Top 10 Highlights of my Final Four Basketball Tour

2014-03-18 04.07.17_copyDuring media interviews and community speeches culminating with my keynote speech at the NCAA Final Four Banquet, I held center stage and had a chance to share the story of the pioneers. Here are my top ten memories riding the emotional roller coaster of my first Final Four.

1. My former Illinois State University coach, Jill Hutchison, whom I hadn’t seen in 35 years drove 10 hours to surprise me. From the front row at the banquet, she gave me the thumbs up and just like driving the baseline long ago, I nailed the performance under her benevolent eye.

2. My daughter, the first doctor in the family, illustrated the true evolution of women’s rights. “In 1970, less than 8% of physicians were women,” Nathalie said in her speech. “My med school class at the University of Minnesota was about 50% female. I’m privileged to have grown up at a time where my gender was not a major handicap to pursuing my dreams, and Title IX played a big part in changing things for the better.”

3. Young athletes, who never fathomed that there was day when girls had to sit on the sideline, sat up straight and listened when I talked about the trials pioneers endured to reach the pinnacle of our women’s NCAA Final Four.

4. The NCAA Chair, Dave Martin told me, “Awesome speech!” Better yet, he promised to pass my book, Home Sweet Hardwood, on to the next generation, his daughter

5. Beth Ball, the CEO of Women’s Basketball Coaching Association, echoed my words and gave a nod to Jill, cofounder and 1st President of the WBCA and to the late Betty Jayne, its first CEO. I felt the profound impact of being a part of history.

6. Shirley Egner, DIII Wisconsin’s winningest coach, a rival back in my college days, became an ally when my daughter played for her at UWSP. The Final Four cemented our friendship.

7. My book was displayed in a university bookstore right along with the Pointer T-shirts, baseball caps and college apparel.

8. I saw firsthand female basketball players dive for loose balls, bump under the boards, and knock down jumpers while fans applauded every action; male peers cheered the loudest.

9. I was interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio Route 51 to the background beat of Sweet Georgia Brown. That was same song the jazz band played when I was a child watching the boy’s basketball team warm up, praying one day girls could play, too.

10. The people who hear me chat all the time on the phone and during holidays – my sisters, brother-in-law, and kids – traveled a combined 2200 miles to hear me speak. My son, a history major, nodded in approval and told me I got the facts right. Now how cool is that?

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A special shout out to UWSP’s director of general education and history professor, Nancy LoPatin-Lummis for making it happen. While watching her 12-year-old daughter’s basketball game, Nancy realized that had she wanted to play when she was child, her dad would have to court and fight for the right to participate. Nancy wanted her daughter to appreciate the opportunities available to girls today. Her epiphany inspired UWSP Title IX and Access to Opportunity lecture series celebrating the evolution of women’s rights leading up to their hosting of the DIII Final Four Basketball Tournament.

After a week of celebration where I felt like I had landed in basketball heaven, I flew back to Switzerland where no one had heard of March Madness. I went into withdrawal because I could no longer fill in brackets, follow teams, and watch games. But, hey, only another 300 some days until the next Big Dance.

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Opportunity to Honor Women Who Shaped Lives

IMG_1387_copyThe worst part about living abroad is that I can never be two places at once. Due to the logistics of a 7-hour time difference and 4000 miles distance, I grieved alone the passing of my grandparents and celebrated solo the accolades that mean little to folks here in Europe. Of course, I know better than most that all of the hardware in the world can’t help you get up and walk again, but after growing up in the shadows, it is humbling to be in the limelight.

I wasn’t there for my induction into the Illinois State University Hall of Fame in 1984 for basketball because I was living in Paris at the time, still recovering from a car accident and caring for a new baby. Nor was I stateside for my induction into the Illinois Coaches Hall of Fame in 2005. But my favorite all time coach, my dad, stepped in for me.

I wasn’t back on campus to receive the highly coveted “I” letter for participating in varsity sports. Prior to 1989, female athletes were not awarded Varsity Letters at ISU. Legendary basketball coach, Jill Hutchison, women’s advocate extraordinaire, righted that wrong. She initiated the Letterwinners’ Recognition Banquet February 8, 2003 to honor female athletes who in early and pre Title IX years never received that honor. Though I wasn’t physically present, my words – a column I wrote about the event -circulated to all the alumni. At the time, I was in my own gym at the International School of Geneva coaching my daughter’s team to their 5th consecutive European International Schools Sport championship.

A part of me feels undeserving of the honor to speak for my generation at an NCAA Final Four. Why me? For years, I stuffed down the ridicule, the snide remarks, the insults and kept dreaming. That little girl scorned is afraid to stand tall and shine. Yet, I will rise to the occasion.IMG_0767_copy

Because ultimately, I wrote Home Sweet Hardwood, not for my own bragging rights, but to pay tribute to the silent generation of women who fought so hard for the privileges we are have today.

Countless times when my spirit was broken, when I felt like giving up, when my legs no longer held me upright, my sisters lifted me to battle on and off the court. If I am triumphant today, it is because of the efforts of the mothers and grandmothers of yesterday. If my daughter rises in glory tomorrow, it will be due to the generations of women who have risen before her in pursuit of their dreams.

Historically, women have taken a back seat. Yet, it is women who have worked so hard behind the scenes to help us reach our goals, beginning with the mothers who believed in us from the day we were born. Pause and pay tribute to the women who guided you. Repeat their names out loud. Make a call, write a letter, send a prayer. Then continue doing what we do best, extending a helping hand, supporting one another, passing it on, and paying it forward.

When I step up to the podium at UWSP, I will speak in the “mother tongue” of our ancestors, representing those who came before us, honoring those who sacrificed in the past to create the opportunities we enjoy today.

Coach Hutchinson, coach Egner & Nat_copy

Jill Hutchison, Shirley Egner, Nathalie Lechault
3 generations of fighting women

Thank you: Sue Westphal, Karen Carlson, Betty McKinzie, Martha Olson, Lenore McKinzie, Jill Hutchison, Linda Herman, Shirley Egner, Nancy Lo Patin, Pat Summitt, Vivian Stringer, Kay Yow…

 

 

 

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Celebrating International Women’s Day and an NCAA Final Four

we all can do itEvery March 8 we celebrate International Women’s Day to raise awareness of women’s rights and their battle to achieve equal status. It also reminds us of the challenges, struggles and inequality faced by women worldwide. This year the UN’s theme –Equality for Women is Progress for All – echoes my life story.

Growing up in the infancy of Title IX, I sat on the sideline longing for the right to participate in sports like the boys. I had a dream. That one day, I too, would be allowed on center court. In 1972, Title IX mandated gender equity in all schools, which opened doors in education and sport. I was off and running, blazing a trail as a pioneer in women’s basketball.

International Women’s Day holds special significance this year as I have been given a platform to share my voice, a voice representing the silent generation of American women who fought so hard in the past to earn the rights we enjoy today.

I slouched through adolescence, feeling ashamed for my talents, ridiculed for my love of sports. But I am standing tall today. After the publication of my memoir, Home Sweet Hardwood, A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball, I have been invited to share my story all over including at the very men’s clubs that banned women when I was growing up.

When I was a kid even in America, the world’s greatest democracy, the basketball court was not the only arena where women were conspicuously absent. I didn’t know any female doctors or lawyers or businesswomen. It was unheard of. We fought for the right to play ball and in doing so, paved the wave for our high-flying daughters of today including my own biological daughter, a pediatrician, who went onto to become the first doctor in our family.

As part of University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point educational program, Title IX and Access to Opportunity, I have been given a spot in the limelight. I’ve been invited to speak to the community and as keynote speaker at the NCAA DIII Final Four banquet. Forty-two years after the passage of the groundbreaking Title IX legislation, this international woman is stepping out, heading to the Big Dance.

March will be a month of celebration, but come April it will be back to work. Great gains have been made in some parts of the planet, but there is still work to be done around the globe to improve women’s health care, to protect reproductive rights, to guarantee equal pay, to curb the epidemic of violence against females, and to allow the voices of other women to be heard worldwide.

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“Olympic” Moms Teach Us To Get Up

first stepsFrom the moment a baby takes its first step, a mom’s heart is torn. With one hand, Mom beckons her toddler forward, while the other hand lingers behind ready to catch the fall. In the push-pull of motherhood, moms encourage children to step up to the next challenge, while longing to hold them back in the warm, safe, cocoon of unconditional love, knowing full well the world will never be so nonjudgmental and forgiving.

My mom cringed each time I got knocked flat playing sports. After every concussion, broken bone, and heart wrenching disappointment, never did she suggest that I should give up the game I love.

In turn, when the time came, I perched on the edge of a hard bleacher – my heart was lodged in my throat each time my child hit the hardwood. Yet, I continued to drive my kids to and from practices and games, doctors and chiropractors.

My daughter, long and lean, had so many injuries during her career that she received birthday cards from the urgent care center. From the time my hyperactive son’s feet hit the floor, he ran recklessly, slicing open his hand before the age of two, splitting his head as a 4-year-old.roller skate

Sprained ankles, twisted knees, separated ribs, compressed vertebrae, broken fingers. During my son’s ankle surgery in the middle of the night, I lay awake worrying about the long-term effect of a growth plate break in early adolescence. Would his right leg be shorter than the left one?

A shattered finger. A bruised rib. A broken dream. An ice pack, a back rub, a favorite meal. Moms know instinctively how to comfort, to console, to care.

After every setback, I cheered. “Go ahead try out”… for the team, the band, the play, the scholarship, the job.

“What if I don’t make it, Mom?”

“Don’t worry. There will be another game, performance, employment. Don’t give up.”

Very few kids will stand on an Olympic podium, but whether they play sports or put their energy into other interests, our children will be stronger for having given it their best shot.

Life will knock them on their butts. More than once. The greatest lesson a parent can impart is, « Get back up!”

When children need the extra oomph to rise after those discouraging losses, thwarted goals, career-ending injuries, Mom will be there with a helping hand, a kind word, and a chocolate cookie.

My dad taught me how to throw a ball and shoot a basket, but Mom was the one who listened to my fears, wiped away my tears and encouraged me to follow my dream. I’d apologize for unloading my problems, but after teaching all day, my strong Norwegian-American mom would point to her back and say, “I can carry the weight. God gave me broad shoulders.”

We all stand on shoulders of the women who brought us into the world.

And every mother knows there is an « Olympian » in each child, then coaches it out of them.

“This remind me of you,” my daughter posted on social media acknowledging that strength passed on from one generation to the next

Thanks, Mom. For teaching us that falling only makes us stronger.

Congratulations to all the competitors at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games!

And to the moms that picked them up every step of the way.cross country skiing Jura

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Never Too Late to Play – Join Boomer Basketball Clubs Across USA

Hey, it’s hoop time. Today anyone can find a team and play at any age and skill level. It wasn’t always this way at least not for girls. In 1980, I left my homeland to continue playing basketball abroad, after my professional team collapsed due to lack of support. I thought one of the best things about living in Europe was their club system where anyone could play any kind of ball.

Last summer I was thrilled to speak at National Senior Games and see that the New World finally caught up with the Old World. Now basketball clubs exist for women, all ages, many who grew up pre Title IX and never had the opportunity to play as children.

One of the biggest perks of speaking at the NSG on behalf of National Senior Women’s Basketball Association was meeting a dynamic group who love sport, fitness and promoting a passion for playing games.

Kudos for these ladies from coast to coast, who have been promoting the game for boomers.

Kirsten Cummings, a personal trainer, spearheaded NSWBA, a non profit organization promoting Fitness for Life, Basketball Forever. Kirsten never let physical limitations define her. Though she is hearing impaired, she became a top flight professional basketball player who competed overseas for 14 years  and now heads the San Diego contingency. Kirsten was joined in the movement by Helen White, NOVA Basketball and Deb Smith, owner of Not Too Late basketball camp.

On the East Coast, Helen is a founding member and first President of the NOVA United Senior Women’s Basketball Association, located in Northern Virginia. She helped initiate the local Think Pink and National Girls and Women in Sport Day. In collaboration with the WNBA, she arranged for NOVA United teams to play half-time exhibition games during Mystics and Liberty games. In addition, to raise awareness of senior basketball and to show support for the professional players, she connected senior women’s teams in Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, New York, and Texas with WNBA teams in Connecticut, Houston, San Antonio, and Minnesota.

Deb Smith, a Senior National Games board member, is the owner and director of the Not Too Late Basketball Camp for women ages 50 and above. In 2001, she received the State of Maine’s Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Individual Award. She is the Coordinator of the Maine Senior Women’s Basketball Program and plays on the Maine team, where she can post up, block out and board with the best.

In Dallas, Kay Seamayer is founder and president of Basketball and Fitness for Senior Women in the Dallas area where she plays on the 65+ Texas All Stars team, and serves as head coach. They also promote senior women’s basketball through their “Granny Globetrotter” halftime show with exhibition play at WNBA, NBA, colleges, universities, and special events including a special promotion with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Women have arrived! Want more proof? My sister plays on a women’s team with her 24-year-old daughter.20140209_185251

So lace up those hightops, ladies.

Gear up for the Senior Games 2015!

Minneapolis here we come!

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In High School Basketball Friendship Wins, Cancer Loses

I spent the first half of my life fighting to be allowed on the court and the second half learning to graciously cheer for others when I could no longer play the game I loved.

ISG teamEven though I can’t drive the baseline anymore, I get a kick out of seeing the players I coach at the International School of Geneva make a perfect pass, hit a jumper, and run a fast break.

Teamwork is a beautiful thing. I love watching well-balanced WNBA teams like the Minnesota Lynx run the floor or the precise passing of the UWSP college women. None of that coast-to-coast garbage.

But high school basketball is best. Players put their heart and soul on the line every week in front of the family, friends and community that shaped them. They play, not for money, or prestige, but for the camaraderie and love of the game. Most of these young athletes won’t make the college roster; even fewer will sign a pro contract. But the lessons learned on the hardwood during their chaotic, fleeting adolescence last forever.

Not a day goes by where I don’t wish I could still play basketball; not a minute passes where I don’t forget how lucky I am to be here wishing just that, because I could very well be 6 feet under. I am grateful to be in the game even if only from the sidelines. I love giving halftime talks, drawing up last second plays, and encouraging kids to gut it out in tough circumstances.

If I ever forget the gift of “overtime” on my own game clock, a twinge in my back, an ache in my shoulder, or a pain in my skull – repercussions from my accident – remind me of the other option. Life took on new meaning after I came so close to losing mine.

Fortunately, rarely is a young athlete confronted with his/her mortality.

Some win. Some lose. Some survive. Some die. Cancer, a formidable foe, strikes down opponents indiscriminately, but the loss is particularly painful when the disease steals the life of a child.

Hopefully most teenagers won’t be confronted with cancer, but they have all faced hard times which were made easier with the support of that special parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, teacher, coach or friend. When an innovative basketball coach at Bishop McGuinness High School in Greensboro suggested that his players dedicate the game to someone who had influenced their lives, he never expected his idea to go global.

One of his players, Spencer Wilson dedicated his game ball to an inspirational friend on the cancer ward, Josh Rominger.

On January 24th in that North Carolinian gym filled to capacity, a boy made a 50-foot last second shot to win the game in memory of a friend and found the courage to carry on.

Sooner or later, we will be faced with those defining moments when our best laid plans and deepest hopes are derailed by injury, illness, accidents and unforeseen disaster. Do we give up or go on?

We get one chance. To give it our best shot. To dedicate our game.

Bad stuff happens. So do miracles.

Friendship is eternal.

Keep fighting.

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Swiss Champions U21 – June 2008
Christoph Varidel,Paul Costello, Nicolas Lechault, Michael Shumbusho, Alex Gromadski

Together.

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Congratulations, Debbie! Your name was selected in a random drawing of commenters to receive a copy of my memoir, Home Sweet Hardwood: A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball.

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