Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Lady and Coach

Back in February, the Mannions went down to West Point to take in a basketball game, Lehigh against Army. Lehigh trounced the Black Knights, 69-44. Army sank 30 per cent of their shots. Just about every ball they put up hit the rim. Nothing would drop.

Meanwhile, Joe Knight of Lehigh hit four 3-pointers.

Before the game one of the Army players was brought out on court to receive a scholar athlete award. His little old mother stood beside him and looked up at him beaming with pride as he was given his award. She was presented with a bouquet of yellow roses. To show you how perspective works---we ran into his "little" "old" mother at halftime, still carrying her roses.

She wasn't much older than I am.

And she was at least as tall as I am.

Her son is not one of the taller players on the team.

Most of the Black Knights were shorter than most of the Mountain Hawks. Probably none of these guys are big enough to play professional basketball when their college careers are done.

Of course, the Army players have something else ahead of them anyway.

Looking at that player getting the award, a senior, and then looking around the arena at the other cadets there, the ones on the court and on the bench, the ones in the stands, many in their dress grays because they were escorting a group of special ed kids to the game, I couldn't help wondering which of these young men and women would be in Iraq next year and which would not come home.

I wasn't being deliberately morbid. It's just impossible to visit West Point and not be reminded of the fact that some of these kids will die soon. The basketball team plays in a building named for Major Donald Holleder, Class of 1956. Holleder lettered in basketball and made All-America in football while at the Point.

He was killed in action in Vietnam in October, 1967.

The basketball arena inside the Holleder Sports Complex is called the Cristl Arena.

Named for Lt Edward Cristl, Class of 1944. Captain of the basketball team his senior year. Killed in action in Austria in 1945.

I think it must be hard to be a coach or a professor at West Point and look at your players and students and not think, Which one? To be talking to a cadet and not think, Will it be you?

I wonder if Army Women's Basketball Coach Maggie Dixon ever wondered when she watched her players on the court. She probably did her best to put it out of her mind.

I'll bet none of her players ever looked at her and wondered about her. I'll bet none of them, thinking of what's in store for them after graduation and wondering what will happen to themselves and their friends expected that their very young coach would be the first to go.

Maggie Dixon collapsed last Wednesday. She died the next day. She'd had an enlarged heart and problem with a valve, undiagnosed because she'd never had trouble from them before apparently.

It was her first year as coach. While the men's team struggled, the women's team had a great season. Dixon led her Black Knights to a 20 and 11 record and was named Patriot League Coach of the Year.

She was 28.

Here are some other stories about Dixon:

Dixon's passion shone through during short stay at Academy.

How others saw Maggie Dixon.

Six memorable months.


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