Many Sterlingites moved away from town, but like me still bleed blue and gold. Like a tattoo, our Sterling High School days remain ingrained in our hearts.
Decades ago, I moved to Europe to pursue my crazy (at that time) dream to play pro basketball, but Sterling has remained my chez moi. Relocating dozens of times between four different countries, my family, my hometown, my community remained my anchor.
Others SHS graduates have moved across the States, but remained tied to places like Coletta, Woodlawn, Jefferson,Washington and good ol’ SHS. For some local families - Dietz, McKinzie, Smith, Yemm, Zion - our parents serving as teachers, coaches, administrators formed bricks in the foundation of SHS. Following generations became pillars of strength in our own professions and communities.
During turbulent times, on the heels of the civil and women’s rights movements, high school sports united gender, race and economic backgrounds in a sense of community on Sterling’s stellar courts, fields and stadium.
I was a pioneer in the infancy of Title IX, before girls state championships existed. That title belonged to my dad, my younger sister, Karen, and her teammates.
Title IX June 23, 1972, a federal civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that received federal funding made this opportunity possible. It leveled the playing fields for women in sport and education opening doors to careers in law, medicine, and science careers.
SHS implemented Title IX faster than other communities, so Sterling girls gained gender equity sooner than those living in other parts of the country. Consequently, the time was right for our beloved 1977 1st state championship girls basketball team to triumph.
We must never forget the sacrifices of those who came before us.
Could hard fought Title IX’s rights be revoked like some of our other recently overturned civil liberties?
An attack on any one of women’s rights is an attack on all of our rights.
Title IX gave me the opportunity to become the first female athletic scholarship recipient at Illinois State University, a 1st women’s pro league draftee, and one of first American females to play overseas. No one remembers my name. No matter. What matters is that we earned the right to do these things.
“Your role,” my friend Phil reminds me, “was to lead others to the promised land.”
Back in the day, the only glory I had, was beating him one on one. He taught me the sky hook, behind the back dribble and other moves of the NBA, skills that I fine tuned playing pick-up ball with boys in Homer Musgrove Fieldhouse.
In the 70s and early 80s, girls’ basketball was still taboo, which forced me abroad to play the game I loved.
Every step of my way, mentors guided me, beginning with my dad and Phil Smith at SHS, Jill Hutchison at ISU, and then Henry Fields, father of French basketball, who took me under his wing when I coached in Europe.
After my playing career ended in a car accident abroad, I followed in their footsteps becoming a coach. For the next three decades, I passed on their knowledge of the game in France and Switzerland. My career can’t be measured in championships, but in the strength of character of those I coached, who later advocated for social justice in their own homelands.
Nothing was a given. Nothing was taken for granted. Nothing was accomplished without gratitude.
As a kid, I felt lucky to grow up playing safely outdoors in Sterling. During backyard games, we learned to share, negotiate and resolve differences. Later at SHS, we honed our skills in athletic facilities finer than any I’ve ever seen in Europe.
I could lament that I sacrificed my body and soul to basketball without ever receiving accolades, sponsorships, and financial rewards of today’s female basketball stars. Or I could feel blessed to have been there when it all began, to play my humble part in history. I will be forever grateful that I fulfilled my calling passing on my love of the game to hundreds of international athletes including my daughter and son.
As the granddaughter of Coach “Mac” Ralph McKinzie and daughter of Coach Jim McKinzie, I grew up with a legacy of integrity. I was a product of Sterling High School, a Golden Warrior and an Illinois State Redbird, raised in the Land of Lincoln.
I touched the lives of kids from around the globe,
But I never forgot my heritage,
I always honored my roots.
Every challenged faced,
I remained Warrior Strong.
No matter where I live,
My McKinzie heart beats blue and gold.