Granny’s Got Game

The real reward in speaking at the National Senior Games in Cleveland on behalf of the National Senior Basketball Association was not the chance to tell my tale, but to hear everyone else’s story.

One of the other speakers also was Angela Gorsica Alford, who played for the top-ranked women’s basketball team at Vanderbilt (1994-1997) and represented USA Basketball in international tournaments. She began her career as a software engineer for Motorola & Sony-Ericsson, and re invented herself after her children’s births by starting her own video production company in 2007.  A year ago, she launched Granny’s Got Game an inspiring documentary about the Fabulous 70s, a competitive senior women’s basketball team in North Carolina that battles physical limitations and social stigma to keep doing what they love. Who says girls can’t play ball? These grandmas defy age and gender stereotypes by dishing and driving into their seventies all the while racking up medals every step of the way. Liz still has an unstoppable, quick first step and Mary’s mastered a deadly left-handed hook.

“Just like so many younger sports teams, this one includes a bossy captain, a guard who never runs the plays correctly, a tentative post-player, and a bench warmer who wants to play more than anyone. As teammates and friends, they support each other off the court through the difficulties that accompany aging, such as breast cancer and widowhood.”

100_1965

Rose Boyd, Marilyn Asay, Bev Beck,Mary Ellen Philen, Brenda Taylor, Linda Burke

But the ladies I found most enchanting were the North Carolina women in the 65-69 category whose claim to fame was that they served as practice dummies for the fabulous 70s team featured in Granny’s Got Game.

« We helped them get good, » forward/center Marilyn Asay said.

In the gym, I watched the Scrappy Swishers from Raleigh fight. They had to be scrappy; they had no height.

The Swishers battled it out with the best of them even though one player (also the Fabulous 70s team coach) missed part of the basketball competition because she was off placing 3rd, the bronze medal in 65+ golf this year at the national games.

Members of the Swishers attended high school from 1958-62 (pre Title IX) and played 6-aside, 3 on each end of half court and were limited to only had 2 dribbles before they had to pass or shoot. A player was designated either a guard (defense) or forward (offense.)

« We resumed our basketball career after retirement at age 65 years. We hadn’t played for approximately 40 years, » Marilyn explained. «We are geographically ecumenical- Swishers recruited 2 players from North Carolina’s Outer Banks, who play with the team at local and state competitions. »

And get this.

« Two teammates host the team’s BBC (Beach Basketball Camp) twice each year, » Marilyn says with the enthusiasm of a teenager at a rock concert. « Our motto is fun, food, fellowship. Oh, and also practice, sun, sand, and surf.

During one of the Swishers games against the powerful Maine team, I watched Bev Beck all of 5-foot-2, 100 lbs. set a pick on a center twice her size for 72-year-old Marilyn who cut backdoor to the basket. The ladies huddled around Coach Angela at the time out and the referee gave also offered pointers. Every action reflected the spirit of the games. Fun, fitness, friendship, competition, comraderie, community.

While our present day sport stars are making the front page for domestic disputes, betting scandals and alleged homicides, our real heroes are playing ball in the shadows after having contributed to society as mothers, educators, hard workers, and beloved community members.

Like the filmy subtitle claims, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”

Give me five, Granny. You may be wearing support hose, knee braces and platinum hips, but you still got game!

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Inspirational Speaker Humbled by Dynamic Participants at the Senior National Games

Pat with Shellie Pfohl Executive Director President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, Angela Gorsica Alford, film maker Granny's Got Game

Pat with Shellie Pfohl, Executive Director President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, Angela Gorsica Alford, film maker Granny’s Got Game

 

 

In July, I was invited to speak at the Senior National Games about my memoir Home Sweet Hardwood, the story of a woman’s struggle to fit in society and play basketball in college, professionally and overseas at a time in America’s history when women’s sports was  taboo. My intent was to motivate the participants, but I was the one that left feeling inspired.

As a guest of the National Senior Women’s Basketball Association, I met the lively participants in the women’s over 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s competing in the 3 on 3 basketball competition in Cleveland, Ohio, home of Rock n’ Roll. But I was taken aback when I found out I would be speaking at their socials held at the Hard Rock Cafe. Hard Rock Cafe, a venue for geriatrics? Pitch out whatever preconceived notion you once held of senior citizens.These ladies could play and party with the best of ‘em.

They weren’t just feting basketball, and competition, they were embracing life. They cheered, chanted and celebrated just being together.

Unlike addressing the quietly attentive business-suited businessmen and civic leaders at the Rotary as I did earlier in July, this event required hollering over the din of  a crowd like during the « 3rd half » of a rugby match where opposing teams put rivalry aside, shared a meal and tossed back a beer together.

I tweaked my speech to hold their interest, opening with a few phrases in French. They glanced up from their meals.

« We grew up listening to a language as foreign as French, » I said and they set down forks. « In our hearts, we heard run, jump, play, compete.»

« When society was telling us, cook, clean, cheer, sit, sew, smile, bake, be mommy’s lil’ helper, daddy’s lil’ princess, when what we really wanted to be was fighting warriors on competing America’s playing fields. »

The rowdy crowd stopped socializing.

« WE grew up hearing a language so foreign, no one understood it yet. But they do now! Women can be doctors, lawyers, CEO’s even Secretary of State. »

Cheers erupted. I strode from table to table shouting into the microphone like a union leader as the audience clapped and roared. When I saluted them for staying in the game, they humbled me by rising in a standing ovation.

As a first generation Title IX athlete, I came of age in the infancy of women’s rights to participate in sport and benefited from the controversial bill mandating equal opportunities for women in all public institutes. Many women at the Senior Games grew up pre Title IX and never had the opportunity to compete, or played the old-fashioned 6-a side game where you broke your toes stopping at center court, limited to playing only one half side on defense or offense.

A lady on the Chicago Hot Shots, a 65+ team, told me, “I started playing at age 66.”

Another spunky guard, Carol Strickler, on the Memphis team drawled, “I survived cancer twice and just had hip replacement. Basketball keeps me mobile.”

They endured personal setbacks, career changes, job losses, and family crisises. They recovered from cancers, heart surgeries and joint replacements. Many, like me, stared down death, and refused to quit, “No! I ain’t done living yet.” They found not only a way to remain active, but to be competitive.

100_2021Basketball has become a way of life defining their days. They may have admired me for blazing a trail, but my awe of them was greater. My career ended at the age of 26 in a car accident that should have taken my life. Here were gyms full of women, past the half-century mark, who refused to give up. They were setting picks, blocking shots, knocking down jumpers, taking the charge and still walking off the court upright.

Against all odds, they found a way to stay in the game.

“Never again will we question our right to belong on the Home Sweet Hardwood,” I said.

East Cost players still got game

East Coast players still got game

« I came here to share my uplifting story and encourage you to read my book, » I told them,  « but I am the one leaving the Cleveland Senior Games 2013 feeling inspired. I raise my glass. »

« You rock, ladies. Fitness for Life. Basketball Forever. »

We’ve come a long way, baby !

Amen, sister, amen !

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There is no place like home

The warm reception that I received from my hometown after the release of my book, Home Sweet Hardwood, was magical and filled with surprises.

My old college roommate planned to drive out from Chicago, but her  job interview ran late and she knew she would miss my talk at the library. Amy drove out anyway and came to the house after my speaking engagement. We picked up right where we left off 25 years ago.Image 2

Rocky, a Native American, was the first journalist to write about the first sanctioned girls’ basketball games in Illinois in the early 1970s, at a time when media coverage was nonexistent. He read the book and rated it right up there with his favorite book,  To Kill A Mockingbird

My friend, Phil, told me that he stayed up all night to read it. « The Willie Mayes story and the Pat McKinzie story were the only books I ever finished. » He ranked me right up there with the greatest.

Ray Torres saw the write up about me in the paper, called the house, and asked if he could bring his 12-year-old granddaughter, a talented softball player, out to meet me and sign a book. He brought the whole family. Madison told me about how she trained year round for her sport and  I got to shake hands with an AAU champion, who reminded me of me at that age.

At a lunch date at Angelos with the friends I made in gradeschool – and still keep in contact with today – my oldest, most loyal supporters cheered for the success of my book in the same way that they once applauded my efforts on the court.

the Home Team

the Home Team

My family attended every function with me. One sister drove out from Chicago, another from Minneapolis. My parents, in their 80s, beamed from the front row as I spoke. Sue ran the powerpoint, Karen sat at the back of the room and waved if my voice faded. They made cookies for the library social, carted books to events, picked out my wardrobe, listened to me stumble through my speech umpteen times and shared in the joy and celebration of my life long dream.

The members of the Rotary Club and Kiwanis Club honored me by inviting me to speak at their organizations. It tickled my funny bones to think that the very groups that had denied women access  until the 80s gave me center stage to recount my history of growing up in the 1970s and being excluded from America’s playing fields, but today’s members were welcoming and supportive.

Readers of all ages and walks of life told me how they laughed and cried as they turned the pages and felt inspired by my fighting spirit.

“You can’t know where you are going until you understand where you have been.”  I said in my speeches. “In all my wanderings I have always known that I am a McKinzie, a Sterling Golden Warrior, a product of the Land of Lincoln.

After hearing me speak, reporter Ty Reynolds wrote in the Sterling Gazette, “Meet the woman. Read her story. Tell me she wasn’t as good a storyteller as she was basketball player. I dare you.”

All these touching tributes reminded me that the real reward in writing a book is not the fleeting fame or  any financial success, it is about connecting with people one word at time.

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How Title IX Changed my Life

Celebrate the 41st anniversary of Title IX today.

First posted March 4, 2013 by Generation Fabulous, women writing about women’s issues, as part of the launch for their new site.

Illinois State University lead nation in promoting women's sports

Illinois State University lead nation in promoting women’s sports

For the last fifty some years, I have been listening to people tell me NO!

I ain’t listening no more!

I grew up on the sideline begging to play ball like the boys. The first half of my life, I fought to be allowed on America’s playing fields. In 1972, when Title IX passed mandating equal opportunities for girls, I set the standard for the first girl’s basketball team in my high school. In 1978, I received the first athletic scholarship in Illinois to play basketball for Jill Hutchinson at Illinois State University. Jill, co-founder and first president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, was a pioneer, who helped raise women’s college basketball to its current level of popularity.

I co-founded the first girl’s summer basketball camp in the Sauk Valley Region of Northern Illinois, so other girls in my area wouldn’t have to go to a boy’s camp like I did.

In 1979, I was drafted into the first Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL.)  The general public pooh-poohed the notion and unfortunately the league folded due to lack of funds and interest

Then I was recruited to play overseas, but after a year in Paris, non-European women were banned from the professional French league.

So I crossed the border and found my dream team in Marburg Germany.

Kabooom!

A car accident in France ended my career. Instantly.

I started over. Again. But first I had to learn to walk. Eventually, I taught at international high schools and coached girl’s and sometimes boy’s basketball teams. But what I really coveted was a writing career. In my free time, I wrote a newspaper column, and sports, and travel pieces, but traditional papers were dying. I should know. I married a French printer. He suggested that I start a blog.

Decades ago, I wrote my first book and signed with a big name agent, but publishers said that no one was interested in women’s basketball. Another half a dozen years passed, I worked up my courage, wrote another book and finally landed another high-flying agent. Once again, publishers said no thanks; I was not a not big enough name. Undaunted, I wrote yet another draft, interested a third agent, but it was still no go.

I felt like a loser. I moped. I swore. I cried. I kicked the wall. Then I picked up the pen again.

I do not take no for answer.

Damn it! You want something done, do it yourself!

Persistence pays off. A decade later, after another couple dozen drafts, I present to you, Home Sweet Hardwood: A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball.

Illinois State University - 1978

Illinois State University – 1978

With a firsthand account of the monumental Title IX ruling, my book serves as an inspiring lesson in women’s history, but it is more than just a sports story. From expatriate life to cross cultural marriage to motherhood, Home Sweet Hardwood touches on the transitions every woman makes as she bridges the gaps between genders, generations and cultures.

Now you tell me, where would I be now if I gave up a half century ago when the powers that be, said, No!

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SOS Chiropractor to the Rescue

I have been to dozens of doctors for a lifetime of injuries and ailments, but there are certain ones I never forget. Chiropractors saved me from surgery back in July 1979 during my first hospitalization for a herniated lumbar disk L4, L5. I ran from the knife and saw my first chiro, who help me rehabilitate in time to play in the first women’s professional league that fall. I have been addicted ever since. Long gone are the days that chiropractors were called quacks, now most insurance companies recognize them.

I drove hundreds of miles between different states and countries in pursuit of competent doctors because a good chiro was worth his weight in gold. When I lived in Germany, there were no chiropractors, so I would return to Paris. For a decade when living in France, I took the metro to see Dr. Tanqueray at the Trocadero. In Switzerland, my husband drives me to Geneva for the early bird special at 7 am. which means no waiting. I ride the old caged elevator up to the 3rd floor to Dr. Girod’s office on Rue Voltaire.

But my favorite chiropractor of all times is Dr. Draeger in Eagle River, my summer time muscle and bone spine caretaker in Wisconsin.

Chiro in the woods

Chiro in the woods

Tall and wiry, I have always been difficult to adjust, but Dr. D can pop me back in place every time.  I have witnessed chiros work miracles. After my son was born in Paris, I was so dizzy I couldn’t stand up right. I saw my chiro and after a neck adjustment, I was back on track. I have lurched into my doc’s office, limping from low back pain, looking like the leaning tower of Pisa and walked out standing tall like the Eiffel Tower.

Anytime I have any back or joint pain, I go to the chiro first. Chiropractic medicine emphasizes the self and advocates exercise, a healthy diet, and a balanced lifestyle.

After my sister underwent a battery of tests for a “heart” problem, Dr. D adjusted her dislocated rib with a manipulation that his brother, also a chiropractor, devised and her chest pain disappeared. Dr. D also adjusted my son’s dislocated wrists. My dad swears by him.

Dr. D has the extra special touch. He welcomes you like a long-lost friend, every time you step into his office. How many doctors do you know who give you hugs and make cabin calls? In the summer, if he drives by route 45, he will swing off the highway on the back road, winding around the lake, and ring your doorbell. He will drag his portable table out of the trunk and click-clack treat the entire family. For free!

Under chiropractic care, I recovered from athletic injuries, bike crashes, car accidents, and the trauma of giving birth. They have helped me recoup from flying soccer balls, hitting walls, and bad falls.

With the assistance of skilled chiropractors, I have healed from 3 whiplashes, 2 child births, and one too many re-locations. I recovered from herniated lumber disks, compressed dorsal vertebrae and pinched nerves and the bone crushing wear and tear incurred over hundreds of thousands of miles of road trips and air travel between states and across continents.

If I am still upright, it is because of chiros! Thanks to chiropractors for keeping me mobile, especially to my favorite magic hands, Dr. Dave.

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Freedom to Run – Boston Marathon Bombs Hit America’s Heart

Participants in the 2010 Boston Marathon in We...

Participants in the 2010 Boston Marathon in Wellesley, just after the halfway mark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a five-year-old, I ran my first race at my family’s boys’ summer camp on a winding dirt road lined by a quiet green forest. My heart pounded in my temples, dust clogged my throat, and I inhaled the sweet aroma of swamp water as my skinny legs floated toward the finish line. At the recognition banquet, Grandma handed me a pink ribbon with OUTSTANDING typed in capital letters. I pressed it to my heart. I ran many more races, winning other ribbons, but the thrill of that first race never left me.

As a child, I outran the neighbor boys in kick the can, capture the flag, and tackle the man with the ball. In adolescence, I ran through the emotional upheaval of hormonal rages, unrequited loves and shattered friendships. In college, I raced through setbacks, devastating losses and future uncertainties. After graduation, I jogged down the wide boulevards of Washington DC, the cobblestone streets of Paris, and the winding alleyways of Marburg lined with half-gabled houses dating from the 15th century.

Running represented freedom. Like many other athletes worldwide, I dreamed of one day running in the Boston Marathon.

This year’s Boston Marathon, synonymous with the spirit of the American people, was held on Patriots Day at the historical city that represents the democratic values we hold so dear. When I first saw bombs explode on TV, I gasped for air as if my lung had been punctured. Immediately, I wondered, where’s Tina; my best friend – a runner- repatriated back to Boston. Twelve years earlier, we squeezed hands for support in Switzerland as we watched the Twin Towers disintegrate on September 11, 2001 setting the stage for a new era of terrorism.

Like everyone else, as the newsreel in Boston unfolded, I thought first of my friend, and her family. Even after I found out that she was all right, the anxiety didn’t subside. Instead it rippled out in waves, while I went through the motions of my day teaching multi-cultured, multi-colored students in Switzerland’s tranquil countryside. I kept replaying the scenes of pandemonium, knowing that today someone’s life was shattered. Forever. Someone lost a leg. Someone lost a life partner. Someone lost an eight-year-old son.

Running is the great equalizer: anyone at any age can run anywhere. Out the door. Into the street. Across the fields. Over the hills. Through the woods. You don’t need to rent a court, pay club fees, own special gear or earn a specific income.

Air is free. Breath. Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out. Runner’s high. The benefits are immediate… until a bomb strikes the Boston Marathon on an American holiday reminding us that our streets, and fields, and hills, and woods are not safe.

Robert Cheruiyot in 2006 Boston Marathon as he...

Robert Cheruiyot in 2006 Boston Marathon as he passes through Wellesley Square. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the week, as the news unfolded of the manhunt for the perpetrators, I watched in horror a city under siege in lock-down. Until the capture of the second brother, soldiers patrolled sleepy suburban streets; snipers perched on the rooftops and armed tanks rolled through the trendy neighborhoods of Watertown and Cambridge.

Though my running days are long gone, as I walked to my international school where I encounter a hundred different nationalities on a daily basis, I wondered what has gone wrong? Why can’t we get along?

Running, freedom, bombs, all blur into a nightmare of disbelief, replaced by uncertainty, anxiety, fear.

We will always run free!

 

 

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