Illinois’ Sterling Girls Capture Little League World Champion Crown

Yoopie! Take me out to the ball game. I am going to jump on the bandwagon here and give a shout out to the folks back home in Sterling and their championship team. After all the gals of my generation helped build that wagon 40 years ago when Title IX passed into legislation, leveling the playing field by mandating equal opportunities (including sports) for girls in public education.

I applaud those pony-tailed girls with crooked grins on cusp of adolescence who whooped the world in a boys’ game. In my day, Little League was a private, male club that we never dreamed of one day entering.

Sterling vs Waco Texas

Sterling vs Waco Texas http://www.softballworldseries.com/

I admire the pictures of those cute girls in baseball jerseys and can’t help but notice that the names of the three father coaches, matched those of three players. The coach/athlete, dad/daughter duo was an anomaly back in the day when my dad first taught my sisters and me to field grounders. Now it is the norm. Without a second thought, today’s dads fight to make sure their girls’ get their names on front page.

I have been out of the country too long – I had no idea that a Girls’ Little League World Championship existed. Yet, these little ladies are strutting their stuff on a Field of Dreams. « Today Little League, in existence since first in 1947 (for boys), is the largest youth sport organization with more than 25,000 softball teams and 360,000 participants worldwide. The program includes divisions of play for girls ages 5 to 18, which culminates at four Softball World Series tournaments for international competition and friendship.” http://www.littleleague.org/learn/about/divisions/softball-girls.htm

Hats off to Sterling, the Central Regional Championship Team, for winning 19 straight games and  defeating Waco, Texas in the world series final in Portland Oregon. This year the event, established for girls in 1974, drew clubs from Puerto Rico, Philippines, Canada and Italy, as well as Texas, California, Oregon, New York and North Carolina.

I was surprised to find out that teams existed abroad, yet the European, Middle East and African regional champs were from Italy this year, from Poland last year, and from Germany, the year before that. The American game has gone international. Though at my  school in Switzerland, I still teach softball as a ‘foreign’ sport because cricket (for men only) is considered the premier bat and ball game.

So yessiree,  take me out to the ball park. Give me some peanuts and crackerjacks and I don’t care if I never get back for it’s one two three, hip hip hurray for the Sterling Girls Little League World Champions. Thanks for putting my hometown on the globe in a grand slam effort inspiring girls worldwide.

Happy 80th Birthday Dad – Celebrating friendship, fatherhood and family

From pine lined point of ol’ Camp Neyati and back to Beaver Bay, I glide through a silver blue lake, stroke after stroke, while you sit on an wrought iron chair under the elms on shore, watching to assure my safety.  If I were in danger of drowning, you could never reach me, but I am confident knowing you are there ever watchful, a benevolent eye, just as you have watched over me for the past 54 years.

During my journey filled with adversity, you offer encouraging words from the background to keep me steady.  You admire my courage fighting in the face of pain, commending the discipline that drives me to swim in an icy lake on a rainy day.  You marvel that I traveled half way across the world in pursuit of a dream to play basketball and now in adulthood wonder how I can endure another teaching day with my health limitations.  For me it doesn’t seem that extraordinary; after all, I am my father’s daughter.

If I was able to pioneer a career unheard of for women, move abroad and rewrite my script after my dream collapsed, it is because of you.  I inherited the McKinzie iron will, a drive to pursue lofty ideals in spite of obstacles.

Though you still worry about your adult children and grandchildren, the tables have turned; now dozens of eyes watch over you.  After your heart incident 25 years ago, I postponed my trip back to France to stay by your side. I witnessed how you changed your habits to accommodate a condition that altered your life, but never slowed you down.  This year I supported you long distance as you recovered from 4 different surgeries.  You still attained your goals: to stand up as your eldest granddaughter walked to take her Hippocratic Oath and to sit down at a middle granddaughter’s high school graduation party. Now a day never passes where I am not grateful that you are still with us to cheer us on.

Jim McKinzie (80th birthday) with Lenore and kids

Jim McKinzie (80th birthday) with Lenore and kids

Bad arteries, good heart.  The best. It touched the lives of all whose paths you crossed. From Dekalb High classmates to Northern Illinois University teammates to Sterling High School colleagues to the Mighty Warriors and the Golden Girls, for decades, you were the marker to which so many students and fellow teachers measured their worth. Your words still inspire many athletes; your letters became treasured keepsakes.

Your generous heart helped finance college education, provide pocket change and gas money for grandkids. You helped perfect jump shots, spiral passes and line drives. Your patient heart read Good Night Moon to a demanding grandchild and balanced a checkbook for an even more demanding father.  Your intuitive heart painted canvases, counseled female athletes, and recognized a child’s distress in the sound of a voice during a long distance phone call. Though you set extremely high standards for yourself, your accepting heart was the first to welcome a foreigner into the family, to treat people of all walks of life as equal, and to understand others who are different.

As the son of Coach Mac, integrity was deeply ingrained. As McKinzie kids we had to tow the line. But by emulating our father, the man who walked the talk too, you inspired each of us to stand taller.

We come from good blood. The life lessons passed on from your father, “Coach Mac” McKinzie trickled down to you and then onto each of us in our helping professions.

At halftime of the 1986 Super Bowl the United States President announced, “Whatever I am today, Coach Mac had an awful lot to do with it.”

I will never be as famous as Ronald “Dutch” Reagan, but I echo his words, “Whatever I am today, my own Papa Mac had an awful lot to do with.”

Now just as you stare at the Summit Lake water front and track my stroke, I in turn peek out the cabin window you to make sure you don’t stumble when your wander off in the woods. We watch over one another in a special father/daughter bond built from hours of sharing meals, shooting hoops, swapping stories, taking trips, and spending time together marking the milestones.  Like 80th birthdays!

Congratulations Dad and an extra special shout out to all the athletes, colleagues, family, friends and former teammates, who reminded us all in memorabilia and words, how lucky we are that you have touched our lives.

 

Sisterhood, motherhood and marathons

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Hannah & Karen

Hannah & Karen

When my professional basketball career ended, my goal was to start running marathons.  Accidents and illness thwarted that dream; I never ran again, so my little sister is competing in a sprint triathlon for me.

Karen was always a good athlete with a body built for competition. She had perfect teeth and toes, providing a good bite and great balance.

During thousands of dollars of treatment for a misaligned dental occlusion, my dentist explained, “The massetter is the strongest muscle in the body. You ever notice all the best athletes have beautiful teeth?”

Ditto for the toes. Whereas my sister polishes her beautiful toes, my crooked ones remain hidden in clunky orthopedic shoes. My podiatrist has told me I should retire from teaching because my feet are so bad. My ankles are pronated, my arches too high, my big toe too short, so my balance is bad. My second toe is too long and the other three are curled like claws to grip the ground to keep me upright. Leg aches plagued me since childhood, but never slowed me down.

So while Karen and her friends train for the Chaska River City Days Sprint Triathlon – a third-mile swim, 16-mile bike and 5K run, I cheer them on. After raising children and caretaking in helping professions, they decided to do something just for themselves and began training together for the event.

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Ever the competitor, I secretly train for my own triathlon – a walk, bike, swimathlon. Everyday I bike around the neighboring lake, walk to town, and swim to the island, each day pushing to go a little farther and a bit faster. It takes some ingenuity because I have to avoid the sunlight.

While my baby sister paints her nails and runs in preparation for the big event, I don full scuba gear, like the Loch Ness monster, to swim in a cold, purple lake.

When Karen finished the triathlon reaching her personal goal wearing the number 60, her birth year, she called me first.

“After the swim – my best event – I felt great,” Karen said, “But after the 16 mile bike, my legs turned to Jello on the run, then a guy ran by and offered me good advice – just put one foot in front of the other.”

My sister admires me for never giving up in spite of all my physical limitations, but she remains my hero, a younger, more refined, fitter version of myself.

Our competitive spirit spurs us on. If my baby sister, can finish her first sprint triathlon at the age of 51, I can darn well make it around the block again on my own two faulty feet.

Celebrating Title IX’s Anniversary with Senior Games Gold in Basketball

Though I never reached my goal to play basketball for Team USA in the Olympics,  I have thrown elbows in good company.  I played  hoops for Illinois State alongside the late Charlotte Lewis, a silver medalist in 1976 , the first year women’s basketball became an Olympic event. In summer camp at ISU, I coached Olympian Cathy Boswell, a 1984 gold medalist. And June 11-30,  2011 during the Senior National Games in Houston Texas,  my former co-coach and BFF, Tina Quick, won a gold in 3 on 3.

In 1987,  the first National Olympic game debuted in St. Louis with 2,500 participants.  Today the  National Senior Games Association, (http ://www.nsga.com/ ) Summer Games drew 15,000 athletes, who competed in 18 sports in everything from shuffleboard to  triathlon.  And get this, the youngest competitor was fifty!

molly and the miracles

Tina, Quick, Barbara Cherecwich, Kris Krablin, June Walton, Megan Ladd

NSGA is a non-profit organization dedicated to motivating active adults to lead healthy lifestyles. With 50 being the new 30 never has the time been more right for women to stay in shape. And nobody trains like Tina, the fifty-five year old blond firecracker, with Native American blood, who runs circles around women decades younger. Though she didn’t have the opportunity to play organized ball growing up, she never missed a beat in adulthood, challenging men in gyms around the globe. Seven years ago, she repatriated to the United States where she met up with the Massachusetts Miracles.

« We went from being the team that couldn’t win a game, to becoming team to beat, » Tina said.  « Everyone, except me, played college »

The Miracles is comprised of first generation Title IX athletes, who like myself, became pioneers during the infancy of the women’s game when law mandated equal opportunities for women in education and sport.  June Walton, the second all-time leading scorer at her alma mater, Morgan State University, also played in Venezuela and England. Kris Krablin, the only athlete to be named MVP every season, was a Hall of Famer at St. Lawrence University.  In 1979, the first year an All State College team was selected, Barbara Cherecwich became a first team All Stater from Worcester State College.

The Miracles won the state competition to qualify and then swept 7 rounds in the games. My five-foot- five friend played early on in the tournament, but for the finals she insisted, « You big girls go do your stuff – I’ll take over on the sideline. »  The only team without a manager, Tina, then went onto coach her Miracles to victory capturing the gold in the  50+ age category.

« Like  at the  Olympics, we had an opening ceremony, parade of competitors,  athlete’s village and medal platform. The Olympic Torch, carried across Texas, was lit by a 100 year old man. »

Tinie takes charge coaching the tall gals to gold

Tinie takes charge coaching the tall gals to gold

Tina walked off the podium with not only a gold, but also a stash of giveaways – pill boxes,  jump ropes, energy drinks, cool bands, health tips and other  prizes. But according to Tina, the best part of the games was the great ambiance, team camaraderie and support from friends and families .

« One lady, a seventy year old, stopped me and asked if she could touch my medal.»

When my pro basketball career ended abruptly due to a car accident, my goal to shoot hoops into my sunset years never materialized. In time, I learned to let go and share in the joy of others’ dreams.  Nobody cheered louder than me for my former athletes competing in European clubs, for my little sister, playing in a 5 on 5 league in Minneapolis or  for my buddy in Boston, who just came home with the gold.

Apparently seniors are alive and well.  The Summer Games, NSGA’s signature event, has become one of the biggest multi-sport happenings on the planet; my friend Tina could be the spokesperson.

During the festivities, Gloria Gaynor,  belted out, « I will survive. »

I slapped my knee, tickled pink and echoed her battle cry,

« Go granny go ! »

Hats off to Hannah And High School Graduates of 2011

I never graduated from high school.  Not officially.  Sure I got my diploma, but I  never tossed my cap to the wind. I was sick the day of graduation. Back then  it was simple.  We had one senior picture,  a ceremony on the field and a little cake and punch party with a few family and friends.

The class of ‘75 signed year books, promised to keep in touch and moved on. With the exception of a handful of close friends – living within a block – I lost touch with everyone  until 35 years later, when I reconnected with classmates via Facebook (which, incidentally, today’s youth complain the old people are ruining!)

happy Hannah graduates from high school

happy Hannah graduates from high school

In June 1975, to humor my parents, I donned the blue gown with the gold tassels and stood in the yard while my grandma snapped a half a dozen blurry photos from an Instamatic. And that was that. Then I headed back to the gym to shoot hoops.

Big difference from the grad walk of today. For my niece, Hannah, a senior at Armstrong High School, it was a whole new ball game.

In the fields behind the Minneapolis suburban school, graduates spilled over an emerald hilltop in a sea of red, while parents sat in soccer chairs capturing the event on camcorders. Then to keep the kids off the street, parents chaperoned students at an all night party filled with games, magic, music and movies.

Weeks later, Hannah hosted a grad party. She invited her rugby team, half the church, the entire neighborhood and all of the relatives from Chicago to Omaha and in-between. Hannah has lots of friends. From the time she was born, the ready-with-a-smile, happy-go-lucky, laid-back kid always drew a crowd.

These days, the grad party is a must. The invitation, which features the student in a favorite pose from the hundred-some senior pictures, is more elaborate than wedding cards were in my day. (Hannah’s sister, Marie, graduated three years ago, but her invitation remains  on my frig, too beautiful to throw away.)

The party can be extravagant, complete with bouncy castles and gourmet meals, but Hannah, settled on a simpler fare, featuring her favorites – croissant sandwiches and ice cream treats.

Food ordered, tents set up, card tables unfolded, coolers packed. And a room filled with of memorabilia of student life : a bulletin board of childhood photos, dance recital, play bills, band equipment, musical instruments, certificates, medals, trophies, team jerseys, diplomas, stuffed animals, postcards, bits and bobs of a child’s’ magic moments. « I thought shrines were at wakes,» I said to my sister.

« Just shows how long you’ve been out of the country, Sis. »

And forget gram’s fuzzy black and white photos. Nowadays the event will be commemorated on video and DVD. While in progress, graduates cover Facebook pages with hundreds of photos for the entire world to admire.

hats off

hats off

My only dream back in the seventies was to play ball; Hannah set a more noble goal. She is going to be a neonatal nurse; she has already cuddled premies as a volunteer at the local hospital. She started applying for scholarships her junior year. With her dad’s Nebraskan Big Red blood, Hannah knew (before anyone else)  that she was headed  to Creighton in Omaha, where the rest of the Carlson clan lives.

Yep, babysitter, soccer player, a State rugby champ, honor student, loyal sister, fun loving friend, kidding cousin, nifty niece, cherished granddaughter, a dream child and all around good kid. No matter what hat she wears, Hannah fits the bill.

Dads Play Big Role in Parenting

Back in the ‘60s when girls’ sport were taboo, my dad taught me how to throw a perfect spiral, pitch a baseball and shoot a basket.  Each time he tossed the ball to  my brother, he also threw once to me. He made sure to hit each of us an equal number of pop ups to field. He showed me how to hold a baseball glove, pump up a basketball and take a fish off the hook.

Papa Mac passes on tradition

Papa Mac passes on tradition

Like the Pied Piper, as soon as kids saw my dad arrive home from his teaching job, they lined up for a turn at bat. Soon he was pitching whiffle balls to the entire neighborhood. Instead of grass in our backyard, we had permanent dirt-patch bases, a diamond in the rough, the Field of Dreams for an entire generation.

Even though I never saw any other fathers in the yard shooting hoops with their daughters, I never thought it odd. Chasing grounders, running passing patterns and learning the baseline drive with my dad seemed as natural as  breathing. After all, he was a coach and I was an athlete. So what if it took the rest of the society a few decades to catch up.

Today with the acceptance of girls’ sports and working moms the norm, dads’ coaching daughters is no longer an anomaly. The Women’s Rights Movement also liberated men to assume a greater hands-on role in fatherhood.

Today’s dads are free to coach Little League AND girls’ soccer, to build camp fires, make tree forts, piece together Legos, to change diapers, give baths,  bandage cuts. They can also bake birthday cakes, read Good Night Moon, cook bœuf bourguignon and grill burgers.

French dad at 1st Final Four

French dad at 1st Final Four

Throughout our children’s youth, my husband worked the score table, drove the van for our daughter and son’s teams and prepared gourmet meals for all of us. Gérald never batted an eye about running a printing business during the day, and then wearing the apron at night.  Though it may have been a typical behavior for a Frenchman, he paid the bills, balanced the budget and brought home the bacon, proud to be a family man.

Just as I witnessed my dad in multiple roles – caring teacher, inspiring coach, loyal husband -my children saw their father as tough and tender, demanding and nuturing, competitive and compassionate.

Kids raised in families with ball-playing moms and story-reading dads make for a balanced, healthy, wholesome childhood.  Whether organizing car pools, building sand castles or playing catch,  adults investing time in youth yields the greatest dividends.  Worth all the gold in the world !