Friday, April 07, 2006

Maggie Dixon

The saddest stories in the sports world are the people with unrealized potential - stories that are written far too often. The greater the unfulfilled potential, the sadder the story.

Usually there are choices involved and a sense of regret, after the years passed provide wisdom and a chance to ponder, What if?

Some people never get that chance, and those are the saddest stories of all.

Maggie Dixon had just embarked on a collegiate head coaching career. In one season, she rebuilt Army's women's basketball program into champions of the Patriot League; with the title came an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament - a place the Academy had never gone.

The Black Knights were a low seed, and the tournament committee did them no favors by scheduling a first-round match against Tennessee, a women's basketball powerhouse for longer than Dixon's 28 years.

Predictably, upstart Army was no match. The Lady Vols won 102-54.

But the foundation was set. Dixon was on her way towards building her own powerhouse and establishing herself as a good bet to land a big-time job.

We'll never know how Army would have fared or if Dixon would have chosen to continue her career elsewhere. Less than a month after her team's first venture to the NCAA Tournament, Dixon died on Thursday afternoon after a sudden episode of an irregular heartbeat. At 28, her time was up far too soon.

She will be missed. She gave us a feel-good March story that rivaled only George Mason's men's team reaching the Final Four.

As the reaction begins and we try to make sense of it, the stories emerge about her personality, her drive and a warm relationship with her family, which includes her brother Jamie, Pitt's men's basketball coach.

It's too soon to understand what kind of legacy she will leave. Surely the players at Army and DePaul - where she coached under Paul Bruno before leaving for West Point - will carry on her memory and her spirit.

But even those of us that never met her can carry something from what she left behind.

After her brief WNBA career ended - she was cut by the Los Angeles Sparks after a collegiate career at San Diego - she drove from L.A. to DePaul, where she waited for Bruno to interview her. She had no coaching experience, but knew what she wanted.

In five years, she had risen to Bruno's top assistant through her dedication and hard work.

Had she been content to let the waters float her wherever they may, she might not be remembered as a coach; she might be remembered as a coach's sister. But she possessed the initiative and seized the opportunity.

That's one of the things we can learn from her. Though it's an adage that has been repeated often, Dixon's life re-inforces it for those of that need a refresher: Opportunity knocks only after we show it which door to approach.

The other primary lesson - though it shouldn't take the death of a young coach to remember this - is to live each day to its fullest. Tomorrow is no guarantee. Dixon had gone to a friend's house for breakfast, according to her brother. There, she said she didn't feel good, collapsed and never woke up.

Dixon's stunning death will leave a wake of sadness for her family, her players and the coaching brother- and sisterhood. But to allow those waves to simply ripple to the shore would be the greatest injustice to her legacy.

Carpe diem. That may not have been Maggie Dixon's signature quote, but her life and her actions tell us that's how she lived her life.

1 comment:

ME said...

Wow Huss. That belongs in the paper, not here.

I liked the quote from one of her players that said "Thanks to Maggie's short time with us, there are now 20 Maggie Dixon's running around." She was a great teacher apparently.

Your opening lines about possibilities cut short is why I admire & respect Roberto Clemente so much.

RIP Maggie.