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When my daughter was born in Paris on a cool October day nearly three decades ago, I prayed for the strength to help make her resilient. No easy task as I was still enduring chronic pain from a car accident and I would be raising her in France in a cross-cultural marriage. As she grew, I dreamed of watching her run, jump and play. Like my dad once taught me, I showed her how to shoot baskets in the driveway and before long I was following her to games in the French and then later Swiss club leagues.
When Nat entered the international school, I coached her and her friends. Every time she came out of a game pouting about an elbow to the face or knee in the back I encouraged her to brush it off and get back in the action.
Was I pushing her too hard or not enough?
When I had her play one-on-one against a boy and he accidentally broke her ankle, I could’ve kicked myself. I always pressed the limits. Nat played with exercised induced asthma, so I subbed her out of games, insisting, “Breath, Nat, breath. But tell me as soon as you can go back in.”
In all fairness, what coach likes their 6’2” center to sit out? After all, I had been raised by get-up-and-walk-it-off father and grandfather coaches.
I never knew if what I said made sense to a girl growing up in Europe where the emphasis is less about winning and more about participating. What good were my lessons?
However after shining in the Swiss basketball league, as a freshman Nathalie moved to the States and as a college freshman played in the DIII Final Four tournament for University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point under Shirley Egner, who became the most decorated coach in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC).
The final game of Nat’s career ended in an upset. The athlete in her collapsed, but her fighting spirit will remain in the gym, another brick in the wall, forming the foundation of UWSP Pointer’s
tradition. That athlete kicked the bleachers and cried in the shower, but the scholar in her rose early the next morning to ace the biochemistry exam.
I who once majored in “basketball,” floundered, searching for a career. So driven by my obsession with the game, I was lost when I could no longer play. My daughter knew instinctively that brains would outlast the body. Four days
, after the disappointing end to her basketball career, Nat nailed her interview gaining admittance to the University of Minnesota Medical School.
But I will always remember that night when we stumbled off the purple and gold court at UWSP.
I slipped my right arm around her waist as she draped her left arm over my shoulders. She leaned on me for support and I clung to her waist for balance; where my strength ended, her courage began. I drew on her calm, logical ability to see the big picture; she relied on my humor and spunk to make it through the moment. I marveled at her ability to memorize the chemical compositions of molecules, she admired my tenacity to keep fighting each day faced with debilitating pain. We are tougher, more resilient, and more compassionate because of each other.
When I was a child, women had no more chance of playing pro basketball than being CEOs, neurosurgeons or college professors. Yet during her college career, Nat guarded the superstar of Milwaukee School of Engineering, a woman whose job at NASA awaited her graduation. Nathalie became the first international player in the WIAC to receive the Scholar Athlete Award (2006-2007
). She juggled the demands of academics, college basketball, and dual nationality, crossing between cultures. And in 2011 she took the Hippocratic Oath at University of Minnesota Medical School to become the first doctor in the family.
Today Dr. Lechault uses that same tenacity she learned on the basketball court to work incredibly long hours teaching adolescents good health habits, answering a pager in the middle of the night, calming distraught parents, and making tough, split second decisions in her work as a pediatrician. Happy Birthday, Nat, and hey, thanks for listening!
Feb. 26, 1929-July 25, 2012
His name was synonymous with sports in Sterling. As a 1948 SHS grad, surely Sterling has never had a faster runner or a finer coach.
As an athlete, Dietz was a record-breaking runner on the track. Later as a teacher at SHS, he coached athletes to break records. Under his tutelage, the SHS track team won 26 conference titles. In addition to countless SHS Athletic Hall of Fame titles, he was also an Illinois State Track Coaches Inductee.
In high school, my dad, a defensive back playing for DeKalb, was assigned the task of guarding Sterling’s star running back.
“Our game plan was simple – tackle Dietz!” my dad recounted, “Only problem, we had to catch him first. We chased him up and down the field all night.”
My dad and Duwayne’s rivalry ended the day my dad started teaching at SHS in 1958. Every teacher who worked at SHS and every athlete who ever graduated from Sterling has his own favorite, “Dietzism,” engrained in his “thick skull.”
“For 25 years we shared the same office, so we told a lot of stories,” my dad said. “Duwayne became a colleague, a friend and a mentor.”
My dad learned the ropes of coaching freshman football as an assistant to Duwayne.
“At halftime of an away game we played so badly in the first half, Coach Dietz loaded the team back on the bus, and threatened to turn it around and drive them back home.”
When Duwayne retired in 1989 after 34 years serving students and athletes, my dad roasted him royally; SHS fittingly named the track after him.
Coach Dietz served his community and his country. As a paratrooper during the Korean War, he made 57 jumps and remained in the Army reserves for 30 years. A decorated colonel – strong, tough, feared and respected – he dressed sharp, stood straight and remained fit. He barked orders in a gruff voice. He was a man of few words, not all of them nice. But underneath the rugged façade was a loving father, caring coach, and strong leader. Everyone at SHS wanted to do right by him.
“Good run, Patty,” he said after my 880-yard dash. “What was your time?”
After he stopped me in the hall to inquire, I worked my butt off in track because I knew the next time he asked my time better be faster.
Everyone at SHS feared and admired Coach Dietz. But his bark was louder than his bite. Like all athletes, I’d jump at his command, then he’d soften the blow with his trademark grin, so that I knew he was kidding (or was he?)
Wrapped within the sadness of his death was also a sense of celebration for a man who shaped so many lives with his hard drive and high standards. Because Coach Dietz demanded excellence, I sought it in myself.
Dwayne Dietz was a Hall of Fame Athlete and Coach who raised a Hall of Fame Family.
He coached one son, an outstanding track star, as well as his son-in-law, a SHS standout football player. He taught with still another son-in-law. He left behind his lovely wife, Ruth, and 5 children and 14 grandchildren. Respected by the community, loved by friends and family, his passing leaves a hole in the hearts of many.
I feel fortunate to have grown up listening to the legends on the breezeway of their old house. His third daughter has been my best friend since third grade. As kids on the block, we all knew Mr. Dietz had our back.
With his parting, my hometown lost a hero. Another part of my childhood slipped away.
Rest in Peace Coach Dietz
In my original game plan, I thought that when I retired from playing basketball in my fifties, I would ski mountains and run marathons into old age. Alas, an accident at the peak of my career at age 26 ended my basketball playing days. Illness filled my life with detours. Today a bad back, blown-out knees and chronic pain from fibromyalgia prevents me attaining the goals I once set.
The first part of my life as a first generation Title IXer, I fought to get off the sideline and into the game; the second half, I learned how to be a gracious cheerleader. That is why I am so proud of my daughter for incorporating fitness into her daily life as a doctor, to my friend Tina for winning a Gold Medal in basketball at the Senior Olympic games, for my little sister and her friends in their fifties for competing in their 2nd mini triathlon.
Karen and her friends, Ann Jackson and Jean Pupkes, joined 317 other participants on Saturday July 21st in the 9thAnnual River City Days Triathlon Sprint held in Chaska Minnesota.
Training for the triathlon may be just as difficult as the actual event. Karen alternated training schedules prior to the meet. A strong swimmer she loved the first leg, a third mile lake swim, yet struggled with the final 3.1K run. This year my brother-in-law Dick, 2 months after undergoing a thyroidectomy to remove a cancerous tumor, decided to join her. An avid biker, Dick whizzed past people on the 16 mile ride, avoided sinking on the swim, and walked the first K, all uphill, of the run.
While my sister and bro defy age by challenging their bodies to remain fit, I am inspired to focus not on what I can’t do, but on what I can. Since my mid twenties, I have seen a team of doctors for a list of ailments. For the past 4 years, as a guinea pig in a clinical trial treatment for a multisystem inflammatory autoimmune illness, I have avoided light exposure.
But that doesn’t stop me! I hike in the Alps under an umbrella, walk to work covered in gloves and a hoody, and swim across the lake in my wet suit and scuba gear. In solidarity with my sister and brother in law, I participated in my own mini triathlon. Early Saturday morning, I biked 7 miles, walked a mile and then swam a half-mile. Afterwards, I couldn’t lift my arms to hold a book. I broke no records but as the sole competitor, solitary contestant, I won the event!
In a personal best, Karen had the best time in her age group for the swim and beat her overall time by 12 minutes. Dick, setting his own record, inspired anyone who has battled cancer.
My adult life is not as active as I had once hoped; yet I have accepted that I will never ski down Mont-Blanc, because I can still admire the mountaintops from my window. I will never again play the game I love, but I can impart my love of the game to the girls I coach. I will no longer knock down J’s (jump shots), but I can swim through summers on my beloved Summit Lake.
Life is good!
“You don’t have to be a victim of your environment. You learn that through sports, you learn that through teamwork. You decide who you want to be and then you go pursue that. “ I learned this key lesson from my college coach, Jill Hutchinson, a legend in women’s basketball. With that mindset, it is no surprise Jill influenced the lives of so many young women in her 28-year tenure as ISU.
She refused to be a victim of gender.
Historically in America, women and sports were incompatible. While at University of New Mexico (1963-1967), Hutchinson was reprimanded for competing in a national tournament in Gallup, NM as part of an AAU state championship team. When a professor, who was then president of the Division of Girls and Women’s Sport (DGWS), announced that women were not suited for team sport, Jill challenged her comment in class.
“She ripped me from one end to the other,” Hutchinson recounted. “I walked out of class in tears. I remember telling some kids in class that I was going to make sure girls have an opportunity to play.”
Before the time women were recruited, I chose Illinois State University on a gut feeling. Coach Jill Hutchinson won me over with her enthusiasm for life and the game.
Not only were female athletes new, but women coaches were an anomaly.
While Hutchinson racked up championships in her 28-year tenure at Illinois State, she also succeeded at the international level leading the US to a gold at the 1983 World University Games and a silver medal at the 1978 Pan American Games. On the national level, she is known for helping the women’s game grow from obscurity to its current level of popularity.
In spite of the obstacles she confronted, Hutchinson was never bitter. When inducted to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Knoxville Tennessee, Jill said, “I am very fortunate to have lived in the time I have. The progress from the time when we could only play three players on each side of the court to where we are today has been a great experience.”
She was a rookie coach, learning the ropes as she went along, yet she never feared asking questions or standing up for what was right. Jill gained ground with class and kindness at time when women met roadblocks. When women athletics moved from McCormack gym to Horton, they were unwelcome. “I brought brownies to the workers and won them over.”
“Her legacy is etched in stone in national basketball archives with 460 wins and an impeccable graduation rate at Illinois State,” said former ISU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan.
She coached numerous professional players and two Olympians, Charlotte Lewis and Cathy Boswell, but what makes her proudest is the fact that every senior athlete she coached earned a degree, even if she came back years later to attain it.
“If you’re willing to win at all costs, if you don’t emphasize the values in sport and the values in learning then I think you, as a coach, sell out to the big entertainment business. I still think if you’re going to be coaching at a collegiate institution you have an obligation to educate your student athletes.”
She had just as great impact off the court as on it due to her leadership on the rules committee. She was the co-founder and first Women’s Basketball Coaches Association President, an honor she held 4 times.
“I have been extremely fortunate in my career,” said Hutchinson. “I never had to go to work. I got to go to the gym.”
Yet work she did. As a graduate student at ISU, her research shattered the myth that full court 5on 5 basketball would be fatal for women. She hooked electrodes to basketball players with no ill effects proving a woman’s heart wouldn’t explode by running a fastbreak. This led to a change in rules instead of six-player game to the full court five-player game.
As first generation Title IX athletes, competitive sports for girls was so new that we came into university with raw talent, true grit and a love of the game. We were in awe of Coach Hutchinson. For the first time, we had a female role model. Everyone who played for her wanted to do right by her. Most of us remained in contact with her long after graduation.
When my former Olympian teammate, Charlotte Lewis, died of a heart attack in her early 50s, Jill spoke at her funeral.
Another, incident shows the depth of Jill’s caring. I left the States in 1980 to play basketball in Europe. Three decades later, my Franco-American daughter raised abroad returned to the States to combine sport and academics as part of the DIII program that Hutchinson recommended. My daughter, Nathalie, played for Shirley Egner, another highly acclaimed coach at UW-Stevens Point. Hutchinson attended their match-up at Illinois Wesleyan and stayed afterward to meet Nathalie. Then Jill passed on to my daughter the poem that I had written her, during my senior year at ISU, about a coach’s role shaping athletes into adults.
Hutchinson was ahead of her time. Long before sports psychology existed, she invited a psychiatrist to teach us progressive, relaxation technique before a big game.
In the day before assistants, Hutchinson was a one-woman show. She thought nothing of driving her team cross country in campus station wagons. She tracked down gyms without GPS, and followed weather reports and speed trap warnings from truckers on CB radios. She fielded winning teams on shoe-string budgets, fighting for practice space, athletic equipment and opportunities to compete. She planned practices, organized travel, scouted opponents, and fought on national committees for women’s rights. She mimeographed handwritten scouting reports detailing game strategy and opponent players’ strengths and weaknesses. Every game she scrawled individual notes to each player. Hutch had an uncanny ability to motivate players and that motivation never left us.
Her legacy lives on in the hundreds of players whose lives she influenced and in their daughters, who never doubted their right to succeed in any arena!
Back in the 1960s, tall, smart and athletic, I slouched through school with 3 strikes against me, ridiculed for my passion to play “boy’s ball games.” Then in 1972 Title IX, a controversial bill, passed as a part of the Civil Rights Amendment and opened doors that had slammed closed in my face.
For the first time ever, laws mandated equal opportunity on America’s playing fields. Though early on we weren’t welcomed there, we kept fighting. As a first generation Title IXer, I, unknowingly, became a pioneer in women’s basketball. I received the first athletic scholarship to Illinois State. No one recruited back then, I was lucky to be at the right place at right time.
“The majority of our staff opposed scholarships. It was a real struggle deciding if we were going to do it or not. In the end, we awarded Illinois State’s first basketball scholarship in 1978 to Pat McKinzie.”– Jill Hutchinson, Illinois State Coach1st President and Co-founder Women’s Basketball Coaches Association
I played with an All Star cast of Illinois’ finest ball players who made me look good. The late Cyndi Ellis, late Charlotte Lewis, 1976 silver Olympic medalist, Vonnie Tomich, All Pro WBL, Cyndi Slayton and others like Annette Rutt (1967) who came before me paving the way including coach Jill Hutchinson.
On selection teams, try out camps, and in my brief stint in the short-lived, premier Women’s Pro League, WBL, I met other unsung heroes blazing trails in their home states. We had no idea we were making history; we just wanted a chance to dance on the hardwood.
Now 40 years later, I salute old rivals and teammates who helped pave the way for generations of young girls across the continent. These are but a few of the scholarship recipients (1975-79) that I was able to track down through the wonderful wacky worldwide web.
A teammate from the pros, Cathy Shoemaker, first scholarship recipient at University North Carolina and WBL Dallas Diamonds (1979-81) All Star, is now a physical therapist in South Carolina. She helped her team to advance to the AIAW regionals as a three-time AIAW All-State.
One of my college archrivals, who befriended me at Athletes in Action training camp in Colorado, was Betty Booker, the first athletic scholarship recipient at Memphis State University. She went onto become an award winning high school coach and later an assistant principal at Whitehaven High School in Tennessee.
Out west, one of the first scholarship recipients at the University Wyoming was another point guard, Cindy Bower, my teammate with the Washington D.C. Metros. Her young coach, Margie McDonald, also a groundbreaker, was a scholarship recipient at Wayland Baptist, Texas. Cindy went onto become a highly respected businesswoman, founder and CEO of Calibre Management Inc.
One of the biggest name player at that time period, Ann Meyers Drysdale was the first 4-year athletic scholarship at UCLA, 4-time All-American, the only woman to sign a contract with the NBA, Indiana Pacers, and first woman drafted in the first women’s professional league New Jersey Gems in1979. She became a successful sportscaster.
During the 1970s, my “full ride” felt like drawing the winning lottery ticket and helped my parents afford to put four children five years apart through college on teachers’ salaries. In turn, I gave back to the game, coaching high school players from around the globe at international schools in Europe, including one 6’2″ blue-eyed, dark-haired Franco American named Nathalie.
Years later, my daughter, returned to the States to combine academics and education. She played in a DIII Final Four at UW-Stevens Point under the tutelage of another pioneer, my former rival at UW-Lacrosse, Shirley Egner, the most decorated coach in the competitive Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Nathalie became the first MD in the family on either side of the Atlantic. Raise the roof for the young women of the 21st century, who never doubted their right to rise to the top.
Tall, smart, athletic…today you look up to shake hands with Dr. Lechault.
In your face, world! Who’s laughing now?