Sterling Salutes Illinois’ First Girls’ State Basketball Champs

Forty years ago, my little sisters made history and on April 4, 1977 newspaper headlines read “Sterling High Girls win first ever-state title over 7,000 greet Illinois number one basketball team.” Five years after Title IX passed into legislation mandating equal opportunities for girls in all publicly funded schools, a new generation was born. While our country was struggling with civil rights and gender equity issues a small town team united blacks, whites and Hispanics in one dream – a state championship.

If I close my eyes, I can still see Marche Harris pumping her fist in air after a break away lay up, Fran Smith with her wicked ‘fro soaring at the jump circle, Dawn Smith grabbing weak side boards, Jojo Leseman, running the court like a platoon captain in fast forward, freshman, Amy Eshelman gliding the baseline. And my sister, Karen McKinzie, standing at the line swishing another free throw. Harris, Smith, Leseman, Eshelman and McKinzie names that have marked SHS record books for years.

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An odd trio of coaches, Jim McKinzie a retired boys coach, Sue Strong a GAA coordinator and Phil Smith the first African American teacher in the conference fought behind the front line to make sure female athletes were granted equal rights at SHS in those crucial years after Title IX. Before anyone dared to utter words like racism or sexism in public, they shaped a team far ahead of its time indifferent to gender or race. That group of unassuming girls enchanted an entire community. Part of the magic was their cohesiveness. No divas, no superstars, no drama queens, just selfless teammates who knew that they were stronger together than they could ever be alone.

It was too late for me. A 1975 SHS graduate, I became a Redbird and moved to Illinois State University where the first girls state tournament was held on my new home court. I watched with pride from the bleachers of Horton Field house as my little sisters made history under my father’s tutelage.

“What stands out most was how this team brought the community together,” he said reminiscing, “Nothing like it before or since. The Golden Girls were goodwill ambassadors for Sterling, a place no one heard of before was thrown in the limelight. When we returned as state champions, we were wined and dined like celebrities.”

Forty years ago, we had no clue that the old Golden “Girls” would bear daughters who would one day be recognized as Golden Warriors. All we cared about was finally being allowed to play the game we loved. Do the girls that play today know how lucky they are to compete on center court wearing fashion’s latest apparel? To prepare before games in weight rooms and repair afterwards in training rooms? To be immortalized in a state of the art Hall of Fame room?

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Stop by the open house at Woodlawn Arts Academy on Friday April 7 from 4:00-7:00 to salute that first state championship team and their coaches. Tip your hat to those pioneers who grew up in flimsy, canvas shoes and one piece gym suits, who played ball when no one was looking or worse yet when people looked and laughed. Pay tribute to those women who gave their heart and soul to dreams that no one understood, dreams that became our daughters’ reality.

When you sink a jumper and drive the baseline young blood, hear our stories whispered from the rafters. Walk tall, be strong, be brave. Be proud of your past, Golden “Girl”. After years of battle, it’s an honor and a privilege to be called a Warrior.

A chapter of my memoir is about the 1977 state championship team.

March Madness My Way

Though I miss the basketball frenzy in America especially at this time of year, I learned to celebrate March Madness my way. As an expat in Europe for the past 35 years, the only March Madness I experienced was in 2014 when I traveled to the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point to be the keynote speaker at the DIII Final Four banquet in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

Fortunately after my international playing career ended, I joined a collect of coaches – many former players – who brought a taste of March Madness to the international schools in international and national competitions.

I have had my fair share of championship teams and though I am every bit as competitive as my cohorts across the Atlantic, over here the stakes are not as high. My players don’t perform in front of sell out crowds and my job is not dependent on the number of wins.

So though I retired from teaching in June, no one who knows me will be surprised that after medical treatments in the States, I came back to coaching in Switzerland to finish the season with my high school team.

At our international tournament in Basel, my team felt like they let me down when they lost their defending title to Zurich in the SCIS.

“I didn’t come back to watch you play basketball,” I said in the locker-room after the game. “I came to be with you. To help you get your international baccalaureate degree and to remind you that I believe in you. Always. Even in defeat. Especially in defeat.”

No one goes through life beating every opponent. It is what you do when the chips are down that builds character. Second effort is the difference between, well, going on and giving up. So after that disappointing defeat, we went back to gym and practiced. A month later we beat that same Zurich team to win the Swiss championship SGIS.

We can beat ourselves up reliving our errors. Forget the mistakes. The game goes so fast no one else will remember that you dribbled off your toe, threw the ball out of bounds or shot an air ball, what they will remember is that you hustled back down court on defense and played tough until the final buzzer.

The emphasis in international schools is less about winning and more about learning, so academics always play the biggest role.

No doubt I have book smart players. But playing basketball teaches self-discipline and perseverance and other valuable lessons that can’t be learned in a classroom.

This year one of my star basketball players is heading to Stanford and another one is off to Oxford; they won’t be going on athletic scholarships. They play hard, but study harder. And maybe that is how it should be.

Basketball basics 101 – a valuable part of any curriculum. It’s a throw back to the good old days in the early infancy of Title IX when we played for love of the game and to get a good education.

March Madness my way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Election An Expat Perspective

12665885-silhouette-of-a-sad-politician-on-american-flag-background-with-vintage-look-stock-photoTo me it’s not about politics. It’s not about liberal or conservative or agreeing to disagree on what we each think is the best way to ensure that the US is a great place to live.

It’s about the values  I thought we held regardless of our political leanings.

After hearing the election results on November 9, I cried. I felt a gut wrenching fear and despair that knowing there was no turning back. I walked out the door and wanted to keep walking right off the planet. My disappointment was magnified thousand-fold with the heartbreaking knowledge that half of the nation believes in a leader whose platform was filled with empty slogans and derogatory rhetoric based on repression, intolerance, bigotry, misogyny and ignorance.

I know that realistically not all those who voted support those views and that they have very legitimate reasons for wanting change, I know that for many it was an act of anger, frustration and hopelessness, not racism or misogyny. But it’s hard for me to feel that in so-voting, those views, which I find so abhorrent and antithetical to the very rights we fought so hard for in the past, weren’t being endorsed. Regardless of what happens at a policy-level, I’m fearful of the message that has been sent, of the noxious sentiment that has been aroused, and of the no-longer unrealistic possibility that the rights we have fought for could be taken away, or at the very least not truly be guaranteed for all.

I understood why thousands of Americans took to the streets in protest chanting, « Not my President. »

Not my country either. Not the country I loved so dearly for defending the unalienable rights we hold so true … liberty, justice and freedom for all, not just those who shout the loudest or have the biggest bank accounts or have ancestors born in Western Europe and have less melanin in their skin.

Having lived in Europe for the past 37 years, perhaps I have no right to judge. I do not know what it feels like to be stopped in the street for the color of my skin. Or to be a working class man facing unemployment when my job was outsourced overseas. Or to be homeless waiting in line for a food pantry hand-out. Nor the despair of watching my child grow sicker and weaker due to an inability to afford health care.

But I do know the fear of standing in line in a French immigration office fearing that I will be deported. I do know the humility of depending on German teammates for a roof over my head. And I do know the gratitude of people – international friends and colleagues – who ignored where I came from and accepted me for who I was.

And I know what it feels like to be left out. In the early Title IX days, I left the USA to pursue a dream denied in my homeland. In 1979, I moved to Europe on the heels of the Vietnam War at the height of the Cold War, during the Reagan era.

While living abroad, I tried to mitigate the stereotype of the loud, arrogant, ethnocentric American by speaking softly and keeping a low profile. I demonstrated the ideals of tolerance on which my country was founded by showing respect for others who worshiped different deities, spoke different languages and practiced different customs. As a guest in others homelands, I discovered firsthand through friendship the beauty in our diversity.

I came back to a nation where people were more connected than ever on social media, yet profoundly divided in real life and unable to communicate in civil terms.

Recently retired from teaching abroad, I stayed in the states longer and followed the election with mounting alarm, stunned not just by how vitriolic it turned, but how easily we condoned it. When did the election in one of the greatest democracies become more about digging up dirt on one’s opponent than discussing critical policy issues?

I felt as if I’d been flung back in time to an era when women were objectified, Jim Crow Laws kept blacks in their place, and gays hid in the closet for safety. Trump gave free licence to discrimination. His dismissal of anyone who is not a white American male echoes an Aryan supremacist ideology that nearly destroyed us.

« Make American great again ! » Trump proclaims. What was great about America was that everyone had an opportunity to pursue the Dream.

« Build walls to keep out immigrants ! » America was built on the backbone of immigrants who came here for a better life.

On the heels of Brexit, Trump’s victory, following a campaign filled with disdain for women, minorities, immigrants, gays and the disabled only fuels the extreme right of the world. Marie Le Pen is kicking up her heels in France; Geert Wilders is dancing in Holland.               .

The nightmare I woke up to November 9 reverberates around the globe. We may only worry about what is happening in our neighbourhood, and I get that, but what we don’t realize is that, like it or not, any decision made in America affects the rest of world, environmentally, socially, and economically.

We need to remember that regardless of our political party, religious affiliation, national identity, race or gender, we don’t own this planet.

We cannot go back and change the outcome of the election, but that does not mean we should give up on those ideals. We can speak up for those who are victimized or do not have a voice. We can continue to teach our children to treat everyone with kindness and respect. We can encourage the many politicians in both parties who have condemned Trump’s racist and misogynistic rhetoric to continue to do so.

We can do better.

We must.

Happy Father’s Day Coach – Thanks for the Legacy

Coach "Mac" - Ralph McKinzie

Coach “Mac” – Ralph McKinzie

On June 5, 1983, mere months after a car accident in France ended my career as professional athlete, I wrote this letter to my grandpa Coach ‘Mac’ Ralph McKinzie. a beloved college coach.

Today, I can address this same letter to my dad, who influenced just as many high school athletes as my grandpa did at the university level.

 

 

Dear Coach Mac,

I want to wish you a Happy Father’s Day, not as your granddaughter but as an athlete. Though I never had the opportunity to play football on your team (football is forbidden for girls, even tomboy girls) I still look to you as an example. As an athlete I know the impact you had as a coach, but as a woman I can express emotions more openly than a man. Today I am writing on behalf of all the boys you fathered on the football field who would wish you a Happy Dad’s Day if they could find the words.Jim & Grandpa

In our society men are not allowed to show feelings; it is uncharacteristic of the American male, especially husky football players, to write thank you letters, so you’ll never realize the number of lives you touched. Your influence on one boy, Ronald Reagan, who became President of the United States, is probably the most outstanding example of the far-reaching effects of your coaching. Many men, less acclaimed perhaps, but equally important, are fathering children and becoming productive citizens because of the impact you had as a coach, developing character. Many continue to hurdle life’s hardships because of the never-give-up attitude you instilled on McKinzie Field.

Coach Jim

Jim McKinzie – Eureka College

I am one of those former athletes. I never endured the duck walk, but I know enough of your coaching philosophies to have that iron will ingrained, a will that kept me alive this year. After the accident I thought I would never get out of bed, days passed from minute to minute enduring pain. When walking from one room to another seemed insurmountable, you were my inspiration. I thought of you pacing the football field. Not all your former athletes will have suffered the same trials as I, but each will have endured hard times, drawing on the strength you helped them develop off the field.

Since I can no longer compete, I feel useless. Again I look to you and see how you are still coaching, influencing lives even at the age of 89. So I think I will try to follow your example as a coach. Unfortunately, in organized sports today, coaches often must focus more on winning championships than on shaping individuals. However I intend to follow your philosophy and be a coach of life.

Perhaps you too are weary from life’s aches and pains. Many mornings you, a man that once kicked 50-yard field goals, has trouble pulling on his socks. Like me you wonder what your purpose is here now. But your very existence continues to be an inspiration to us all. Thanks Coach from all your athletes.

P & Nic-2My grandpa officially retired from coaching in 1962, and then was called back to the game a year later. My father retired from coaching boy’s football and basketball only to return to coaching girl’s basketball in the infancy of Title IX.

Looking back my letter reads like a prophecy; I went on to coach and teach internationally for 33 years. Together grandfather, father, and daughter have dedicated nearly a century and half to helping shape kids on the playing fields. Only days after my grandfather died in 1990, our son was born. Today that young man, Coach Mac’s great grandson, has become the fourth generation to go into teaching and coaching.

I think that is what you call a legacy.

Speaker Graduation International School of Geneva

When I accepted the honor of speaking at the International School of Geneva’s graduation ceremony during my final year of teaching, I was filled with trepidation. Who was I to give advice to such a talented group of students and their families? How I could bid farewell to my community and career without bursting into tears?

I am uncomfortable being in the limelight. My story is only one of many of the stories of the trailblazers who fought for civil rights, but my message – the right to pursue one’s dream – is universal.

As I stood on stage in front of a packed gymnasium, I fixed my eyes on my husband, sister, brother-in-law, former athletes and students and my racing heart calmed. I entered the zone, knowing I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was destined to do.

 

Students, colleagues & parents congratulate the speaker

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« You each have a gift. You all have a story. Share it. As I step back into the shadows, you go out and shine. Show up. Stand up. Speak up. Be the best you can be. Raise the roof for the class of 2016. Go out and rock the world. »

At the end of my speech, people hailing from every corner of the globe gave me a thundering standing ovation and I was deeply humbled. Due to illness and injury I can no longer do so many of the things I love, but in spite of pain I continued to show up even when I didn’t feel like it and focused on what I could do. I was bowled over by an outpouring of appreciation from the community that has sustained me for the past 2 decades. Though I can no longer run, jump and play, « I can still walk, talk, write, speak, and inspire. »

And maybe that is enough.

Guest Post: Daughter Gives Mom Remedial IT Lessons

Disclaimer: This piece should not be used to judge the state of interpersonal relations in our family. My mom is a wonderful person, and I love and admire her. My parents have been happily married for 32 years, despite the fact they have owned a computer through most of their marriage.

I am not a tech-y person. My friends mocked me for refusing to upgrade to a smartphone until 2014. My approach to my computer woes is to shut it down, restart and cross my fingers that the problem will fix itself. So when I tell you that my mom makes me look like a computer genius, you can see the problem. Usually she asks my dad for help, but since his assistance is accompanied by a lesson in French expletives, I became her IT resource during my last trip home.

I realized she was having problems with Facebook Messenger when Nic’s girlfriend approached me about their communication difficulties: “Pat told Nic that I don’t answer my messages, but I do! She just never answers back”.

I opened Facebook and demonstrated the “complicated” process of clicking the message symbol in the upper right corner of the screen and we discovered that she had dozens of unread messages, dating back to early 2015. If you need to communicate with Mom, I recommend you email instead.

The next issue: Spotify, which I set up for her last time I was home. “It always plays the same songs,” she says, “Show me how to erase those and download new ones.”

“Mom, you didn’t download anything, Spotify is a streaming service. Just make a new playlist.”

Pause. Quizzical stare.

“What’s a playlist?”

Since I wasn’t making progress on the computer, we moved on to the iPhone. Unfortunately, she does not know any of her passwords, or where to find them, so setting up Facebook and Goodreads accounts was challenging. Luckily my dad, foreseeing this problem, installed the password manager, LastPass. Next, she wanted to learn to use the camera, which she grasped quickly. She was chuffed by her ability to take pictures at her retirement party, and indeed she took many. Some were of her finger, and most were too dark, but it was an accomplishment and I was proud of her.

That pride was short-lived, however, because at this party her English department colleagues gave her a Kindle, a thoughtful gift for my mom, who is an avid reader. I just wish they had thrown in a bottle of wine for Dad and I, who had to teach her how to use it. Dad set it up, and Mom browsed Goodreads trying to figure out what book to buy first. Then she screamed: “Help! I don’t know what happened, I was just browsing and suddenly the pages of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ popped up and now it’s stuck”. A lot of things ‘just happen’ on computers when Pat is around. I don’t believe in the occult, but who knows? Maybe she is the victim of a particularly mischievous poltergeist. That would explain how, a few years ago, she received emails about random men after she inadvertently signed up for a Swiss dating site (unless maybe my dad signed her on in hopes that she would find someone else to help her with her computer issues).

Returning to the Kindle saga, since nothing was stuck – she had merely opened a book sample – so I show her how to use the ‘back’ button. But when she opened the sample, a message was sent addressed to ‘Sarah’. My dad, in his haste to set up Kindle to get my mom out of his hair, connected her to someone else’s Amazon account. Surprisingly, once we connected the correct account the Kindle store switched to German (we are in Switzerland after all). Google search revealed that this is a common problem with a less-than-straightforward solution, so we navigated through10 different steps on the Amazon account in French, English, and, German, and managed to reset the country to ‘USA’. But it was too early to celebrate our victory. When trying to re-connect Goodreads after resetting the Kindle, we faced a new challenge: Pat has multiple accounts, and multiple incorrect passwords recorded in LastPass.

When she first joined Goodreads, my dad made her an account for her book, and a personal account. Now this makes perfect sense for someone who wants to use the site for marketing while retaining a second, more private online identity. It makes no sense for someone who already has accounts on a half a dozen other social networking sites and doesn’t know how to use any of them.

Finally, we got the Kindle set up and working. But we still don’t have a book on the thing though – Mom continues browsing and can’t decide what she wants to read.