new WNBA franchise in Atlanta might not have a name. Or mascot. Or even players. But it does have a schedule.

The yet-to-be named team opens its season on May 17 at Connecticut before coming home to Philips Arena the following weekend to play Detroit and Los Angeles, two of the top teams in the league. The home opener on May 23 brings to town the defending Eastern Conference champs, Detroit, coached by Bill Laimbeer.

Since city boosters launched an effort to land the WNBA’s 14th team last February, gay sports fans have been closely following the effort. The prospect of adding a women’s basketball team to the city’s already rich – and male – roster of pro-sports teams also enthused lesbian fans, who haven’t had a women’s pro team to support in Atlanta for nearly a decade. Transplanted lesbian fans from cities with WNBA teams were relegated to watching on TV from afar.

The effort to land the team included gay and lesbian volunteers, scores of lesbians who pledged to buy season tickets and events designed to rally the area’s gay market. City Council President Lisa Borders, a gay-friendly politician who is campaigning to win the 2009 mayor’s race, was the bid’s chief cheerleader.

Borders recently announced that she is leaving her fulltime position at Cousins Properties in January to focus on the mayoral race and to open a consulting business, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, which broke the story, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her first client? The new WNBA team.

In November, team owner Ron Terwilliger introduced Marynell Meadors, a veteran college and WNBA coach, as the first head coach and general manager of the new franchise. Terwilliger and Meadors both told me at the team’s Nov. 28 press conference that the fan base will be “very different” than those that support the men’s pro franchises in the city.

“Obviously, it has a lesbian component to it. We are going to reach out to that audience and sell the event based on the fact that it is fun, family-oriented and should appeal to women. We are going to go and sell it on the basis of who has demonstrated an interest in the past and not play up the hard-nosed side of it,” Terwilliger said.

Meadors said the Atlanta team can appeal to lesbian fans simply by putting a “great team on the floor.”

“We want people in the stands and to be involved in our team. We want to go out and get as many fans as we can and go wherever we need to go,” she said.

A team name and colors are expected to be announced in early January. Choices for team name include the Dream, Flight, Sizzle and Surge. The finalists for the color scheme are navy blue and gold; green and gold; sky blue and red; hot pink, silver and black; and mint green, black and silver.

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