Happy Father’s Day – From Papa Mac to President Obama Empowering Daughters

When I saw the espnW interview with President Obama coaching his 10-year-old daughter, Sasha’s basketball team, I cried; it reminded me so much of my dad and me. However, forty years ago,  dads teaching daughters jump shots were anomolies. Most fathers discouraged daughters from playing ball games because society deemed it unladylike.

Like my dad and I, first the President cheered on Sasha from the sidelines, then  he offered  pointers  to the team at the White House on Sundays and, finally, he coached the team from the bench, shouting aphorisms my father once pronounced, « Work the ball inside. Don’t take those crazy long shots. »

“Girls just take it for granted,” President Obama said,  “and maybe that is a good thing that girls grow up knowing they have equal rights on the court.”

But it is hard to appreciate what you got.

Four decades ago,  when  my dad hollered,” Quit marching down court like a battle line. Spread the wings.  Get ahead of the ball,” my team learned how to fly on the fastbreak.

Slowly, times changed. In 1977, five years after Title IX’s passage, my dad co-coached my younger sister, Karen’s team to a first ever high school state championship at my alma mater Illinois State University.

1st girls Illinois State Champions

1st girls Illinois State Champions

My dad shaped values in the athletes he nurtured during his 33-year career at Sterling High School. His endearing relationship with his championship girls’ team earned him the affectionate title of Papa Mac. In his four years of coaching girls’ basketball, my dad’s teams racked up, 1 State championship, a 3rd place and an Elite Eight appearance. Then he retired, but not before girls basketball put Sterling on the map. Championship teams brought honor to the town and high school, but what made Papa Mac proudest was seeing how his athletic girls grew up to offer contributions to society as principals, teachers, social workers and leading members of their communities.

When I was 10 years old, I dreaded my 11th birthday because I thought I would have to exchange my high tops for heels, forfeit my dreams and stop shooting jump shots.  Papa Mac helped open the door of athletic opportunity for me and my younger sisters.

“Play hard, shoot straight, aim high!” he encouraged.

Four decades later, our 44th head of the nation echoed those words. President Obama deemed it important enough to take time out from running world affairs to coach his daughter’s team. That example speaks volumes about how far we have come.

“I am a huge believer that sports ends up being good for kids, and especially good for girls. It gives them confidence, it gives them a sense of what it means to compete. Studies show that girls who are involved in athletics often do better in school; they are more confident in terms of dealing with boys. And, so, for those of us who grew up just as Title IX was taking off, to see the development of women’s role models in sports, and for girls to know they excelled in something, there would be a spot for them in college where they weren’t second-class, I think has helped to make our society more equal in general,” the President said.

Coach Mac in action

Coach Mac in action

“I think the challenge is making sure that, in terms of implementation, schools continue to take Title IX seriously … and I think understanding that this is good, not just for a particular college, not just for the NCAA, [but that] it is good for our society; it will create stronger, more confident women.”

Remarkably back in the controversial years when Title IX was in its early infancy, when girls and ball games were non compatible entities, Papa Mac’s adamant belief in women’s right to participate in sports empowered all of his daughters.

Happy Dad’s Day Papa Mac and, oh yeah, thanks for the jump shot, too!

Girls’ Basketball Camps No Longer a Novelty

When I was growing up, I lamented the lack of opportunities for girls and would have loved to hone my skills at camp. The summer after my freshman year at Illinois State University, ISU, I complained to my friend, Sterling High School Coach Phil Smith.

“I found a camp for you to go to,” Phil said.

“They don’t have girls’ basketball camps in the area.”

“I know—it’s a boy’s camp. Lee Frederick’s One-on-One.”

The first day, Phil made sure the boys would let me participate. I lined up behind the guys who were a head-and-shoulder taller and 40 pounds heavier than I. I learned how to spin, dribble behind my back and between my legs. I developed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s sky-hook. The boys beat me every match up in the one-on-one, but I never gave up. At the end of the week, the guys took home their medals and trophies; I left with bruises and a bunch of new moves.

“Girl, whatcha been doin’?” Charlotte Lewis, our six-foot-three, one-hundred-eighty-pound, All-American Olympian center, said that next season. “I can’t stop ya no more.”

The day I beat Charlotte one-on-one, I knew I’d earned my starting position.

Phil, ahead of his time, suggested we start our own local camp. McKinzie-Smith Girls Basketball Camp was born and ran for a decade. The first year, we handed out t-shirts with the words BASKET printed above an image of ball and awarded a trophies of male figurines shooting hoops. No one minded; girls were too happy to be having their own court time. Then we became more sophisticated, developing a better t-shirt design. With Phil’s business sense and coaching knowledge, our camp grew successful. In later years, we called it Lead Up Camp focusing on developing individual skills much like they do in camps now.

Today I am astounded at the smorgasbord of choices available to girls from team camps to offensive skills camps, to specialized position camps, as well as elite camps and AAU camps and dozens of others. A few examples: Little Dribbler Camp (pre K to 3rd grade) Hittin’ The Hardwood Exclusive Basketball Camp (3rd through 8th grade) Breakthrough Skill Development Basketball Camp  

Even with all the options available, I would still recommend attending my alma mater, Illinois State University, where girls’ camps have been held since the mid ‘70s. Stephanie Glance, Coach of the Year Missouri Valley Conference, and Jamie Russell (Rock Falls star and transfer from Wisconsin) who became the All Valley First Team Newcomer of the Year, are sure to offer valuable tips.

My other top choice, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point camps run by the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s most decorated coach, Shirley Egner.

Happy Birthday Title IX

Forty years ago, in the face of resistance and controversy, Title IX of the Education Amendments banned sex discrimination in schools. Some argue that it impacted women’s life more than the right to vote.

“No person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid.”   June 23, 1972

That bill mandated equal opportunities in education without mentioning the word sport, yet athletics may be where it had the greatest influence. Since then high school female participation in competitive sports has increased by 900% and in college by 450%.

Stay tuned,  join me  Saturday for the 40th anniversary celebration of Title IX !

Cross-Country Skiing in Switzerland Precarious for a Flatlander from the Snow Belt

If you grow up in Switzerland, skiing is a birthright. Like riding a bike, no one forgets how to do it. Forget the thrill of school closing for inclement weather. Here we have the ultimate snow day! We even bus kindergarteners up in the mountains for skiing during regular school days and better yet have a ski week vacation in February.

cross-country skiing in the mountains

cross-country skiing in the mountains

No one here can believe I don’t ski even though I grew up in the Snow Belt.

Maybe if I learned to ski when I was a child, I wouldn’t be so afraid. Where I grew up in the flatlands of Illinois, only the wealthy could afford to fly halfway across the continent to the nearest mountain.

Besides, no American coach in his or her right mind, would ever condone skiing for a star hoopster. A teammate and I broke training one season and attempted to ski on a golf course on campus where the highest elevation was a two-foot bunny hill on the back nine. Heck, I still fell down.

I am not afraid of heights, but I am downright speed phobic. Anytime the velocity picks up, I envision my previous accidents, flying over my bicycle handlebars on a hill in Germany or careening out the window of an air born car off an autoroute in France.

I still might enjoy skiing if my back never cracked, my knees could bend or I had a solid base to stand on. Just try balancing on a two inch by 6 foot slabs with bad feet. With my high arches and ankle pronation, I might remain upright if I skied barefoot and hung on by my claw toes. Strong thigh muscles, able to hold the squat position also help, but I lost those when I quit doing defensive slides back in the seventies.

Ah the great irony of life! In youth, when I was nowhere near a mountain, my greatest dream was to alpine ski; now in middle age I live at the foot of the Alps yet break out in hives just looking at the slopes. However to appease Le Frenchman, an avid skier extraordinaire, I don my skis once a winter. But in the mountains, cross-country skiing is a misnomer. It should be called up and down skiing and the only thing worse than sailing 25 miles an hour on sticks, is flailing at top speed downward on a curve!

Oups !!!

Oups !!!

Luckily on groomed trails in the mountains, they strategically prop bright red, two-inch thick, gym mats against trees at the bottom of curving slopes.

Hey, I learned to drive in Illinois, I am no dummy. As soon as I see the red warning sign in the distance, I stop, remove skis and proceed with caution.  Then I put away my gear for another year.

Minnesota Lynx First WNBA Championship-One of Many Firsts

On Oct 7, 11,543 fans watched the Minnesota Lynx win their first WNBA Championship by sweeping the Atlanta Dream. And over 15,000 lined the streets of Minneapolis to welcome them back home to the Target Center. http://www.wnba.com/lynx/

It was a celebration of many firsts starting with the first win for a Minnesotan professional team in 20 years. The first time in WNBA history  that two women coaches met in the final. Lynx Coach of the Year, Cheryl Reeve, faced off against Marynell Meadors who led the Atlanta Dream to back to back final appearances (Only once before has a woman head coach won the finals when in 2004, Anne Donovan coached the championship Seattle Storm).

Laurel Richie, the first African American woman to be president of  U.S. professional league, presented the championship trophy to a team that hadn’t won a play off game since its inception in 1999.

I am a long distance Lynx fan, not only because half of my family live in Minneapolis-St.Paul, but also because the first WNBA game I saw was in 2003 at the Target Center where my daughter caught a T-shirt, printed with Lynx logo, New Game in Town. I was thrilled to see Lisa Leslie, LA Sparks, smooth moves to the hoop. But what made the greatest lasting imprint was the image of my thirteen-year-old son, waiting in line for five-time Olympian, Theresa Edwards’ autograph. I never thought I’d see the day a boy would request a female basketball player’s signature.

This past summer, Nathalie and I saw the Lynx play LA again. This time, the Lynx dominated, in large part due, to their  depth. Whether it was Whalen or Wiggings dishing assists at point, Seimone Augustus (MVP) or Maya Moore (Rookie of the Year) flying at wing, or Taj McWilliams-Franklin or Rebekka Brunsen clearing the boards at center, no matter who was on the court, they jelled.

Fans don’t realize that it has taken decades for women to be accepted in the macho world of pro basketball. However, in Minneapolis, women’s pro basketball is not a new game in town. Three decades ago, in the first women’s professional basketball league (WBL), my franchise, Washington D.C. Metros, went bust mid season, but the Minnesota Fillies were one of only three teams to last the span of the WBL 1978-1981. Unfortunately, back then, the media found women’s basketball newsworthy only when linked to scandal. In 1981, the Fillies became the talk of town when a player was murdered, and when the team promised paychecks that never materialized, walked off the court ten minutes before tip off  before a full house in Chicago.

The contemporary player that impressed me most was Mama Taj, a steady, calm, solid presence. My daughter, beat up in the paint in college ball, wonders how could a post player survive the banging on the boards for over a decade?  Like Theresa Edwards role in the foundation of the league, Mama Taj, with 12 years experience in the league could be called the grand dame of the game.

Minnesotans, ever loyal, love their Twins, Vikings, and Timberwolves, but it was the ladies that put the Twin Cities back on the map.  The greatest appeal about the women’s game is not the slam dunking, showboating of the NBA, but the passing, teamwork and cohesiveness.  Families -mothers and sons, fathers and daughters -bond over basketball.

The WNBA promotes fitness, families, and education, the same values advocated in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area with their abundance of lakes, bike trails, walking paths, and family- orientated communities.

Thumbs up to the first African American pro league  president, a first WNBA championship for Minnesota, and a first all female coaching final. It’s all good!

What really blew my mind was that for the first time the women were feted at the Vikings football game in front of a crowd of 60,000, including my son and brother-in-law.  In a gesture so frequent in the women’s game, the Lynx wearing purple jerseys, cheered the Vikings to their first victory of the season!  The Lynx have arrived… New Game In Town… No More!

Illinois’ Sterling Girls Capture Little League World Champion Crown

Yoopie! Take me out to the ball game. I am going to jump on the bandwagon here and give a shout out to the folks back home in Sterling and their championship team. After all the gals of my generation helped build that wagon 40 years ago when Title IX passed into legislation, leveling the playing field by mandating equal opportunities (including sports) for girls in public education.

I applaud those pony-tailed girls with crooked grins on cusp of adolescence who whooped the world in a boys’ game. In my day, Little League was a private, male club that we never dreamed of one day entering.

Sterling vs Waco Texas

Sterling vs Waco Texas http://www.softballworldseries.com/

I admire the pictures of those cute girls in baseball jerseys and can’t help but notice that the names of the three father coaches, matched those of three players. The coach/athlete, dad/daughter duo was an anomaly back in the day when my dad first taught my sisters and me to field grounders. Now it is the norm. Without a second thought, today’s dads fight to make sure their girls’ get their names on front page.

I have been out of the country too long – I had no idea that a Girls’ Little League World Championship existed. Yet, these little ladies are strutting their stuff on a Field of Dreams. « Today Little League, in existence since first in 1947 (for boys), is the largest youth sport organization with more than 25,000 softball teams and 360,000 participants worldwide. The program includes divisions of play for girls ages 5 to 18, which culminates at four Softball World Series tournaments for international competition and friendship.” http://www.littleleague.org/learn/about/divisions/softball-girls.htm

Hats off to Sterling, the Central Regional Championship Team, for winning 19 straight games and  defeating Waco, Texas in the world series final in Portland Oregon. This year the event, established for girls in 1974, drew clubs from Puerto Rico, Philippines, Canada and Italy, as well as Texas, California, Oregon, New York and North Carolina.

I was surprised to find out that teams existed abroad, yet the European, Middle East and African regional champs were from Italy this year, from Poland last year, and from Germany, the year before that. The American game has gone international. Though at my  school in Switzerland, I still teach softball as a ‘foreign’ sport because cricket (for men only) is considered the premier bat and ball game.

So yessiree,  take me out to the ball park. Give me some peanuts and crackerjacks and I don’t care if I never get back for it’s one two three, hip hip hurray for the Sterling Girls Little League World Champions. Thanks for putting my hometown on the globe in a grand slam effort inspiring girls worldwide.