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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Father’s Day Accolades to an Inaugural Title IX Dad

back in the day !

back in the day !

“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

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

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.

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Book Launch Party in Switzerland

avid party goers enjoying a glass of champagne at book launch

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

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

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

author dedicating her book

I tumbled into bed after midnight, overwhelmed with gratitude for the outpouring of support of my long held dream.

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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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