Mo’ne Davis pitches like a girl. A thirteen-year-old girl who throws a 70 mph fastball. The star of The Little League World Series may not even realize sports wasn’t always an option for girls like her.
Preston High School didn’t offer girls basketball in the 1960s. Or baseball. Or softball. The rumored reason was that a girl had died during a basketball game. That death proved to those who decided such things that girls weren’t constitutionally suited to strenuous physical activity. As a result, basketball for girls in anything more competitive than gym class was banned at my high school.
I wanted to play basketball. I practiced dribbling, doing layups, running no more than the two steps allowed in the six-on-six-girl, half-court version of the game played at Iowa schools. Actually playing a game competitively would remain a dream for me.
What I didn’t know in the 1960s, as I dutifully took my place on the sidelines as a cheerleader, was that the nation was on the verge of changing the game for all women with Title IX legislation, requiring that schools offer equal playing opportunities to women and men. Other women were not going quietly to the sidelines. Other women were fighting for the right to play. And winning.
One of those women, Pat McKinzie, had basketball in her blood. Her grandfather was nationally recognized college coach Ralph McKinzie “Coach Mac”; her father Jim Mckinzie was a championship team-leading high school coach. As soon as Pat could walk – probably even before – they were teaching her the game that became her passion.
McKinzie’s memoir Home Sweet Hardwood details her relentless pursuit to fulfill that passion. In high school when she had to give up hardwood time to boys who couldn’t beat her when she challenged them one-on-one. In college where she was the first woman to play in Illinois with a scholarship under Title IX. After college when she continued to push to play on professional teams in the U.S. and Europe.
“Before recruiters and TV highlights, women played ball, not to impress college scouts or become media darlings, but for our own entertainment. The only glory we needed was the game itself,” McKinzie says. When she played in the zone, men who played the game could not help but appreciate her skill and passion. She recalls a night when a player slapped her hand in front of his “brothers,” and said, “Give me five, white girl! Can’t jump, but you got game.”
Home Sweet Hardwood covers McKinzie’s entire sports career as she broke ground and broke barriers for herself and the girls who came after her. Girls like Mo’ne.
The story of how McKinzie continued to push to play, in the face of discrimination, broken bones, and a nearly life-ending auto accident is a story of heart and inspiration. Raised by people who believed and practiced gender and racial equity, McKinzie lived those qualities throughout her career and no matter where in the world she lived.
McKinzie’s writing style is as fast-paced, precise and fluid as she herself was when she took the ball down court and pulled up for a jump shot. The result is perfection: nothing but net.
If you played sports or wanted to, this book is worth reading. If you have a daughter or granddaughter who is playing sports, this book would make a great gift. It’s important for all of us to remember when we’re standing on the shoulders of women like McKinzie who had the passion to clear the path for the rest of us.