Illinois State University Celebrates Title IX 50th

As a girl, I was stuck on the sideline, watching boy’s basketball games, hoping that the ball would roll out of bounds so I could throw it back into play. I never fathomed girls would be allowed on center court one day.

50 years ago on June 23, 1972, Title IX passed. The federal civil rights law prohibited sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that received federal funding.

It opened doors to places I never knew existed.

Pillars of ISU Melinda Fischer, Linda Herman, Jill Hutchison

Illinois State University's legendary coaches, Linda Herman (30 plus years as esteemed volleyball coach and administrator) and Jill Hutchison (28 years at the helm of women’s basketball and also a successful international level coach) among others, played a major role in Title IX’s passage and assured its implementation for female athletes.

This June 25, 2022, ISU led the nation again by honoring the pioneers in its Title IX 50th Anniversary Celebration.

In 1976, I was one of the first females to be awarded an athletic scholarship to ISU. Back then, I didn’t even know what a scholarship was. No one realized the profound impact Title IX would have on our lives.

Today young female athletes grow up dreaming of being recruited and receiving athletic scholarships and all its perks just like their male counterparts.

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During my visit back to the ISU campus for the first time in decades, I was blown away by the accommodations for female Redbird athletes including the opportunity to prepare in the state of the art Jill Hutchison Women’s Basketball Locker Room and play in Redbird Arena, 10, 200 seat capacity.

Many athletes of the current generation never heard of Title IX nor appreciate how we got here. ISU reminded us of the sacrifices in our journey by honoring the pioneers who paved the way

Linda and Jill opened the event by narrating a video of outlining the development of women’s collegiate sport back from the days when women sewed their own uniforms and drove campus station wagons cross country to compete until present times.

We heard firsthand how Title IX shaped the lives of ISU alumni like basketball star Cathy Boswell, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist, to Jaci McCormick, a Native American player from the Nez Perce Reservation. Jaci went on to co found Rise Above, an organization that uses basketball to promote wellness on reservations.

Speakers also included Melinda Fischer, a former 3 sport athlete, basketball and softball coach with the winningest record at ISU and in the Missouri Valley Conference and Angie Taylor, who after a record-setting career in track and field became an illustrious international and collegiate coach. She also developed programs for Nigerian track and field teams.

Still others on the panel shared how they took the foundation and philosophy built at ISU and passed it on as coaches and administrators.

I was humbled and honored to be invited to speak and the share the stage with these legends. Most of you who follow my column know my story.

Basketball took me from ISU, to the women’s first pro league (WBL), to France, Germany and Switzerland. In the late 70s, the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) failed, but we helped give birth to the WNBA in 1996.

After my American pro team went bankrupt, I flew to Paris as one of the 1st American women in European Basketball League, playing first in France and then in Germany.

When my player’s career ended instantly in a car accident abroad, I became a teacher and coach at international schools. For the next 3 decades I served as an ambassador of the game in Europe, guiding athletes from around the globe, first in France, then in Switzerland.

“No person in the United States shall,

on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in,

be denied the benefits of, or be subjected

to discrimination under any education program

or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Many of the players I coached pursued higher degrees before returning to their homelands to fight for social justice.

When I was a kid, women were banned from the playing fields. I didn’t know any female doctors, lawyers or CEOs.

We fought for the right to play ball and paved the way for our high-flying daughters today.

My own daughter, who I coached in Switzerland, came to USA where she played in a DIII Final 4 for UWSP, studied 11 years and reached her dream to become a pediatrician.

Many of our present day contemporaries never heard our history. I wrote Home Sweet Hardwood, A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball, to give a voice to the silent generation of women who battled so hard for the rights we have today.

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Jill and Linda and other dedicated pioneers put together an amazing weekend to celebrate our past, to educate, and to inspire the next generation.

We can’t know who we are if we don’t know where we came from.

We are indebted to women who came before us .

From the sideline to Showtime! Thanks to Title IX, a girl grows up never questioning her right to be all she can be.

I am turning 65, still alive and skiing again

After my car accident at age 25 doctors feared I’d never walk again, after brain surgery nearly 40 years later, they thought I would be lucky to use my limbs properly.

After countless hours of medical treatments, therapy and hard work, I cross-country skied again. I fell in love with the sport, inspired by my Scandinavians ancestors, who invented cross-country skiing centuries ago to circulate across mountains in winter. It reminds me of my forefathers born on the fjords in Northern Norway where reindeer run wild and Laplanders reign, where nature and its preservation is a God given right and obligation.

I was never an adept skier. I am even worse now. From a distance I look more like a wobbly stork than a Scandinavian savant. I huff and puff around each bend. I remove my skis when I can non longer duck waddle up the steep incline. My fear of falling defeats the fun of gliding downhill. I also take my skiis off to walk down any incline. At sharp bends at the end of slopes, I collapse sideways halfway down the slope. Better to fall gently, but awkwardly on my own terms, then crashing out of control.

I spend a lot of time putting on and taking off skiis. But that is the beauty of cross country. Everyone can go at their own pace.

When I moved to Switzerland, the land of ski, no one believed me when I told them, I don’t know how to ski. I have reached an age where I am afraid to try downhill, not so much due to my numerical age, but to my spinal age from years of abusing my body on a basketball court, a bike accident, a car accident left me ever feisty, yet fragile.

I can still remember the first time I went skiing with a teammate on the golf course of Illinois State University. I’ll never forget the wrath of my coach when I came to practice with a twisted knee after tumbling down the slope on the 9th hole.

Skiing for a DI basketball players may be taboo in Illinois, but not in Switzerland. The basketball season takes a back seat to ski season. When my star Swedish center insisted on hitting the slopes a week before our European championship, I went ballistic.

“Don’t worry Coach, “ she assured, patting me on the back, “I never get hurt. I was born on skiis. To me it is as natural as breathing.”

That maybe true for some Scandinavians, but to those ancestors of immigrants, it is still a challenge.

Yet, when I glide around another hairpin turn, my shoulders pull on poles propelling me forward, mountains whiz past in my peripheral vision, and I feel euphoric. As I weave through the fresh powder in forests full of snow sprinkled evergreen, I hear the call of a coyote and inhale the crisp, clear mountain air.

And I feel lucky to be alive.

Never mind that an hour later, my muscles will lock up from the pain of fibromyalgia. Knots will form in shoulders. My neck, hips and low back will ache. Knifes will stab my knees every step I take. I will lie flat - a hot water bottle on my upper back and ice packs on my knees - and close my eyes. I see a sheer, jagged mountain peek pointing toward turquoise skies, icicles hanging from the rooftops of red shuttered wooden chalets in an incredibly beautiful tableau of whiteness. I am blessed to be here in the land of mountains and water where the skies meet the heavens in Switzerland.

Illinois Basketball Museum Commemorates Love of Game

Basketball symbolizes Illinois as much as sweet corn, the red bird and Abe Lincoln.

Generations of farm kids grew up shooting at hoops nailed above barn doors. City kids learned resiliency playing street ball on concrete courts in the ‘hood. Thousands of student athletes remember cheering and charging across the hardwood inspired by the American national anthem at tip off.

The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) wants to commemorate this history by building our own museum along the famous route 66 in Pontiac, but it will take a team effort to get the foundation laid.[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvqld8Vu5wI[/embedyt]

Illinois’ stars could easily fill the galleries from shot blocking, hook shooting legendary pioneer George Mikan to Doug Collins, former Illinois State University star, NBA player and coach, to Michael Jordan’s stellar Chicago Bulls era. Female standouts such as Olympians Charlotte Lewis (1976), gold medalists Cathy Boswell (1984) and WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks superstar Candace Parker (2008, 2012) also deserve a spot.Illinois Basketball

My family holds a tiny piece of the legend. My grandpa, “Coach Mac,” a 7x hall of famer, led his Northern Illinois University teams to three Little 19/IIAC crowns in the 1940s. My dad, Jim McKinzie, a NIU Hall of Fame athlete was named on the All-Decade Team and All-Century Team for his contributions as a guard in the 1950s.

When I was growing up, girls were shunned from sports, but with athleticism as a birthright, I fought to be allowed in the game.  In the infancy of Title IX, I blazed a my own trail as the first athletic scholarship recipient to Illinois State before playing professionally in the first Women’s Basketball League (WBL) then for teams in France and Germany.

My hometown, Sterling, also played a significant role. My dad co-coached the Sterling High School team that included my younger sister, which went 21-0 and won the first IHSA state girls cage title (1976-77) hosted by Illinois State.

Three generations and four family members have been inducted into IBCA Hall of Fame – my grandfather, Ralph McKinzie, as a coach (1976), my dad and sister, Karen, as part of the championship team (2004) and me as a player (2005).

The list of Illinois’ basketball greats goes on from players, to officials, to coaching dynasties from Toluca High School’s Chuck Rolinski and Ray Meyer’s 42-year stint (1942-1984) at DePaul University to extraordinary fans like Sister Jean (Jean Delores Schmidt). The 98-year-old nun, a beloved member of the Loyola basketball community, who exemplifies our lasting bonds with favorite teams.

But no one in the state has done more for the game than Jill Hutchison. In a legacy spanning 28 seasons as Illinois State University’s head basketball coach, Hutchison was co founder and first president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

To appreciate her impact, we must remember how far we have come. Hutchison’s master thesis proved that a woman’s heart wouldn’t explode by running the fast break. This led to a change in rules – instead of a six-player half court game to the full court five-player game.

As tournament director for the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), she helped establish the regions and the qualifying process for the first national tournament in 1971-1972, which was nearly identical to the regions used in the NCAA today.

At ISU, a powerhouse of womIllinois Basketballen including Hutchison advocated for women even before the 1972 Title IX enactment mandated equal opportunities in academics and athletics.

“Cultural change is slow, slower than you ever want it to be. And that’s what Title IX was—a cultural change, not just for athletics. Females…crossing the gender barrier, that was huge,” Hutchison said.

So often, the pioneers’ accomplishments are overlooked because history is not always recorded as it is being made, especially when the people in power are against the change. A museum could correct this oversight.

Like so many hailing from the Land of Lincoln, a love of basketball reflects my heritage.

Illinois basketball not only influenced me, it also shaped American history.

Find out more about how to help build Illinois Basketball Museum here.

Call Me Crazy – Celebrate Women Changing the World

Call me crazy, but I have always acted outside the box beginning in early childhood, when no one was going to tell me that I couldn’t throw a football, shoot a basket or run a mile. I was born with a feisty, can-do attitude that served me well in the face of naysayers.

In pre Title IX days when girls were shunned from sports, I stood on the sideline of the boys’ pick up basketball games and demanded, “I got next.”

In a time before accolades, scholarships and professional contracts, I trained hard for no tangible reason. In girlhood, I ran miles across the sidewalks of Sterling, defying the whistles, catcalls, and laughter by putting one foot in front of the other.

In college, while my counterparts partied, I shot hoops in a drafty gym to prepare for next season where we endured conditions more grueling than the game driving ourselves through blizzards to play basketball in empty arenas.

After my team in first women’s pro league (WBL) went broke, I had a good cry. Then I got back up, boarded a plane bound for Paris to play ball in the land of wine and cheese, totally ignorant about French language and culture.

At a time when most women stayed near their hometowns and settled down with neighbor boys, I moved to Europe in pursuit of an absurd dream to play professional basketball.

When France closed the door to foreign women players, I rode the rails across the border to Germany and learned another foreign tongue and way of life.

In countries where I knew not a soul, understood not a word, I learned to observe and listen.

I saw how people could be so different in language, custom and tradition, yet still so similar in the need to be loved and accepted for who they are.

When a car accident ended my career abroad, I didn’t pack up and go home. I married a Frenchman and stayed put. I carved my own niche as one of the few female coaches in the European international high school league.

During my career spanning 5 decades across 4 countries, I have worked with girls from around the globe.

I gladly passed on my knowledge to the next generations of female athletes who never doubted their right to play.

Over the years, I witnessed their opportunities grow greater. I delighted in seeing my daughter and nieces play basketball, soccer, rugby, and run marathons. I took pride in watching my former athletes pursue careers as doctors, lawyers, counselors, and teachers.

By going after my silly dream nearly a half century ago, I helped make it easier for every girl to grow up believing her goal was within reach.

Women, daring to stand up and speak out, have made amazing strides in academics, business, law and politics. For so many girls that courage – to do something never done before – was born on playing fields.

I never had the size, talent, or notoriety of our elite athletes of today. I was no Lisa Leslie, Abby Wambach or Serena Williams. I was just a small town girl filled with my own brand of insanity.

But I learned you don’t have to be famous to make a difference. You just have to dream big.

Go ahead call me crazy.

I am kind of proud of the claim.

It’s my birthday. Raise a glass to all women creating change by being crazy enough to believe they can!

Healing Power of Water

As a Pisces, I have always been drawn to water for solace and inspiration, but it wasn’t until I read Blue Minds, Wallace J. Nichols’ bestseller that I realized research proves water contains therapeutic powers. I joke that in my next life I will return as a fish, so I could swim pain free no longer confined in an upright human body with an injured spine.

Fortunately, I have always lived in proximity to water. I grew up in Sterling on the Illinois’ Rock River. I spent summers on a lake in Wisconsin where merely peering out the cabin window slowed my heart rate. Even when I lived in Paris, I could walk down the boulevards of the bustling city to seek refuge by the Seine River. Today in Switzerland on a clear day, I am mesmerized by the site of sailboats gliding across lake Geneva surrounded by the white tipped Alps.

Scientific research confirms something most of us know intuitively. Proximity to water strengthens the positive effects that the environment has on well-being. It releases those feel good endorphins.

As far back as antiquity people have used aqua’s restorative powers in thermal baths for every ailment known to mankind.

After every accident and injury (and I have had more than my fair share) I return to water to heal. Without pressure on my joints, I rehabilitated from sprained ankles and knees and broken body parts – finger, rib, sternum, collarbone – and a twisted, smashed up spine. I swam lap after lap until pain receded.

The head of the PE department of the school where I taught, a Scottish rugby man, submerges in icy Lake Geneva each morning to stay limber taking water therapy to the extreme. My friend swears the rejuvenating power of daily ice bath restores health. (click here)

Ice Man philosophy (The Wim Hof Method) developed by a Dutchman, claims the submersion in extreme cold water when combined with breathing technique leads to a cascade of health benefits.

Cryotherapy helps elite athletes maintain peak health and recover quicker.

Although I am never tempted to submerge in ice, I found that swimming in cold, open water leaves me feeling exhilarated and pain free for hours especially since I suffer from an inflammatory disease that affects muscles, joints and connective tissues.

Even if you don’t swim, walking along the ocean as waves break against the sand, sitting by a river, or taking a hot bath, which also relieves stress by promoting the release of endorphins, helps heal whatever ails you.

Or take a more extreme tip from my rugby friend and the Dutch Iceman and jump in. Join your nearest penguin club to enjoy the ultimate winter freeze. Just make sure you have a doctor’s go ahead and proper training first

Celebrating Girls & Women’s Rights to Play Sports

February 6, 2019 marks the 33rd annual National Girls & Women in Sports Day, an event that never occurred when I was a girl because females were not allowed to compete until Title IX passed in 1972.

But I loved basketball even before they let me play. As we celebrate extraordinary achievements of women and girls in sports, give a nod to the icons who have done so much to promote the women’s game.

Fittingly, last Saturday, Illinois State University named their women’s basketball locker room in Jill Hutchison’s honor. I felt privileged to play for Jill in the 70’s during the early infancy of Title IX, back in the day before we even had a girls’ locker room. We used to change in a bathroom or borrow the men’s locker room before our games in Horton Field House.

If I had my way, ISU would also put her name on the floor of Redbird Arena. After all, Hutchison led the way making changes in legislation at the national level mandating a woman’s right to be on that court.

That same Saturday, a legend in Wisconsin, UW-Stevens Point coach Shirley Egner notched her 300th win in the tough Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference as her team defeated UW-Eau Claire. It was Egner’s 800th game as UWSP coach where she holds an amazing 546-253 record.

Unbeknownst to both us, I would have played against Egner when ISU played at UW-La Crosse. Three decades later Egner coached our daughter, born and raised in Europe, to a DIII Final Four in 2004.

Meanwhile at my old high school, Sterling – home of the first ever state championship girls’ team – Coach Taylor (Carbaugh) Jackson, a former standout player guides her team to a 19-4 record and 10th place 3A state ranking. Five sisters from the Borum and Gould families – the same girls who also starred on Sterling’s first state volleyball championship 2018 – help lead the way again.

And on that same day far, far away, we won our tournament at the International School of Geneva competing against teams from Austria, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland.

Around the globe, girls are playing ball driving the baseline, shooting the jumper, taking the charge and learning through sports to be tougher, stronger, and braver.

And yes, the granny of the game is still coaching.

At our tournament, the Basel coach heard other coaches talking about my history, and the younger woman approached me.

“I loved playing high school and college ball in New Jersey,” she said. “I just want to thank you for paving the way.”

As we shook hands, I felt a surreal connection to generations across time.

It was a humbling moment.

This February, as we applaud the accomplishments of female leaders in all sports – not only basketball – be sure to remember the real victory is the right to play.

An opportunity that may be taken for granted, but should never be forgotten.

The plaque on Jill Hutchison’s Women’s Basketball locker room reminds us,

“To play the game is great, to win the game is greater, to love the game is greatest.”

And capping off the celebration, never in my wildest dreams could I imagine that one day a Super Bowl advertisement would feature girls playing football to encourage girls to get in the game. Check it out!