Back in the 1960s, tall, smart and athletic, I slouched through school with 3 strikes against me, ridiculed for my passion to play “boy’s ball games.” Then in 1972 Title IX, a controversial bill, passed as a part of the Civil Rights Amendment and opened doors that had slammed closed in my face.
For the first time ever, laws mandated equal opportunity on America’s playing fields. Though early on we weren’t welcomed there, we kept fighting. As a first generation Title IXer, I, unknowingly, became a pioneer in women’s basketball. I received the first athletic scholarship to Illinois State. No one recruited back then, I was lucky to be at the right place at right time.
“The majority of our staff opposed scholarships. It was a real struggle deciding if we were going to do it or not. In the end, we awarded Illinois State’s first basketball scholarship in 1978 to Pat McKinzie.”– Jill Hutchinson, Illinois State Coach1st President and Co-founder Women’s Basketball Coaches Association
I played with an All Star cast of Illinois’ finest ball players who made me look good. The late Cyndi Ellis, late Charlotte Lewis, 1976 silver Olympic medalist, Vonnie Tomich, All Pro WBL, Cyndi Slayton and others like Annette Rutt (1967) who came before me paving the way including coach Jill Hutchinson.
On selection teams, try out camps, and in my brief stint in the short-lived, premier Women’s Pro League, WBL, I met other unsung heroes blazing trails in their home states. We had no idea we were making history; we just wanted a chance to dance on the hardwood.
Now 40 years later, I salute old rivals and teammates who helped pave the way for generations of young girls across the continent. These are but a few of the scholarship recipients (1975-79) that I was able to track down through the wonderful wacky worldwide web.
A teammate from the pros, Cathy Shoemaker, first scholarship recipient at University North Carolina and WBL Dallas Diamonds (1979-81) All Star, is now a physical therapist in South Carolina. She helped her team to advance to the AIAW regionals as a three-time AIAW All-State.
One of my college archrivals, who befriended me at Athletes in Action training camp in Colorado, was Betty Booker, the first athletic scholarship recipient at Memphis State University. She went onto become an award winning high school coach and later an assistant principal at Whitehaven High School in Tennessee.
Out west, one of the first scholarship recipients at the University Wyoming was another point guard, Cindy Bower, my teammate with the Washington D.C. Metros. Her young coach, Margie McDonald, also a groundbreaker, was a scholarship recipient at Wayland Baptist, Texas. Cindy went onto become a highly respected businesswoman, founder and CEO of Calibre Management Inc.
One of the biggest name player at that time period, Ann Meyers Drysdale was the first 4-year athletic scholarship at UCLA, 4-time All-American, the only woman to sign a contract with the NBA, Indiana Pacers, and first woman drafted in the first women’s professional league New Jersey Gems in1979. She became a successful sportscaster.
During the 1970s, my “full ride” felt like drawing the winning lottery ticket and helped my parents afford to put four children five years apart through college on teachers’ salaries. In turn, I gave back to the game, coaching high school players from around the globe at international schools in Europe, including one 6’2″ blue-eyed, dark-haired Franco American named Nathalie.
Years later, my daughter, returned to the States to combine academics and education. She played in a DIII Final Four at UW-Stevens Point under the tutelage of another pioneer, my former rival at UW-Lacrosse, Shirley Egner, the most decorated coach in the competitive Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Nathalie became the first MD in the family on either side of the Atlantic. Raise the roof for the young women of the 21st century, who never doubted their right to rise to the top.
Tall, smart, athletic…today you look up to shake hands with Dr. Lechault.
In your face, world! Who’s laughing now?
I grew up watching the New York Nicks and Los Angeles Lakers- loved those guys! You were born to make basketball magic happen for women!
Thanks Clara…I like that image making basketball magic happen!
Love this! And I can totally relate to two of the three . . . tall, smart, but never athletic, me.
WONDERFUL, Pat! May I post this article on my Facebook page?
Absolutely Chris! I would be honored. Hope to see you this summer if I make it over to the Twin Cities.
What a powerful post! Sometimes legislation really is for the good, and legislators really can get together and accomplish something worthwhile for us. I really hope their presence in competitive sports helps the younger generations develop with more confidence and authority. Thanks for writing this, Pat. I’m so impressed.
Thanks Lynne. I am only now understanding how great of an impact that legislation had in improving the lives of women. And I am also humbled by the efforts of the women who came before me and fought the battle to see that schools complied with the law to bring about real change.
Wow, Pat…what a blast from the past THAT was! We are a long-time removed from our bus rides/plane trips with the Washington Metros, getting bounced from our apartment in Alexandria, Va, and wondering where our next meal was coming from…all for the love of the game. Great to hear that you produced such worthy off-spring who continue to carry the torch for athletic and intelligent women.
Thanks Cath and in retrospect it is hard to believe that we really did endure all that…evictions notices, paychecks that bounced, and worrying about finding the next meal. Yes, we did pass that torch on to the next generation. woo hoo!
What a timely and important piece, Pat. I am happy to see so much coverage on the 40th anniversary of Title IX…..it was such a life changing piece of legislature. Your thought provoking blogs regarding Title IX remind us that we have come so far, and thanks to courageous trail blazers like you, women today can reap the benefits that participation in sports has to offer. P.S. I loved the photos!
WE HAVE COME A LONG WAY BABY! and what a ride its been!
Thank you and all the strong women who came before me to trail blaze the way into women’s Basketball! “Basketball Magic”…i love what Clara wrote! I guess that is why I and so many other women still play in the Silver Fox league (over 40). We still all feel the magic when on the court playing as a team! 🙂 #23 LIVES ON!
Pat, As usual, you leave me in awe of your achievements and passion to get the message out there. All you wanted was ” a chance to dance on the hardwood court” and you ended up breaking barriers as a “pioneer” and paving the way for all young women. And you didn’t stop there nor will you, I suspect as your own daughter lives out the values you have instilled in her. You must get your memoir out. I have no doubt your memoir will create the same inspiration you create in these posts and will echo into many generations. Brava!
Thanks Kathy…yes, the story that has sustained me through so many setbacks and detours needs to be told, for it is just one voice among so many that have been silenced. I continue to look to you to lead that way in bringing that memoir to life.
Having known you for several years, as well as your lovely daughter, this really brought tears to my eyes. Since I came back to the UK I felt the sexism firsthand in my patriarchal workplace calling itself a university. Sexism is, as they say, a ‘glass ceiling’, and when I rose to challenge it last year I finally became the woman I always wanted to be. I hope there will be changes in the wake of my imminent departure so that single, part-time mums can have an easier time of it. You are fearless and inspiring, and our daughters are feisty and inspiring, but they inhabit a ‘new’ world and play a ‘new’ generation gender game. I wish them luck… but I sincerely believe that we do help pave the way for them through simple modelling as women and mums. What a model you were for Nat – an amazing professional player and educator, as well as a really kind and loving mum. Keep those articles comin’ Pat – I lap up every word. Hugs, Rach xx
(P.S. Can’t quite believe Nat is 6ft 2″. I would love her to meet Imara who now stands at 5ft 9″ in year 8. Only one girl is taller in the whole year, and she happens to be a 6ft black descendant from two professional ball players!!).
Oh Rach, now wonder we always got along so well when we worked together, even though I was always stumbling on my two left feet trying to keep up as you waltzed around me so gracefully. Ah yes, even with all our advances, the ol’ boyhood network is still alive and well. But I also know that you won’t back down to anyone, so continue to blazing that trail in education. I, sure hope our daughters can meet someday and hope they appreciate that being tall is a blessing (except when it comes to flying!) Bisou back at you!