Rocking at my First NCAA Final Four

2014-03-20 05.50.16-UWSPI finally made it to an NCAA Final Four, but not as a player or coach. I rocked as the keynote speaker addressing the athletes and coaches from Tufts University, Whitman College, Fairleigh Dickinson University and UW-Whitewater. For today’s athlete to appreciate how much it means, we have to travel back in time.

As a child, I stood, hand on my heart, singing the national anthem, then watching the boys charge down court and praying someone would throw a bad pass, so that I could scoop up that loose ball and fire it back to the official. That was the only game action I saw unless I could convince the boys to let me in their pick up games. Oh, they’d finally let me play if I agreed to go on the “skins” team.

I never fathomed that one day girls would play on center court because when I was a growing up, the medical authorities at the time, believed that if girls played sports their hearts would burst or their ovaries would drop out their bodies.

After Title IX passed in 1972, mandating equal opportunity for girls in education, basketball took me around the globe. Every step of the way I met obstacles.

At Illinois State University, I played for Jill Hutchison, cofounder and1st President of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. Hutchison was a part of every rule change in women’s game and her research proved that a woman’s heart wouldn’t explode by running up and down a full court.2014-03-20 04.46.51-UWSP

In the 1st Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL), we played in empty arenas, and went on strike after months without pay. In the late 70s “a league of their own” was insane, but out of our crazy collective dream we gave birth to the WNBA.

In Europe, I washed my uniform in a bathtub and shopped daily because my refrigerator was the size of school lunch box. Before Internet, my only connection with home was letters that took weeks to arrive.

I battled back from injury to continue competing until a car accident 4,000 miles away from home ended my career. Forget playing ball, I wasn’t sure I’d ever walk again.

How do you deal with those life-changing setbacks? How do you keep your dreams alive after defeat? A championship title is not the only sign of victory.

Today every girl can participate. To my generation, this is our triumph. Our own women’s NCAA Final Four. Though work remains in our fight for equality in women’s sports, our first victory was the RIGHT to even compete.
NCAA final four UWSP-copyNCAA final four UWSP 1-copy

After college, I moved overseas and decades later saw my first college game when my daughter suited up for Coach Shirley Egner at UWSP. I knew we’d made it when I saw a young girl ask my daughter for her autograph.

I wish I could go back to that girl who sat on sidelines praying she could play with the boys, and tell her what it’s like now. That one day girls like her would be celebrated.
That one day women would be doctors, lawyers, and businesswomen. We fought for the right to play ball and in doing so opened doors for our daughters. Though it is unlikely DIII athletes will play professionally, they will have the opportunity to pursue careers in the field of their choice.

I am not famous, just a feisty tomboy who fell in love with basketball as a 5-year-old, and refused to take no for an answer. I spent the 1st half my life fighting for the right to play, the 2nd graciously cheering for others. I wrote Home Sweet Hardwood to bear witness, to give a voice to the silent generation who battled so hard for the rights we have today.

We cannot know who we are if we do not know where we came from. We stand on shoulders of the women who came before us. In women’s basketball, it’s women like Pat Summitt, Tara VanDerveer, C. Vivian Stringer, Sylvia Hatchell, Jill Hutchison, and Kay Yow who paved the way. In my own life, it was my mom and coach.

Today, thanks to Title IX, a girl never grows up questioning her right to be all she can be.

At the NCAA Final Four, I dared athletes to be the first, to refuse to take no for an answer, to stand tall, to be smart. Play hard. Play fair. Play as long as possible. Then pay it forward. Pass it on. Encourage another little girl to chase her dream.2014-03-22 06.52.39-UWSP

Four decades after the passage Title IX, the little girl who grew up on the sideline finally made it to the Big Dance. I kicked my heels up for all women. Raise the roof. Ladies, we have arrived!

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  1. Your story continues to inspire me. How exciting that your were the keynote at this event. Kudos to you for your courage, Pat! The world is a different place now thanks to you and your team mates.

  2. Wonderful article and message, Pat! Thank you for fighting the good fight. And congratulations on being chosen to give the Keynote address!!!

  3. Was this essentially the text of your speech? If so, I’m sure the crowd was deeply moved. This is a beautiful narrative of your life, and of your book. I’m going to share it everywhere. Best wishes, my friend.

  4. Beautiful narrative,Pat. You showed them,”your heart did not burst and your ovaries did not fall out” and you went on with your pluck and talent to pave the way for all women to strive to be the best they can be. Standing ovation, my dear friend. I want to hear your speech!

    • Isn’t it unbelievable to think back about what society thought of women back then. As a working mom at time that was considered abnormal, I am sure you inspired other women in the medical field to pursue their dreams, including your own daughter.

    • Thanks, Dave. I couldn’t have done it without my number one roadie, Cliff. He had my back the whole trip and made sure I made it to all my venues on time.

  5. Pat, I couldn’t be any prouder of you. You continue to share such an important message through your book- and now through your speeches. And you continue to inspire and motivate. Most importantly, you remind us all to never give up on our dreams. You really did ROCK, Sis!

    • From styling my hair, choosing my wardrobe, touching up my make-up, tweaking my speech, running my powerpoint and calming my anxiety, you have been with me every step of the journey. With you by my side, the honor was twice as nice. Thanks for being there.

    • I am probably more of a writer that speaks than a speaker that writes, but whatever it takes to get the word out there. Authentic Women rise to the occasion as you well know.

  6. So very proud of your accomplishments, your voice, your passion to press on! Continue that full court press! Sue is so very proud of you, and I am, so glad you had family there to share in your moment. I’m proud of you, too! ~Sheila

  7. I love this! I am sharing it with my daughter who will play DIII field hockey in the Fall. I am constantly telling her how lucky she is to have grown up post-Title IX. Sometimes, though, this information has a greater impact when it comes from someone other than her Mom! Thanks for writing this! Thanks for fighting the good fight! Congratulations on finally making it to “the dance” :)!

    • Thanks, Jackie. Your daughter is going to love playing field hockey at the college level. Where is she going? I would be grateful if you would pass this on to your daughter and her friends.

  8. Awesome, Pat. To think that once, they thought running the length of a basketball court would result in burst hearts and fallen ovaries! We *have* come a long way, and it’s to our trailblazers like you that we should be extremely grateful. Glad you finally made it to the Big Dance, even if you weren’t one of the players!

    • Thanks, Debbie, and I think you too were probably fighting the good fight in another arena even if tennis was considered a more acceptable game for girls, so kudos back at ya!

  9. I am so very proud to know you, Pat, for so many reasons. You are an amazing woman and so accomplished for so many reasons. Congratulations on your keynote speaking engagement!

    By the way, my son is a junior at Fairleigh Dickinson!

    • Thanks, Cathy. Tell your son that one of things that impressed me most during the Final Four was the amazing fan base that came out from FDU and most of them were male students. Wearing flashing devil horns, they cheered so loud in their painted faces that they became a force to be reckoned with. FDU was a very athletic and exciting team to watch play and they had a perfect season with 35-0 record.

  10. Pingback: Pat McKinzie – March Madness My Way

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