I am flying back to the Midwest. Keep your fingers I make it, that my flight will not be cancelled due to storms, mechanical problems, air traffic controller strikes, missed connecting flights, terrorist threats, security breeches, or passenger rage.
The moment my feet hit the tarmac I will begin a book promotional tour. I’ll be telling spinning yarns, swapping jokes, and kicking back with the folks at home.
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.
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.
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!
My 17-year-old niece Rachel McKinzie is a gifted flutist and the fact that my musical skills are limited makes me all the more in admiration of her talent.
Rachel star flutist
She started playing flute in second grade. Then she studies the viola for 2 years in Australia. Back in the states in 7th grade, Rachel began private lessons on flute, her primary instrument. She became the 4th chair and invested in a new pearl flute with a solid silver body and discovered her true gift. In 8th grade, she also began playing alto sax in the jazz band. Then she added piccolo, which she explained, “is basically a flute pitched an octave higher and easier to hear in ensemble because it is a more piercing sound,”
Next she added saxophone to her repertoire. Whereas I may have inherited my father’s gift of coordination to perform any sport easily, Rachel inherited her mom and dad’s musical gene. She can imitate any tone or pitch, and read notes that to me looked like stick figures dancing on lines.
In high school, she was chosen to play piccolo in the top ensemble. As a sophomore she auditioned for the prestigious Cleveland Youth Symphony (CYWS) and made it into the piccolo group one, while continuing private flute lessons and playing jazz sax for Shaker HeightsMarching Band.
Rachel and brother Mark – Shaker Heights marching band
Though more reserved by nature, at a young age she daringly auditioned for Cleveland symphony and orchestras and band and found the courage to perform in churches and halls packed with people in front of the discerning ears of judges.
When she discusses music her blue eyes sparkle with enthusiasm. The musical lingo sounds like a foreign language to me, but she graciously answers questions and explains terminology I should have learned in primary school. Her long fingers dance across the solid silver keys of her new flute. She has the ability to purse her full lips on the instrument to recreate an exact sound. If God created a physique perfect for wind instruments, surely my niece has it.
“It’s highly technical – roll of keys, turn head, adjust posture, stand relaxed but straight, as if a string is pulling your head and spine into alignment,” Rachel explained patiently. “Flute is harder than the tuba because only half of the amount of air enters the instrument, so you have to breath more.”
In her senior year she earned the place of first chair flute for the school orchestra and jazz sax in marching band.
“The role of first chair is to make sure your section is playing technically correct,” she told me, “which is not easy because if the sound isn’t perfect, you make people come early before school to practice.”
Listening to her talk I thought how much mastering an instrument is like playing a sport. Discipline. Drive. Practice. Precision. Teamwork. A musician, too, enters the zone especially when performing.
Like an athlete, Rachel practices daily primarily on flute, beginning each 45-minute session with warm up exercises.
“I have to be careful not to play too much piccolo because the embouchement is different on flute and I don’t want to it to interfere with muscle memory.”
As my niece and I watched the Olympics together last August, I asked if there were parallels between the skill of playing a musical instrument to an performing as an athlete.
“It’s nowhere near as physically taxing, but mentally every bit as challenging. It demands so much concentration and focus not to be distracted by the audience.”
“There isn’t a music buzz like runner’s high,” Rachel explained, “but when I play a technically difficult piece I have a sense of accomplishment.”
“For me the success of my practice is determined by whether or not I like what I hear. If it doesn’t sound good to me, if I can’t find the sweet spot, then it is harder to keep going.”
It reminded me of streak shooting in basketball, when releasing the ball, muscle memory took over on the jump shot making it almost effortless.
Whereas Rachel loves the performances, she finds the audition the scariest because there is no accompaniment. Yet throughout her career, she regularly tested her skills against the best in state competitions like the Ohio Federation of Music Clubs where she has always received highest ratings.
As the MVP of every musical award, Rachel, graduated with honors and will attend Butler on scholarship.
Mom passing on the love of music to the next generation
Like most students, Rachel had a long inventory of tasks to fulfill her senior year: college applications, personal statement, service projects, academic deadlines, marching band. And at the top of her “to do list” – practice flute -where she will continue to leave her mark on the world, one note at a time.
“No daughter of mine will wear trousers to church,” you scolded.
“Why not? God doesn’t care what we wear. It’s the inside that counts.”
To your chagrin, I became the first girl to wear pants to Sunday service. Though not always in agreement with my actions, when I became one of the first women’s professional basketball players, you beamed. At a time when basketball was for boys only, you taught me a jump shot in the driveway, while the neighbors shook their heads and chuckled.
While I invented my own fashion, developed my own career and became my own person, you stood by watching, alternately arguing and applauding, always trying to understand.
No textbook taught how to be super dad in the 70s, so you stumbled along changing to fit the times. You would never meet all the prerequisites for perfect parenting, but you were the best dad you could be for me.
Jim & two of his daughters
When tomboy was a dirty word and girls were relegated to the sideline, we never dreamed women would one day star in their own Showtime. Nor could we imagine that you would coach the first girls’ high school basketball championship team (1977) and I would receive the first athletic scholarship in Illinois (1978). When other dads insisted their daughters play dolls, you encouraged my athleticism. Every time you played catch with your son, you’d throw the baseball to me too, so I felt equal to my brother. You taught me how to hang on to a football so expertly, I’d have been a wide receiver had I been a boy. While society insisted sports were harmful for females, you encouraged me to play ball. During the infancy of Title IX, together we fought a steady battle for girls’ sports.
Later, when women’s teams developed and my slender frame took a beating on basketball courts where the game increased in contact and competitiveness, you never said, “You’re too small to go pro.” Instead you helped develop my potential. When my American pro team folded, I stated, “I’m going to France to play.”
“What if you get hurt? What if you don’t like it there?” You tried your darndest to dissuade me. Then after the shock subsided, you offered your support and returned to the gym to rebound.
When I announced, “I’m engaged to a Frenchman,” you were the first to accept a foreigner into the family. Decades later, you remained my most faithful correspondent, sending manila envelopes to Europe filled with local news, national sports and fatherly love.
I grew up during an era when athletic girls had no role models. When others teased, “Hey, jock,” I cringed, but never lost my self-esteem. You never loved me less because I grew up in skinned knees instead of nylons. You encouraged me to be myself even when it meant being different and pursuing a career usually sought by men.
Part of my fight for independence meant defying authority. When I snuck in late one night, you heard the garage door creak and met me at the door in your underwear.
“Young lady, do you know what time it is?” you grumbled.
“No, do you?” I snapped back. “At college, you don’t even know if I come home at night.”
When I was 26, before the wedding, I announced, “You’re going to be a grandpa.” You looked at me astounded and said, “Well, you always did things your own way.”
And the day your first grandchild was born in Paris, you wore a French beret to the school where you had taught for 25 years.
Jim with granddaughter Nat
It is not easy being a modern day daughter, marrying a Frenchman and raising a child abroad. Nor is it easy to be an up-to-date dad, whose dedicated coaching developed the talent that took his daughter away.
I was a selfish, smart-aleck kid, too big for my britches; you were too overprotective. Still, we loved each other, in spite of our imperfections. You grew up under the “work ethic” when it was a man’s world, only, yet you learned to accept a modern, do-it-herself daughter who lived by the “experience ethic.” You lean a bit to the right; I towards the left. Often times we were too much alike in temperament and too different in ideologies to get along, yet our differences, like thorns in our sides, spurred growth. I loved you enough to let you be a blundering father. You let me be a belligerent daughter. Through our headstrong outbursts, we learned to compromise, to live modern dreams without losing old-fashioned values.
You were not a perfect dad, nor I, a perfect daughter. But our love was…and always will be.
avid party goers enjoying a glass of champagne at book launch
My book launch party was a huge success even though it was too cold and cloudy to sit at our new outdoor table and enjoy our backyard view of the Alps and Mont Blanc.
We fooled Mother Nature, moved the patio furniture inside, held the party anyway and still had fun.
My friends were an eclectic mix of friends from around the globe : American, British, Canadian, Cameroonian, Croatian, French, German, Irish, Indian, Polish, Spanish, Swiss, Swedish, Somali, South-African, Zimbabwean and even one Wisconsinite.
with German friend Maria & Somali husband Mohamed
When I explained why I was compelled to write the book, my friends wondered,
What argument did authorities use to ban women’s participation in sports? »
“The physical education association, backed by medical authorities, forbade competitive sport for girls, because they believed that rigorous exercise would be too strenuous for their hearts” I explained. “They feared it could interfere with a woman’s ability to bear children.”
“How could a country that had the scientific knowledge to drop an atomic bomb and put a man on the moon believe such nonsense?”
My European friends were astounded.
In retrospect, it sounds preposterous. Their incredulous reaction reaffirmed my reasons for telling my story. I wanted to record the voice of the silent generation, who fought for the equal rights in education and sport, opportunities which thankfully women today can take for granted.My book, Home Sweet Hardwood, A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball is important because, despite many victories, the struggle for gender and racial equality continues.
Our doorbell rang non-stop and my little abode filled with chocolates, champagne, and wine in an outpouring of congratulations. Every spare table and counter space was covered with bouquets of roses, lilies, and peonies every color of the rainbow.
a great team celebrates
My techie husband, who orchestrated the whole event, including cooking tasty treats, and posted our website on TV with snapshots of my past.
Champagne flowed; the house rang with laughter and cheerful chatter.
The moment was made more poignant because I also shared the evening with my son. We topped off the night with a toast among his friends in celebration of his college graduation.
What touched me the most was knowing that even though most of the people at my party had no interest in basketball, they bought the book anyway, intrigued by my story and as a sign of solidarity.
author dedicating her book
I tumbled into bed after midnight, overwhelmed with gratitude for the outpouring of support of my long held dream.
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
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.