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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Hug a Coach Day – Celebrating Our Mentors

IMG_4467_copyAfter 3 decades wondering what I should do with my life, I found my calling. From waitress to lifeguard to pro basketball player to journalist to educator, I have taught everything from primary PE to freshman English to learning support.

Whether I am teaching a 6th grader to do a forward roll, a dyslexic child to spell, a 10th grader to understand Shakespeare, a senior to write a personal statement or a ball player to make a jump shop… I am a coach.

When I help kids makes sense of their lives, my life makes sense to me. 

I help students discover their strengths, so they can one day navigate solo in our fast paced world filled with overwhelming demands and challenges.

However, when I was growing up, coaching was not an option. How could a girl have a coaching career if female athletes were non-existent and women weren’t allowed to participate in sports?

Today, coaching is in vogue. Coaching specialties run the gamut including life and personal coaches, to health/wellness/fitness/ coaches to business/leadership/executive coaches to organizing/ career/creativity coaches to parenting and retirement coaches. Even ADHD coaches are listed to identify tools to assist those with attention deficit hyperactivity and to develop positive coping strategies for every day life and specific tasks.

When I randomly googled transition coaches, Paula Ray’s website popped up. She explained the that transitional coaches base their principle on different disciplines, and states that her coaching philosophy is rooted in biomimicry.  Huh? It’s no surprise that Paula Ray, who sounds like a New Age guru, is based in Del Mar, California.

Here is a list of some of the transition coach specialties.

    • Transition from one extreme socio-economic level to anotherCoach Mac in action_copy
    • Transition from a stress-filled negative life into a life you love
    • Transition from one extreme socio-economic level to another in a short period of time
    • Transition out of a corporate career
    • Transition into your most enjoyable, rewarding and healthy retirement
    • Transition in marital status
    • Transition from an energy draining career to an exhilarating one
    • Transition through unexpected health care challenges

But hey, I am not knocking the career.  No way. After my parents, coaches had the single greatest influence in my life.

Now everyone from CEOs to writers to retirees discuss their favorite buzzword, my coach. Once upon a time, coaching was learned almost by osmosis from playing a sport, now college degrees in coaching abound. Ohio University offers a Coaching Education master’s program to prepare coaches with the knowledge they need to become elite coaches.

Hopefully more female athletic coaches will join the ranks because they serve as excellent role models for girls. Like men have known for years, sports teaches life lessons and teams provide the best training grounds for the work place.

Women'sBasketballNorthernKentucky_Feb1979_L39O-2-79_ACCESS_copy

Legendary ISU Coach Jill Hutchison

Yep, everything I needed to know I learned in basketball.

      • Life is not fair. Get over it.
      • Leave your ego in the locker room
      • Pass to the open player
      • Rebound, rebound, rebound
      • Learn from each mistake
      • Hustle at all times
      • Lose graciously
      • Win humbly
      • Always credit teammates
      • Never give up

With all the emphasis on coaching nowadays, I propose we add a new celebration to the calendar.

 

In loving memory of my grandfather Ralph « Mac » McKinzie, a coach extraordinaire, I hereby declare December 7th as the official Thank Your Mentor Day!

Coach Mac October 1, 1894 December 7,1990

Coach Mac
October 1, 1894 December 7,1990

Have you hugged your coach today?

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Happy Thanksgiving Weekend!

BookCoverImageIn appreciation of the teachers and coaches that shaped my life, I am offering a Black Friday special price for Home Sweet Hardwood. As a gesture of gratitude to the people that mentored you, offer a gift copy of the memoir of A Title IX Trailerblazer Breaking Barriers Through Basketball!

An All American tale with a European twist about a pre Title IX tomboy who fought for right to be allowed on the court and never gave up. Even when she could no longer play the game she loved. Home Sweet Hardwood makes a great holiday gift to offer a sporty daughter or granddaughter or an aspiring athlete.

“Observing the courage and determination with which Pat pursued her dream goes beyond gender and racial lines to reach a much deeper place within us all. This is a profound story of the strength of the human spirit in the face of extreme challenges. Inspiring, illuminating and awesome; Home Sweet Hardwood is certain to have an impact, not only on women of all ages, but upon anyone who has ever aspired to overcome all odds for something or someone that they love.”

Bil Howard, Readers’ Favorite 5 star review

Give a voice of to silent pioneers who helped pave the way for our high flying daughters of today. In the true spirit of the game- pay it forward pass it on.

Four decades, three generations, two continents, one game.

Order online now at https://www.createspace.com/3877698!

Use this special code YEYGSSZD and get a 25% discount! (valid through Friday midnight)

 

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The President’s Coach – From Eureka College to Capitol Hill

A great coach is worth his/her weight in gold. But coaches rarely make a mint or garner front page news unless they coach on campuses making major marketing bucks or if they are involved in some scandal. That is why the story of my grandpa, Coach Mac, a small college coach and the small town boy, Ronald Reagan, who he mentored at Eureka (1928-1932) is so inspiring to coaches everywhere.Coach Mac's plaque

Consider the odds that the son of a tenet farmer in Oklahoma would find his way to Eureka College, a  private Christian school tucked in the Central Illinois’ cornfields between Peoria and Bloomington. There, Ralph « Mac » McKinzie became a legendary athlete and coach.

No one recorded statistics on the hundreds of lives Coach Mac guided during a coaching career at Eureka, Northern Illinois University and Wartburg College, Iowa, that spanned seven decades. How incredibly unlikely that one of his prodigies would go on to become our 40th President.

Coincidence? Maybe, but not to those who knew my grandpa. Coach Mac, a simple, hardworking man demanded high standards and in his gruff, awe-inspiring voice could resurrect the dead in fiery, halftime talks. He set such a fine example that those who played for him wanted to do right by him.

In later years, my grandpa kidded that Reagan had more talent as a sports commentator talking with broomstick at halftime, than throwing blocks during a game. And Reagan, in his self-deprecating humor, often said that though he never became the football star he dreamed of, he learned more lessons on McKinzie Football Field at Eureka College than anywhere else in his life.

« Whatever I am today, » President Reagan announced during a halftime interview of a Big Ten game on national TV in 1981, « I feel Coach Mac had an awful lot to do with it. »

Coach Mac recognized when a boy needed the team more than the team needed the boy. After his freshman year, Reagan wanted to quit football and college, but Coach Mac, known for backing words with actions, walked Reagan to the president’s office to secure a work/study scholarship. Reagan returned to campus to play football, at starting right guard, and to graduate.

From broadcasting to Hollywood to the White House, Reagan never missed an opportunity to publicly thank my grandpa for the role he played in shaping his life. Coach Mac instilled a strong work ethic and a fighting spirit. Reagan never gave up. After he lost the first election, he ran again, and won.

Another not so famous former athlete, who my grandpa guided, was my dad, Jim McKinzie, who went onto influence the lives of countless other athletes (including me and my sister) in his 33 years of coaching at Sterling High School.

As an athlete, I was blessed with exemplary coaches. In addition to my dad and grandpa, I was shaped by Phil Smith at SHS and Jill Hutchison at Illinois State University. In a continuation of the family legacy, I went on to coach my son and daughter at the American School of Paris and International School of Geneva. My daughter had the good fortune to play for Shirley Egner at University of Wisconsin-SP where she was adopted into the Stevens Point community before going on to become the first doctor (pediatrician) in our family.

A coach’s imprint is everlasting, like a stone thrown in a lake, setting off a ripple effect. One life influences another one that goes on to impact a hundred more. Great coaching can’t be measured and not every good coach will have the opportunity to glow in the limelight of a national championship; however, a coach’s worth shines far beyond the record books. Like Coach Mac and Reagan, relationships between coaches and athletes can last a lifetime.

In 1962 at my grandpa’s Northern Illinois University retirement testimonial banquet, the keynote speaker, Ronald Reagan said, « We should wait until after the season, then look at the coach’s record in the hearts and minds and characters of the young men associated with him to see what their contribution has been in later life. The noblest work of man is to build character of other men. By this standard, no one is more deserving of retiring an undefeated champion, than Ralph McKinzie. »

Yet grandpa never really retired. True to character, Coach Mac returned to Eureka as assistant coach, where he donated his salary back to the college, until his final days.

In the real game of life, the only record that really matters has little to do with the final score. Small town coaches at small time schools make major differences in a noble way.

The story of Coach Mac and President Reagan is an endearing reminder to coaches at each level of every sport that even during a losing season, a coach’s influence goes beyond the game. Win or lose, ripple after ripple, great coaches make for a better world, one athlete at a time.

Jim and Lenore McKinzie celebrate Eureka’s 8-2 season and the commemoration of The Coach and The President plaque on McKinzie Football Field

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A Family Affair – Marie’s First Marathon

Image 1_copyToday it is hard to fathom that there was a time pre Title IX (1972) when running, like most sports, was considered unladylike and females were not allowed to join in. I grew up dreaming of one day running a marathon: alas, injury thwarted that goal, so I was especially thrilled that my niece became a runner. No one cheered louder (long distance) when on Sunday, October 20th, Marie stood at the starting line of her first marathon, the IMT Des Moines Marathon 2013. This blog is dedicated to her and to all those marathoners out there.  Run, run, run for those of us who can’t.

What compelled you to train for a marathon?  When I ran on the varsity cross-country team in high school we handed out water at the Twin Cities Marathon. I thought those marathoners were insane but SO COOL!  It’s been on my bucket list ever since.  I missed competitive sports, so to keep the up with my competitive side I need motivation and racing is just that. In June, I ran a half marathon with my cousin, Kayla, and her husband, Steve. As soon as we crossed that finish line she said, ‘We’re signing up for a marathon.’ I thought she was nuts.  But here we are.. marathoners.

What all does marathon training entail?  It is a huge time commitment to training that includes a combination of easy run, speed workout, tempo pace, and then gradually building up to 15, 16, 17, 18, 20 and 21-mile long runs.

What motivated you to maintain your rigorous training schedule?  I was NOT going to be that lameo, who didn’t finish something I set out to do.  If I didn’t train there was no way I would cross that finish line. My friends rarely saw me; I didn’t go out on weekdays or weekends. This marathon became my life.

What kept you going in the marathon when you knee started hurting and you got tired? I didn’t train for 4 months for nothing. I never had any pain while training so when my knee started throbbing after mile 10, I was P.O.ed, but I kept going because NOTHING was going to stop me.(I even texted my mom for Advil and I NEVER take drugs!).  Kayla and I actually ran faster in our last 10k than our first 10k.

Why do you like to run?  I get a runners high crossing the finish line!  Running is my ‘me’ time, I get to think about whatever I want, whenever I want, OUTSIDE!

Completing a marathon takes a huge commitment from the athlete, but Marie credits her family with having the biggest impact. Family – aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, sibling and especially my mom and dad – showed support by biking with me, bringing water, telephoning with encouragement, sending text messages, offering a massage gift card and nine Carlsons cheered us on throughout the whole 26.2 miles. Image 3_copy

What advice would you give anyone thinking about running a marathon?  ANYONE CAN DO IT!  SERIOUSLY.  Yeah, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  And my biggest accomplishment (including college).  BUT if you train for it, you can do it.  A lot of the training is physically draining but most of it is mental.  If you can stop saying you ‘can’t’ and start saying ‘I can’, you will!

What have you benefited from most from your sport?  Running a marathon was my dream.  And I lived my dream. Yeah, I had a lot of help, BUT I RAN IT!  Nobody picked me up and carried me, I ran the whole thing on my own two feet.  After college I was just bumming around and not exercising.  Now I have a pretty good reason to get off the couch and exercise and feel good about myself.

Future goals?   Kayla and I wanted to finish it in under 5 hours; we ran 26.2 miles in 4 hours, 38 minutes.  I just wanted to run a marathon; now I want to run another. John Pupkes, also a marathoner, was the first person to run with me on a long run at the cabin and has encouraged me from day one! I will run the Twin Cities Marathon with him this fall and make it in under 4 hours.

Image 2_copyAnything else you would like to add?  WELL. I CAN’T WALK NORMAL. I have never been in so much pain.  I’ve never been through childbirth of course, but this is pretty darn painful.  My knee feels like it is tearing apart and my ankle feels broken.  BUT I’m going to run another one and another one and another…  OH AND I COULD NOT HAVE DONE WITH THIS WITHOUT MY ENTIRE CARLSON AND MCKINZIE FAMILY!

Run Ri Ri Run!

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WNBA Seattle Storm Superstar Inspires NOVA United Seniors

Simone_Edwards, Seattle 2006

Simone Edwards 2004 Seattle Storm WNBA Champion

During the National Senior Games one woman towered above the rest, only she wasn’t on the court, she was on sidelines coaching ladies half her size and 3 times her age. Simone Edwards, 6’4”, a.k.a. Jamaican Hurricane of the Seattle Storm 2004 WNBA championship team, coached the NOVA United team and spoke on behalf of the National Senior Women’s Basketball Association.

“Every night I heard my mama crying and praying over me and my 3 brothers. We grew up so dirt poor in Kingston, we couldn’t afford new shoes,” Simone said. “I stuffed paper in my old ones to fill the holes. I swore that if I ever make it outta there, I’d help Mama and the kids back home.”

Simone, who never played basketball in high school, would go on to create the Simone4Children foundation to assist economically disadvantaged children in Seattle and Jamaica.

Spotted at a track meet by a scout, Simone was offered a scholarship to play at Seminole Junior College in Oklahoma. She recounted how bizarre it felt for a black girl to be living in the “land of cowboys and Indians.” One day when she walked out of the gym, she fell to her knees thinking that the world was coming to an end.

“Mama, the Lord done had it now. He’s shooting at us from heaven! I’d never seen hail before.”

Simone left the Wild West and moved to the cornfields at the University of Iowa to play for Vivian Stringer.

“I won Kodak All-American honors, and when I saw the award, I said ‘you gotta to change the name. If Mama see this, she gonna kill me. I’m not American, I am Jamaican!’”

Simone also went onto play overseas in Israel, Italy, Spain, and Hungary.

2012 All NOVA

NOVA United Senior Women’s Basketball Players

“I love teaching the game,” said Edwards. “I was given the opportunity to get a scholarship, play basketball and learn from the best coaches in the world. Now, I take the knowledge I gained throughout the years and give back by teaching the game.”

Over our dinner at the National Senior Women’s Basketball Association social, the former assistant coach at George Mason, confided in me, “I love coaching these ladies best. It’s not like coaching young girls that think they know it all. These women never had a chance to play growing up; they want to learn.”

Simone’s link to NOVA United was through one of the most unassuming connectors of all, Helen White, co-founded NOVA United Senior Women’s Basketball Association a nonprofit organization that promotes senior women’s basketball in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, DC and West Virginia. White was selected as Humana Hero Athlete of the Month last April; however, she prefers to spotlight her teammates. In Cleveland, Helen coached NOVA United’s 70+ team to a third place finish in the AA flight.  Her 60+ team won a silver medal in the AA flight. She played in Women’s 60+ Pickleball Singles tournament and earned a silver medal as an unknown underdog and came through the loser’s bracket to meet the #1 seed for the gold.

Helen and Pat McKinzie

With Helen White HUMANA Athlete of the Month
NOVA United & NSWBA

But for all her athletic accomplishments, White is best known for her selfless promotion of the game and fitness for seniors. For an encore, she completed her master’s degree in sports management with emphasis on senior sports and fitness at George Washington University before her sixtieth birthday. And now White will also be remembered for connecting the Jamaican Hurricane – the NOVA United ladies self-proclaimed worst nightmare and biggest fan – to the NOVA United Team.

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