Top 10 Highlights of my Final Four Basketball Tour

2014-03-18 04.07.17_copyDuring media interviews and community speeches culminating with my keynote speech at the NCAA Final Four Banquet, I held center stage and had a chance to share the story of the pioneers. Here are my top ten memories riding the emotional roller coaster of my first Final Four.

1. My former Illinois State University coach, Jill Hutchison, whom I hadn’t seen in 35 years drove 10 hours to surprise me. From the front row at the banquet, she gave me the thumbs up and just like driving the baseline long ago, I nailed the performance under her benevolent eye.

2. My daughter, the first doctor in the family, illustrated the true evolution of women’s rights. “In 1970, less than 8% of physicians were women,” Nathalie said in her speech. “My med school class at the University of Minnesota was about 50% female. I’m privileged to have grown up at a time where my gender was not a major handicap to pursuing my dreams, and Title IX played a big part in changing things for the better.”

3. Young athletes, who never fathomed that there was day when girls had to sit on the sideline, sat up straight and listened when I talked about the trials pioneers endured to reach the pinnacle of our women’s NCAA Final Four.

4. The NCAA Chair, Dave Martin told me, “Awesome speech!” Better yet, he promised to pass my book, Home Sweet Hardwood, on to the next generation, his daughter

5. Beth Ball, the CEO of Women’s Basketball Coaching Association, echoed my words and gave a nod to Jill, cofounder and 1st President of the WBCA and to the late Betty Jayne, its first CEO. I felt the profound impact of being a part of history.

6. Shirley Egner, DIII Wisconsin’s winningest coach, a rival back in my college days, became an ally when my daughter played for her at UWSP. The Final Four cemented our friendship.

7. My book was displayed in a university bookstore right along with the Pointer T-shirts, baseball caps and college apparel.

8. I saw firsthand female basketball players dive for loose balls, bump under the boards, and knock down jumpers while fans applauded every action; male peers cheered the loudest.

9. I was interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio Route 51 to the background beat of Sweet Georgia Brown. That was same song the jazz band played when I was a child watching the boy’s basketball team warm up, praying one day girls could play, too.

10. The people who hear me chat all the time on the phone and during holidays – my sisters, brother-in-law, and kids – traveled a combined 2200 miles to hear me speak. My son, a history major, nodded in approval and told me I got the facts right. Now how cool is that?

A special shout out to UWSP’s director of general education and history professor, Nancy LoPatin-Lummis for making it happen. While watching her 12-year-old daughter’s basketball game, Nancy realized that had she wanted to play when she was child, her dad would have to court and fight for the right to participate. Nancy wanted her daughter to appreciate the opportunities available to girls today. Her epiphany inspired UWSP Title IX and Access to Opportunity lecture series celebrating the evolution of women’s rights leading up to their hosting of the DIII Final Four Basketball Tournament.

After a week of celebration where I felt like I had landed in basketball heaven, I flew back to Switzerland where no one had heard of March Madness. I went into withdrawal because I could no longer fill in brackets, follow teams, and watch games. But, hey, only another 300 some days until the next Big Dance.

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Posted in education, inspiration, social view, sport.


  1. You really convey the weight of this event in your words, Pat. I don’t follow basketball, but through your blog and book I have come to know you, and your blog post for some reason has me on the verge of tears. I think it’s because, from reading the book, I know what hell you went through at times in your youth as you strove to keep playing in spite of injuries, and then that horrendous car wreck. But even on top of that was the lack of support, the near-starvation, the confusion and fear of being in a league that was so new it almost didn’t exist. In essence, the whole history of womens’ rights is interwoven with your own personal journey. Finally, the love – to see your beautiful, accomplished kids and the friends with you, and your book on that table! It’s just got to be one of the most wonderful memories of your whole life. I am so happy for you.

    • Lynne, I am so glad that you felt I conveyed the weight of the event because as you said, the history of women’s rights was interwoven with my own personal journey. I wanted to find the right words to honor those who came before me and stood beside me and helped us to get where we are today. It was a surreal experience and also very humbling to witness how far we have come. As a fellow writer and author, you know that exposing one’s soul on the page is as challenging as any athletic endeavor, so I truly appreciate all the insights and support that you have given me.

  2. Pat, when I think of all you had to endure –as portrayed so powerfully in your memoir–to get to where you are now is awe-inspiring. This gave me chills, in a good way. Loved the slide show. I could hear “Sweet Georgia Brown ” playing as you scored this big one. Brava!

    • Thanks, Kathy, and even though you weren’t there, I felt like I was representing you too because I know how much you would have loved to play back in the day. The memoir writer’s journey is every bit as grueling as the pioneer one, so I appreciate your leadership on that front also.

  3. Thanks for the top ten, I understand why the ten hour drive from your former coach was #ONE. That had to be so awesome to see her!!

  4. You are so awesome. Amazing. Wonderful and marvelous. Wow!

    Tonight is a big night in our house. My husband went to University of Wisconsin. He’s thrilled the Badgers are playing in it tonight, and so happy for Bo Ryan. We’ll see if they can beat Kentucky.

    Basketball for men and women. I love today because you filled out that last sentence for me! xo

    • Thanks, Cathy. The game was too late for me to watch with the 7 hour time difference, but I was rooting for Wisconsin in my dreams. So sorry to see they lost…Bo is a class act.

    • Thanks for pulling all the loose ends together to make it happen. It was truly a celebration of female athletes. Oh yes, and another highlight was meeting your lovely family. Hope they are all on the mend.

  5. Pat,
    I am so bad in responding to all of your wonderful writings. You are a gifted writer and I read many. I feel fortunate to call you a friend of many years. I wish we saw each other over all of these years. We have an annual February gathering with the college girls at my home each year. if you ever thought you might be in during February, I would totally organize the date around your visit.

    Congrats, on so many accomplishments. You daughter is beautiful and I see very accomplished as well.

    know that I think of you FAR MORE than I communicate!!

    Sharon (Georgeoff) Frys

    • Sharon, thanks so much for taking the time to write. I often think I am sending off my stories into the giant cyber void. Unfortunately, I am never back “home” in February…this year was exceptional to be back in March for the speaking engagements BUT hopefully in another a couple of years I will be retired and can make it to the ISU family reunion. It’s on my bucket list!Let me know if you ever get across the Big Pond. I appreciate your friendship and so glad we can keep in touch long distance!

  6. I just KNEW you’d nail it, Pat — congrats! I know you enjoyed being with your Stateside family and friends once again, and I know they were thrilled to have you back. Thanks for bringing us full circle on this story — I was hoping you’d post the epilogue, ha! How awesome it must have been, seeing your book displayed in that university bookstore and knowing an entire new generation of young women won’t have to suffer as you did — that must have felt great!!

    • Thanks, Debbie. It is always great to be back in the States surrounded by loved ones and to be back during the Madness of March was like landing in basketball heaven. So glad that you enjoyed the book. I have appreciated your support long distance and I hope that one day we will meet in person.

  7. I think you could come up with a top 100 list easily of your NCAA Final Four Tour and we would all be fascinated and begging for more! I’m glad I was able to see you play in high school and to see how you went on to blaze a trail for others to follow! I would recommend to others who have not read your book, Home Sweet Hardwood, to do so now! I would tell them it’s an inspirational and breathtaking adventure of a young girl who would not give up her dream, no matter what the odds were against her. It will have you laughing and cheering and other times crying and pleading with her to stay down! I can not explain in words the many emotions one will experience in reading this well written and easy to read book! So, keep the blogs coming and thanks for the memories!

    • Thanks, Rocky. Nothing is more gratifying to a writer than knowing a reader gets it. As Native American, I know you understand the pain of discrimination and as a former journalist, you also know the anguish that goes into to putting words on paper. I appreciate the support you gave me back in the day I was fighting to be recognized as an athlete and the encouragement you give me today as I share my story.

  8. Sista!

    Super proud and thrilled I could be there right by your side for part of the BIG DANCE! I just know your story is NOT over yet….. more to come for sure and won’t it be an adventure to see what happens next! Love you mucho and proud of you to pieces!
    “You still got Game sis!”

    • Oh sis, from the Golden Girls to the Illinois State Redbirds, with you on my team, how could I ever give up. Thanks for being with me every step of the way.

  9. As your Top 10 highlights point out, it was a spectacular week for so many reasons. And it was such an honor for us to share in the events. Who would have ever imagined that when you were first blazing the trail 40 years ago, you would one day publish a book about your journey and then speak at a Final Four? Your message continues to inspire and motivate and I am so very, very proud of you. Thanks for shining your light on all of us. Love you, Sis.

    • From editing pages, to planning my wardrobe, to styling my hair, to finding venues, to taking book orders, I could never go on tour without you and Cliff. Thanks for believing me ever since we were kids sharing the same bunk beds. The Final Four was fabulous, but sharing it with my sisters by my side made it extraordinary!

  10. Pingback: Call Me Coach – A March Madness Epiphany | X-pat Files From Overseas

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