2014 marks the 10th year I’ve operated the high-tech telestrator for ESPN at the NCAA Women’s Final Four and the 4th year at the WNBA Finals. It all started by getting involved with a start-up technology company in 1995 — The Coach’s Edge — where I learned to operate technology in the production truck to highlight plays and strategies of the game for television.
There is nothing quite like the death of someone special to force you to pause and reflect on what’s important in life. Over the course of the past four days, three people who impacted my life passed on.
On Monday night, after I completed a broadcast of another great women’s basketball game, I received the news of the passing of Betty Jaynes. Betty was one of the founders of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and its first and long-time Executive Director. Betty would have loved to have been at the game I was at on Monday. Lisa Bluder, the Head Coach for the Iowa Women’s Basketball program for the past fourteen years, earned a win for her program that placed her as the all-time career wins leader at the University of Iowa. She surpassed the legendary C. Vivian Stringer who built the Iowa women’s basketball program into a national power in the 1980s and 90s. There was a special ceremony following the game honoring Lisa and she quickly brought her long-time assistant coaches and friends Jan Jensen and Jenni Fitzgerald to her side. It was a night of celebration of all the hard work it takes to be a successful basketball coach.
Betty Jaynes and her peers established the WBCA in the early ‘80s when women’s sports transferred from being under the supervision and care of the AIAW into the world of the NCAA. The women’s basketball coaches of that generation understood the importance of uniting coaches so that collectively they could have a voice when critical discussions would take place, and decisions made, to impact our game. The WBCA created an annual convention surrounding the NCAA Women’s Final Four where coaches could come together to celebrate their seasons, experience personal and professional development and meet and discuss important issues.
That’s where I was first introduced to Betty and the WBCA – as a graduate assistant coach attending the 1991 WBCA Convention and Women’s Final Four. It was a life-changing experience for me to interact with coaches from across the country with whom I had a similar love and commitment for advancing women’s basketball. Later on, as the Executive Director of the 1998 NCAA Women’s Final Four, I worked with Betty and Beth Bass to host the WBCA convention in Kansas City.
Over the years, Betty’s title changed at the WBCA, but her role was always as an advocate for her coaching colleagues to serve those in the profession that were so dear to her. All coaches and athletes, and former coaches turned broadcasters, owe such as debt of gratitude to Betty Jaynes for dedicating her life to the world of women’s basketball AND all of us can learn so much about committing ourselves to causes and people who are important to us, to leave our own legacy.
On Wednesday night during another broadcast, I received a text that 18-year-old Kori Quinn has passed away the night before. I first met Kori at the 2010 WIN for KC Luncheon where she was honored with the Inspiration Award. At the tender age of 14, she was already a cancer survivor. She was an athlete, soccer was her primary sport, that used sports to help her battle the aggressive form of cancer she’d been dealt. I had the opportunity to interview her on my radio show and was so impressed with her poise, her passion and beautiful spirit. Even as she battled, she chose to help others and developed her own foundation IROK (Kori backwards) to raise funds for cancer research, but more specifically, to provide immediate support for pediatric cancer patients. Two years later, we interviewed her for our SHEKC publication. She had just learned the cancer had returned and faced another devastating battle ahead. Her attitude and strength were amazingly inspirational. For all she faced, she was positive, strong and courageous. My heart is broken for Kori’s mom and all her family and friends.
On Thursday, as I prepared for another game broadcast, I received news of yet another friend’s passing. Jim Carmichael, a senior executive/producer at NET (Nebraska Educational Television) Sports died suddenly working at his desk preparing for a broadcast. Jim Carmichael gave me my very first opportunity to be a commentator on a basketball broadcast. NET Sports had broadcast University of Nebraska women’s basketball and the Nebraska Girls State High School basketball tournament since the early 1980s. When I coached at Nebraska in the early 90s, NET would broadcast three games each year, showing a real commitment to women’s sports when many others weren’t on board, yet. When I left Nebraska in 1995, and left coaching, I contacted Jim Carmichael and his associate Steve Alvis to inquire about possibly being an analyst on one of their broadcasts. I said “I don’t have a broadcast journalism degree, I’ve never worked on TV, but I know the game, know the team and like to talk,” and asked if they’d give me an opportunity. With the limited amount of credentials I presented, Jim took a chance and gave me a shot … and my life was changed forever.
The first time I put on a headset and described the basketball game I was observing, I knew I’d found my calling. When I left coaching, I worked with a sports technology start-up company called Coach’s Edge, which was an incredibly cool job to have. I also was asked to be the Executive Director of the 1998 NCAA Women’s Final Four. My education and skills allowed me to do various things from event management, marketing, education and speaking, but my passion is and always has been, basketball – I love talking about basketball and the players and coaches that dedicate their lives to it. If Jim Carmichael hadn’t taken a chance and allowed me to try it out, on live television, I may never have gotten to travel down this path.
My schedule built up over the years and a few years ago, I wasn’t able to go back and do my annual NET broadcasts because of other assignments. But, in 2011, Jim reached out to me when he saw me doing play-by-play on a national broadcast—I still have the email. He wanted to congratulate me on my career and get reconnected. Thankfully, I was able to tell him how much he meant to me and how grateful I was that not only did he give me that first chance, but he was patient, supportive and gave me great advice that helped launch my career. He provided me many assignments in those first years to allow me to develop my skills to be ready for the next level. This year I went back to do my first NET broadcast in a few years and worked with a new producer, but thought of Jim and Steve and the doors they opened for me 19 years ago and how it changed the direction of my career and my life. It’s people like Jim Carmichael who open the doors for others. We can all learn from his leadership by giving people opportunities when we’re in a position to do so, and mentoring and nurturing them to be successful.