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.
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.
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.