Hug a Coach Day – Celebrating Our Mentors

IMG_4467_copyAfter 3 decades wondering what I should do with my life, I found my calling. From waitress to lifeguard to pro basketball player to journalist to educator, I have taught everything from primary PE to freshman English to learning support.

Whether I am teaching a 6th grader to do a forward roll, a dyslexic child to spell, a 10th grader to understand Shakespeare, a senior to write a personal statement or a ball player to make a jump shop… I am a coach.

When I help kids makes sense of their lives, my life makes sense to me. 

I help students discover their strengths, so they can one day navigate solo in our fast paced world filled with overwhelming demands and challenges.

However, when I was growing up, coaching was not an option. How could a girl have a coaching career if female athletes were non-existent and women weren’t allowed to participate in sports?

Today, coaching is in vogue. Coaching specialties run the gamut including life and personal coaches, to health/wellness/fitness/ coaches to business/leadership/executive coaches to organizing/ career/creativity coaches to parenting and retirement coaches. Even ADHD coaches are listed to identify tools to assist those with attention deficit hyperactivity and to develop positive coping strategies for every day life and specific tasks.

When I randomly googled transition coaches, Paula Ray’s website popped up. She explained the that transitional coaches base their principle on different disciplines, and states that her coaching philosophy is rooted in biomimicry.  Huh? It’s no surprise that Paula Ray, who sounds like a New Age guru, is based in Del Mar, California.

Here is a list of some of the transition coach specialties.

    • Transition from one extreme socio-economic level to anotherCoach Mac in action_copy
    • Transition from a stress-filled negative life into a life you love
    • Transition from one extreme socio-economic level to another in a short period of time
    • Transition out of a corporate career
    • Transition into your most enjoyable, rewarding and healthy retirement
    • Transition in marital status
    • Transition from an energy draining career to an exhilarating one
    • Transition through unexpected health care challenges

But hey, I am not knocking the career.  No way. After my parents, coaches had the single greatest influence in my life.

Now everyone from CEOs to writers to retirees discuss their favorite buzzword, my coach. Once upon a time, coaching was learned almost by osmosis from playing a sport, now college degrees in coaching abound. Ohio University offers a Coaching Education master’s program to prepare coaches with the knowledge they need to become elite coaches.

Hopefully more female athletic coaches will join the ranks because they serve as excellent role models for girls. Like men have known for years, sports teaches life lessons and teams provide the best training grounds for the work place.

Women'sBasketballNorthernKentucky_Feb1979_L39O-2-79_ACCESS_copy

Legendary ISU Coach Jill Hutchison

Yep, everything I needed to know I learned in basketball.

      • Life is not fair. Get over it.
      • Leave your ego in the locker room
      • Pass to the open player
      • Rebound, rebound, rebound
      • Learn from each mistake
      • Hustle at all times
      • Lose graciously
      • Win humbly
      • Always credit teammates
      • Never give up

With all the emphasis on coaching nowadays, I propose we add a new celebration to the calendar.

 

In loving memory of my grandfather Ralph « Mac » McKinzie, a coach extraordinaire, I hereby declare December 7th as the official Thank Your Mentor Day!

Coach Mac October 1, 1894 December 7,1990

Coach Mac
October 1, 1894 December 7,1990

Have you hugged your coach today?

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Happy Thanksgiving Weekend!

BookCoverImageIn appreciation of the teachers and coaches that shaped my life, I am offering a Black Friday special price for Home Sweet Hardwood. As a gesture of gratitude to the people that mentored you, offer a gift copy of the memoir of A Title IX Trailerblazer Breaking Barriers Through Basketball!

An All American tale with a European twist about a pre Title IX tomboy who fought for right to be allowed on the court and never gave up. Even when she could no longer play the game she loved. Home Sweet Hardwood makes a great holiday gift to offer a sporty daughter or granddaughter or an aspiring athlete.

“Observing the courage and determination with which Pat pursued her dream goes beyond gender and racial lines to reach a much deeper place within us all. This is a profound story of the strength of the human spirit in the face of extreme challenges. Inspiring, illuminating and awesome; Home Sweet Hardwood is certain to have an impact, not only on women of all ages, but upon anyone who has ever aspired to overcome all odds for something or someone that they love.”

Bil Howard, Readers’ Favorite 5 star review

Give a voice of to silent pioneers who helped pave the way for our high flying daughters of today. In the true spirit of the game- pay it forward pass it on.

Four decades, three generations, two continents, one game.

Order online now at https://www.createspace.com/3877698!

Use this special code YEYGSSZD and get a 25% discount! (valid through Friday midnight)

 

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The President’s Coach – From Eureka College to Capitol Hill

A great coach is worth his/her weight in gold. But coaches rarely make a mint or garner front page news unless they coach on campuses making major marketing bucks or if they are involved in some scandal. That is why the story of my grandpa, Coach Mac, a small college coach and the small town boy, Ronald Reagan, who he mentored at Eureka (1928-1932) is so inspiring to coaches everywhere.Coach Mac's plaque

Consider the odds that the son of a tenet farmer in Oklahoma would find his way to Eureka College, a  private Christian school tucked in the Central Illinois’ cornfields between Peoria and Bloomington. There, Ralph « Mac » McKinzie became a legendary athlete and coach.

No one recorded statistics on the hundreds of lives Coach Mac guided during a coaching career at Eureka, Northern Illinois University and Wartburg College, Iowa, that spanned seven decades. How incredibly unlikely that one of his prodigies would go on to become our 40th President.

Coincidence? Maybe, but not to those who knew my grandpa. Coach Mac, a simple, hardworking man demanded high standards and in his gruff, awe-inspiring voice could resurrect the dead in fiery, halftime talks. He set such a fine example that those who played for him wanted to do right by him.

In later years, my grandpa kidded that Reagan had more talent as a sports commentator talking with broomstick at halftime, than throwing blocks during a game. And Reagan, in his self-deprecating humor, often said that though he never became the football star he dreamed of, he learned more lessons on McKinzie Football Field at Eureka College than anywhere else in his life.

« Whatever I am today, » President Reagan announced during a halftime interview of a Big Ten game on national TV in 1981, « I feel Coach Mac had an awful lot to do with it. »

Coach Mac recognized when a boy needed the team more than the team needed the boy. After his freshman year, Reagan wanted to quit football and college, but Coach Mac, known for backing words with actions, walked Reagan to the president’s office to secure a work/study scholarship. Reagan returned to campus to play football, at starting right guard, and to graduate.

From broadcasting to Hollywood to the White House, Reagan never missed an opportunity to publicly thank my grandpa for the role he played in shaping his life. Coach Mac instilled a strong work ethic and a fighting spirit. Reagan never gave up. After he lost the first election, he ran again, and won.

Another not so famous former athlete, who my grandpa guided, was my dad, Jim McKinzie, who went onto influence the lives of countless other athletes (including me and my sister) in his 33 years of coaching at Sterling High School.

As an athlete, I was blessed with exemplary coaches. In addition to my dad and grandpa, I was shaped by Phil Smith at SHS and Jill Hutchison at Illinois State University. In a continuation of the family legacy, I went on to coach my son and daughter at the American School of Paris and International School of Geneva. My daughter had the good fortune to play for Shirley Egner at University of Wisconsin-SP where she was adopted into the Stevens Point community before going on to become the first doctor (pediatrician) in our family.

A coach’s imprint is everlasting, like a stone thrown in a lake, setting off a ripple effect. One life influences another one that goes on to impact a hundred more. Great coaching can’t be measured and not every good coach will have the opportunity to glow in the limelight of a national championship; however, a coach’s worth shines far beyond the record books. Like Coach Mac and Reagan, relationships between coaches and athletes can last a lifetime.

In 1962 at my grandpa’s Northern Illinois University retirement testimonial banquet, the keynote speaker, Ronald Reagan said, « We should wait until after the season, then look at the coach’s record in the hearts and minds and characters of the young men associated with him to see what their contribution has been in later life. The noblest work of man is to build character of other men. By this standard, no one is more deserving of retiring an undefeated champion, than Ralph McKinzie. »

Yet grandpa never really retired. True to character, Coach Mac returned to Eureka as assistant coach, where he donated his salary back to the college, until his final days.

In the real game of life, the only record that really matters has little to do with the final score. Small town coaches at small time schools make major differences in a noble way.

The story of Coach Mac and President Reagan is an endearing reminder to coaches at each level of every sport that even during a losing season, a coach’s influence goes beyond the game. Win or lose, ripple after ripple, great coaches make for a better world, one athlete at a time.

Jim and Lenore McKinzie celebrate Eureka’s 8-2 season and the commemoration of The Coach and The President plaque on McKinzie Football Field

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Amplatz Children’s Hospital Nurses Encourage Bravery in Kids Fighting Cancer

Nat's white coat ceremony  11-17-07 009At the end of a work day, like many teachers, I am emotionally exhausted. Students come to my door in tears filled with worry about family members battling cancer, failed chemistry tests, and the big bully in the lunchroom. Weary from my own my health battles, I often wonder how I will find the energy to keep giving. Then I receive a surprise call from my daughter in Minneapolis, a pediatrician, who recounts her work week at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.

What could be more discouraging than children battling an evil disease that destroys their dreams? Rich, poor, black, white, Muslim, Jew, cancer does not discriminate. No one grows up on easy street anymore.

When U of M Amplatz Children’s Hospital opened in 2011, it was designed to help kids heal as painlessly as possible by offering patient and family centered care. Staff wear colorful – orange, magenta, turquoise – scrubs and the bright, customized private rooms are spacious enough to allow families to stay to help the healing process.

The positive energy of the place can be seen in nurses of  Unit 5, who took time before and after hours to shoot a video with nearly 70 staff members dancing to « Brave » by Sara Bareilles, as a way of encouraging their patients.

“We know these kids, know their stories and what they’ve been through,” the nurses say, “but for other people to see how amazing they are and to be affected in the same way just means so much to them, and we hope it continues to inspire other kids.”

Their little video went viral with over 300,000 viewers. Our daughter abhors the limelight, so she ducked during the filming, but she jumped right on the band wagon promoting it.

When Nathalie’s aunt asked for ideas for birthday and Christmas gifts, Nat suggested that in lieu of gifts, we could make donations to Toys-for-Tots , or to Make a Wish, which grants wishes for kids with cancer and other life threatening illnesses.

“A lot of the kids I take care of have had wishes granted by Make-a-Wish, which is a big deal for them and their families,” Nat says.

To the doctors, nurses, families, and children at Amplatz and elsewhere fighting in the face of a despairing disease, as we say in France, « Bon Courage ! »

To my dear daughter, Happy Birthday! May you find the strength to do what you do best : easing children’s pain, calming distraught parents, and encouraging co workers.              .

To the rest of us who think we are weary from our job raising children, think again. We share a privileged role. Whether we are helping kids string together words one syllable at time or battle disease cell by cell, like the Amplatz’s staff implore each of us – teachers, coaches, counselors, parents and grandparents – take time to hug a kid today.

« Be courageous, be brave, be strong

Stay fighting, stay positive, stay courageous

Support the fighters, admire the survivors, honor the taken

Never ever give up hope»

Children are priceless. Each day is a gift. Kindness costs nothing. Positivity perpetuates. Hope prevails.

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Coach McKinzie, A College Ball Field, Teammates ‘til the End of Time

Coach Mac - 1950

Coach Mac – 1950

Anyone affiliated with sport knows that team connections can last lifetimes; lessons learned on the field have an everlasting impact. I witnessed this with the teams I played for and coached. However few teams can compare to the extraordinary bond created by the 1950-51 back-to-back Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship baseball team that my grandfather coached at Northern Illinois University.

At that time no one could imagine that seven decades later those same ball players would stay in contact, reuniting annually to play golf, swap stories over a meal and commemorate their time as Huskies playing baseball for Coach Mac. “The tradition has gone on for 40 some years,” Grant Cummings, an outfielder, said, “We have been getting together for so long no one can remember when we held our first of the first reunions.”

“We revered your grandpa,” Bill Eiserman, First Team All Interstate Athletic Conference catcher and captain, told me. “We won a lot of games, but he taught us that being a good person is more important than winning. He built character.”

“He taught a lot of lessons,” Bill continued. “But that was the greatest. I tried to impart that in all the teams that I coached. Everybody loves to win – not every team has the talent to win – but everyone can still take that valuable lesson away from the game.”

McKinzie, a seven time Hall of Fame Coach served as head basketball coach where he also won 3 state conferences in 8 years, before becoming head baseball coach. He also served as tennis, track and field coach, as well as an assistant football coach and athletic trainer at NIU from 1940-63. Though he officially retired from NIU in 1963, he continued coaching football into his nineties at his own alma mater, Eureka College.

Every year until my grandpa’s death at the age of 96, my dad, a dedicated son also part of that team, made sure Coach Mac made it to the annual baseball reunion.

NIU-baseball-team-1950-51

NIU-baseball-team-1950-51

Once a year the guys rally past personal setbacks, the loss of loved ones, and limitations due to declining health, to gather in celebration of not so much their ol’ double plays and home runs, but to honor the memory of the coach who shaped their lives and the camaraderie that developed under his leadership.

“Every spring we drove down to New Orleans for a tournament, stopping to play games along the way,” Cummings told me, a trip that I found remarkable for that time period.

“I wasn’t a drinker,” my dad said, “so I ordered a coke on our night out on the town. The guys still razz me; my coke cost more than those fancy cocktails everybody else was drinking.”

Typically, college stadiums are named for big-time alumni donors. My grandpa, son of a tenet farmer, lived modestly even donating his coaching salary back to Eureka College in his later years. He never made a fortune coaching, but he sure made friends.

In the late 80s, fueled by Bill Eiserman, Jack Brumm, Bud Nangle, former SID at NIU, and including the support of my grandpa’s Eureka College football player, President Ronald Reagan, the 1950-51 NIU team instigated naming the NIU baseball diamond, Ralph McKinzie Field. Mike Korcek, who can still recount the win-loss record of every team during his tenure as NIU’s sports information director, and Cary Groth, one of the first female large college athletic directors were also instrumental in the process.

On May 8, 1993, at the dedication ceremonies, my dad threw the game-opening pitch. “Poor Bill scooped my pitch out of the dirt,” my dad said and chuckled. “Bill kept me from looking bad, my pitch never made it cross the plate. I was an outfielder, not a pitcher.”

NIU Hall of Fame induction 10.10.2007 Front-Kranz, Moreno, Brumm, Neukirch, Giudici, Meath, Leon, Eiserman Back-Davis, McKinzie, Wasco, Cummings, Stap, Bedrosian

NIU Hall of Fame induction 10.10.2007
Front-Kranz, Moreno, Brumm, Neukirch, Giudici, Meath, Leon, Eiserman
Back-Davis, McKinzie, Wasco, Cummings, Stap, Bedrosian

My grandpa won countless honors; the NIU baseball field and Eureka College football field bear his name. But accolades aside, what made my Coach Mac proudest, was seeing what kind of men his players became.

Each member of the 1950-51 NIU team became successful in his own field, as high school and college teachers, coaches and athletic directors and exemplary civic leaders in business and education.

My grandpa also played a key role in my life. I miss him to this day, so I find comfort knowing his name lives on in the hearts of his former athletes.

These ol’ ball players have done him proud in turn by serving their family, community and country. The field may bear Ralph McKinzie’s name, but it carries the spirit of the 1950-51 ball team.

Athletes that step up to the plate at NIU today have no idea who Coach Mac was, still I hope that my grandpa’s moral standards seep into their souls through the diamond dust on that field of dreams.

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Where are all our heroes?

Jackie Robinson, a true heroe from yesteryears

Jackie Robinson, a true hero from yesteryear

When I asked my freshman English class students who they admired most, they said themselves. This should come as no surprise from the Millennial Generation but still, folks my age wonder. When pressed isn’t there anyone they look up to? My students confessed, “No we don’t have heroes.”

Is it no wonder? Sports icons fall short. The most reputable coach in football, the late Papa Joe Patterno fell off his pedestal when he covered up pedophilia at Penn State, tarnishing his record.

Lance Armstrong was stripped of 7 Tour de France medals for performance enhancing drug usage. Apparently, he did not defy odds as a human miracle beating cancer then rising to top of his game again.

Tiger Woods, following in the footsteps of political icons like Bill Clinton, French DSK, Italian Berlusconi, cheated on his wife, and then lied about it under oath. Classy.

American athletes are not the only ones disappointing the public. Around the globe, similar headlines make the front page. In a traditionally clean sport, French handball stars were charged with game fixing. Every time a European soccer idol breaks a record, another one makes the headlines for spouse abuse, drugs, or gambling. South African hero, Paralympics’ poster child, Oscar Pistorius was accused of murdering his girlfriend model, Reeva Steenkamp.

Politicians? Un huh, the very nature of the job makes their integrity questionable.

Surprisingly, you don’t hear about women cheating in relationships, business deals, or sports. You still just don’t hear much about women. Period. Especially athletic women. Title IX did not stipulate equal media coverage, which is still lacking, only 8% of media coverage is about women. Are athletic women yet to capture media eye? Or maybe women are less likely to make the same poor decisions?

Unfortunately, the media does find female athletes newsworthy when scandal arrives. Former WNBA star, Chamique Holdsclaw, one of the best female basketball players of all time, was arrested in a domestic dispute. In a rags to riches tale, this ghetto girl made it big at Tennessee winning 3 consecutive titles. She was the first female athlete recruited to go professional while still in college because the opportunity was available. Now her life accomplishments will be tarnished by scandal after she assaulted her ex girlfriend Jennifer Lacy, Tulsa Shock player.

Bad press for the WNBA, which gets only limited print. The articles never mentioned Chamique’s underlying psychological issues – depression and attempted suicide in 2006 – revealed in her autobiography. For all her accolades on the hardwood, as a gay, black, inner-city female basketball player the cards were stacked against her. What I am wondering is why only scandal makes the headlines?

Like Suzi Favor Hamilton, the world class run runner from Wisconsin, a wife and mom, who doubled as a high flying call girl. She made “breaking news” which by the way, ran in Swiss newspapers with full-page photo layout, no less.

So who can we admire?

Famous people are under suspicion, as if fame itself corrupts or perhaps the money behind it. Maybe our children should ignore the big names, and instead emulate everyday role models.

A favorite educator, a respected coach, a kind neighbor. Little people tackle the mundane jobs of keeping kids on track without 6 digit salaries, 5 car garages, million dollar shoe endorsements, thousand dollar speaking appearances and Oprah interviews.

Hear! Hear! For the teachers, coaches, moms, dads, grandmas.

How about featuring one of those stars the headlines? What do you think?

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