This piece originally appeared in the Women’s Sports Foundation newsletter in 1995. My father passed away in October 1994, just after I completed my internship with the organization.
You could say my father took a passing interest in my sports career. We threw anything that would fly: baseballs, softballs, footballs, basketballs, soccer balls. We made divots with pitching wedges and craters with shot puts. Dad cross-cut the diamond in our front yard to create our own Candlestick Park. I did my part by trampling the grass in the base paths and in the batter’s box by the wooden plate Dad had planted in the front of the swing set. In the winter, the slanted gravel driveway hosted dribbling and shooting contests, tactical discussions about offenses and defenses, and the occasional one-on-one game. Our house was my arena, the yard my stadium and my parents my coaches, umpires and fans.
Although my mother attended nearly every game and with my father coached many of my teams as I grew up, Dad and I were inseparable. Sports gave us the opportunity to build a special relationship that many fathers and daughters never experience. His physical and emotional support were major factors in my development as an athlete and as a person. He taught me to be confident in my abilities, to persevere even when the odds were against me, and to respect my opponents as well as my allies. Although I learned these skills on the field, they have been invaluable in the classroom and the office. From the time I could swing a bat, Dad took me to the high school baseball diamond and pitched to me, ducking line drives and dancing around ground balls. Sometimes, though, he couldn’t get out of the way, and I would wince at the sound of a not-so-softball on bone. Before retrieving the ball, he would point to the place between his eyebrows and say, “Next time, I want you to hit me right here.” My father never let gender stand in the way of my competing in any sport. When I was eight, I wanted to play baseball. Dad encouraged me to try out for the city league even though I had been discouraged by many local baseball officials. Surprisingly, I was the first pick of the draft, and I soon grew accustomed to being the only girl in the league. When I was 10, Dad volunteered to coach a boys’ soccer team so I could play on a more competitive level. He continued to support and encourage me in high school when I wanted to play boys’ golf instead of volleyball.
My fondest memories are of our trips to the sporting goods store. The search for the perfect shoe, the feel of the soft leather batting gloves on my hands, wrapped around the handle of one bar after another. Dad taught me about the different types of leather grains in fielder’s gloves: “Always get the one that’s been on the rack the longest,” he would say. “Let everyone help you break it in.” We picked out everything together: soccer balls and basketballs, a backboard and rim, cleats and sneakers. He involved me in every equipment decision except one: a full set of catcher’s gear and a mitt when I was nine years old. He and my grandmother gave it to me before my first Little League baseball season.
I enjoyed sharing my accomplishments with my father. When I was named a softball All-American as a sophomore at Muskingum College in Ohio, Dad walked around for months with a big grin, saying, “An All-American as a sophomore. That’s just great!” When I was a senior, the Muskingum women’s basketball team earned a berth in the Final Four in Minnesota. It meant so much to see my parents in the stands, watching me play in two games that, until then, I (and they) had only dreamed about. The following week, Dad flew to Florida to watch my softball team’s spring training. It wasn’t my play that made the week special, it was the fact that my father was there. We relived the Final Four, discussed the mechanics of my swing and enjoyed our time together. My father’s involvement in girls’ and women’s sports went beyond a love of watching me play and coaching my teams. In the years after I graduated from college, he volunteered as an assistant coach for the high school soccer and softball teams, coached a junior high basketball team and assisted with the summer high school softball team. So much of what I am was influenced by my father: my determined mind set, my competitiveness, my ability to lead quietly. In my 20-year, 10-sport career, my parents missed about 25 games, most of which were long-distance games while I was in college. He passed away late last year, but not before passing on his love of sports to me and many other young people. As a father, coach, umpire, and fan, he will be greatly missed.