The 9th annual Maggie Dixon Classic (has it really been that long?) was another great event. First, and foremost, it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves exactly who was Maggie was and the powerful impact she made in such a brief time.
“In a house of leaders, she stood out.”
– Army Superintendent Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr.
I became aware of Army women’s basketball after they played UConn on December 31st, 2005. Back then, the Huskies were broadcast on CPTV, and the broadcast team of Bob Picozzi and Megan Pattyson made a effort to speak to the opposition’s coaches about their program and share that with viewers. I was intrigued by what I heard and, in what became an ongoing effort to diversify my women’s basketball awareness, I started following the team. As they started winning, so did others.
From Ira Berkow: West Point Is Standing at Attention for Army Women’s Coach
Dixon, who credits her assistant Dave Magarity with easing the transition, was named Patriot League coach of the year. Now Army, seeded 15th, is preparing to face second-seeded Tennessee on Sunday in Norfolk, Va. On Friday, Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh will face Kent State in the first round of the men’s N.C.A.A. tournament.
Part of the interview process at Army had Dixon meeting with the team. ”It was lunchtime, and they had just come in from formation, wearing their blue-and-gray uniforms, and a few of them had sabers dangling at their sides,” Dixon recalled recently. ”It was very impressive. Then one of the women proceeded to open her cellophane-wrapped sandwich with the saber. I was taken aback for a moment, but then she, and the others, laughed. I thought, ‘I just might like this place.’ ”
From Adrian Wojnarowski, March 17, 2006: Army coach is just like her team: tough when it counts
There were a lot of people thinking that, at 28 years old, she was looking for trouble. Deep down, she believed something else. Yes, she was sold on the possibilities of West Point. Mostly, she was sold on herself.
“I thought this was an opportunity of a lifetime, but people wondered, how are you going to recruit there?” Dixon says. “How will you do it? To me, this is an institution that just has so much to offer.”
Five months and 20 victories later, it’s strange how the perspective of coaching women’s basketball at the United States Military Academy changes as you’re sitting on the shoulders of the Long Gray Line, bobbing in the air at Christl Arena after the Patriot League Championship game, a scene unlike anything ever witnessed in West Point basketball.
Why did she take this job?
From the AP, I’m guessing Doug, April 6, 2006: Army enjoying newfound fame
Army’s women’s basketball team is becoming quite the craze as the huge underdogs prepare to meet Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Not only at West Point, where the players and coach Maggie Dixon were carried off the court by cadets after winning the Patriot League tournament to earn their first NCAA berth, but seemingly everywhere they go these days.
At a restaurant in Virginia on Friday night, fans yelled “Go Army” as the team shuffled in. Supporters honk, yell and wave from cars when they see the team outside.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Megan Vrabel said Saturday. “Absolutely amazing.”
And then, suddenly, horribly: Maggie Dixon, Army Women’s Basketball Coach, Is Dead at 28
From Adrian, April 17th: Dixon’s death cuts short a championship-caliber life
Maggie Dixon had been a storybook coach of the storybook season, hired from DePaul just days before the start of preseason practice, winning 20 games and making her brother and her the first siblings ever to make the NCAA Tournaments together as coaches. “This is such a great story,” she said that day in the hotel suite.
And without warning — without anything but the cruelest of fates — the Dixon family was back together on Thursday at the Westchester Medical Center where the most vicious of nightmares was unfolding. Maggie Dixon, 28, suffered an arrhythmia heart episode on Wednesday at West Point, leaving her in critical condition in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
Thursday night, she died at age 28.
Maggie’s death sent shockwaves of grief across the West Point campus and through the ranks of women’s basketball who’d so embraced her and the women she coached. But years later, her influence was still being felt as ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill chronicled in 2011: Maggie Dixon still revered for her impact – Five years after her death, the Army coach continues to touch peoples’ lives
Mallette, a captain on Maggie’s one-and-only team at Army, is married now and lives in Albany, N.Y., where she’s finishing up her first year of law school. She’s the only one from the 2005-06 squad not on active duty, long ago forced into a medical discharge. Her bad back allowed her one of the closest views to Coach Dixon, which is the only name they call her to this day. Coach Dixon saw how much Mallette loved the game, how much she was hurting. She let her play sparingly — enough to feel part of the team — and the rest of the time, Mallette sat beside her to watch and learn. They were all so young. Maggie was only six years older than Mallette, kind of like a big sister or a cool aunt.
“She’s somebody you meet for five minutes and feel like you have a best friend forever,” Mallette says. “She had that aura about her. You got drawn in, and you didn’t want to let go.”
This is a story about a woman who died too young, but still has been able to influence so many, even five years after her death. People like Mallette, who, despite her doubts, still picked up that phone and called the California area code to Dixon’s parents. Would they remember her? Would they approve of her request?
Read Merrill’s piece, and you’ll realize how extraordinary Maggie’s family is. Consider all they’ve done since their daughter/sister’s death: Maggie’s Legacy
Since then, Jamie, their sister Julie Dixon Silva and parents Marge and Jimmy Dixon established the Maggie Dixon Foundation, which works to promote women’s collegiate basketball and “to bring awareness to sudden cardiac arrest among young people, especially athletes.” The Foundation hosts the Maggie Dixon Classic, which began at West Point and is now conducted annually at Madison Square Garden. “We wanted it to be the premier women’s basketball event in the country, and it quickly became that,” says Jamie.
They also host the Maggie Dixon Heart Health Fair. “Once we established the Maggie Dixon Classic and had a venue, we quickly recognized we should create a heart health fair. We saw an opportunity to promote heart health (diet and exercise), heart screening and SCA awareness, including CPR-AED training.”
If you feel moved to do so, I invite you to donate in support of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation.
I can’t imagine their pain will ever go away, and yet every year they show up to an event that can only remind them of their loss. And every year they are gracious and generous to those they know and total strangers who reach out to them. I should know, because I had a chance to speak briefly with Maggie’s sister, Julie.
This year’s Classic not only honored Maggie’s legacy, but women’s basketball past – a game with a direct link to UConn’s head coach. From Doug, Maggie Dixon Classic honors history of women’s hoops at MSG
Geno Auriemma fondly remembers one of his first trips to Madison Square Garden when he was an assistant at Saint Joseph’s.
He was given $20 to take the train to New York from Philadelphia and scout Immaculata and Queens College. The two schools were the powers in women’s basketball at the time. Only a few years earlier, those two schools played in the first women’s game at MSG in 1975 in front of nearly 12,000 fans.
That game was part of a men’s-women’s doubleheader on Feb. 22. Most of the fans had left the building by the half of the men’s game between Fairfield and UMass having seen the thrilling 65-61 win by Immaculata.
There will never be anything not awesome about dancing nuns in college sweatshirts.
Lots of people there for both teams, and I loved it. There’s something subconsciously dissonant about nuns wearing college sweatshirts with their coifs, but it’s a good kind of dissonance. (After the second game, I saw some of them being taken on a tour of the Garden. Strangely adorable.)
If ever there was a link between the formative past of women’s college basketball and its fanciful present, it was when the teams from Connecticut and Immaculata came together Sunday between games of the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Immaculata had just been defeated by Queens, 76-60, in a 40-years-later rematch between the teams that played the first women’s college game at the Garden in February 1975. Connecticut, the dominant team of its time and the holder of a record nine national championships, was about to run its record to 12-1 by handling stubborn St. John’s, 70-54.
Stewart is especially long and elastic, an athletic wonder who has made an impression on Lucille Kyvallos, the coach of Queens in the 1975 Garden game, which Immaculata won.
At 82, Kyvallos flew in from Florida to reunite with several of her former players, who were introduced at halftime of the morning opener. She said she was avid viewer of the women’s game on television, especially of Connecticut and Stewart.
“She’s so long,” Kyvallos said. “She does things we couldn’t imagine women doing when I was coaching.”
Tuck, Stewart and Jefferson lead UConn women past St. John’s, Register
“We’ve been incredibly fortunate to play in the Martin Luther King game for it seems like the last 20 years and the Jimmy V Classic, too. Both are huge, very important. But this game is more personal for me because I knew Maggie and I know her family.”
There are moments in sports when the message, and very often the messenger, are bigger than the game.Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden was one of those moments.Except for No. 2 UConn’s predictable 70-54 victory over St. John’s in the Maggie Dixon Classic, this day was all about the unexpected.Next year will be the 10th anniversary of Dixon’s death, a weeping, black armband for women’s college basketball. The game still mourns Dixon, the Army coach who climbed a stepladder at West Point and cut down a comet, all the way to the program’s first NCAA tournament berth.