since a tall, young woman streaked across women’s basketball and swept so many up in her story.
As Maryland and UConn prepare to face off at the Garden’s Maggie Dixon Classic, I thought I’d take a moment to recall what made Maggie so classic.
Dixon first came to my attention on December 31st, 2005, when Army played #8 UConn at the Hartford Civic Center. Under the guidance of their new coach, the Black Knights made the first half interesting against a Husky team that included Ann Strother, Barbara Turner and a couple of freshmen: Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery. As was my wont, I tended to follow teams that played UConn and, because of some of the pre-game discussions amongst the media personas, I became intrigued by this story unfolding in upstate New York.
Dixon, who’d been an assistant at DePaul under Doug Bruno, had been hired 11 days before the start of the 2005–2006 season. Much to everyone’s surprise, she led Army to a 20–11 record, won the Patriot League in a memorable game, and earned the first NCAA tournament appearance for any Army basketball team. First her team, then the cadets at West Point, and then the women’s basketball world embraced her.
And then, inexplicably and heartbreakingly, she was gone.
Her story was well chronicled:
“I am extremely honored to be given the opportunity to coach at West Point and to be able to work with the quality of individuals that are in our program,” Dixon said at the time of her hiring. “I’m very excited about coming to a program that has a foundation for success already in place, and I look forward to the challenges of bringing that success to another level.”
March 15th, 2006: West Point Is Standing at Attention for Army Women’s Coach
When Army was 5-7, Jamie Dixon said, he told his sister, “Don’t despair, look on the positive side.” She did just that. After Army lost to Connecticut by 29 points, which followed a 17-point loss to Baylor, she told her players, “We’re just in the spot where we want to be.”
She said she received some quizzical looks. “But I said, ‘Look, we’ve played some of the toughest teams in the country — UConn, Baylor, Princeton — and we’ve played well, even though we lost,’ ” she said. ” ‘We’re just coming together as a team. We’re learning to play with each other. We’re gaining confidence.’ “
Then she told them what she has told them during timeouts in games in which they were behind, about overcoming obstacles: ” ‘You guys have gone through so much just being cadets, you’ve overcome so much in the program here, you can come back from 12 points down with 12 minutes to go, too,’ ” she said. ” ‘Let’s just start with cutting the lead to 8 points with 8 minutes to go.’
And they did.
March 16, 2006: Dixon siblings make NCAA tourney history
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon is taking his Panthers to the men’s tournament for a third straight year. Not to be outdone, little sister Maggie led Army to its first bid in the women’s field, six months after getting her first head coaching job.
“What can I tell you? It’s beyond belief,” said their proud father, Jim Dixon. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.”
Historical, too. The Dixons are believed to be the first brother and sister to coach in the Division-I tournament in the same year.
“It was never determined, ‘This is what you’re going to do, be the first brother and sister in the NCAA tournament,'” Jim Dixon said. “You never thought about those implications. But since this is what we’ve got, we’ll take it.”
March 17, 2006: Army coach is just like her team: tough when it counts
“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?
For that experience, she would tell you, but she’d be lying. So much, so fast at West Point was beyond her wildest dreams.
April 8th, 2006: Coach’s death shocks cadets at West Point
“She just came here this year but we all loved her, especially whenever she came on stage for announcements and thanked the corps and made us feel we helped them win,” said Cadet Greg Shaw, a 21-year-old junior from Montgomery, Ala.
Mr. Shaw, who sometimes traveled with the team as a member of the pep band, said Ms. Dixon was kind, energetic and grateful to supporters.
April 8th, 2006: Army mourns its Cinderella women’s hoops coach, dead at 28
“Maggie has been a credit to herself and to the mission of the U.S.
Military Academy,” he said. “Her presence here enriched the lives of
everyone. I will never forget the image of the cadets carrying her on
their shoulders as they celebrated the team’s Patriot League
“That lasting image will stay on everyone’s mind,” Beretta said. “She
was riding the shoulders of the cadets with a big smile on her face.
Anyone who knows Maggie, if you look at her face, she was happier about what that meant for West Point than for herself.”
April 8, 2006: Dixon, a Guiding Light for Many Sudden Death at 28 Stund Valley Family, Army Friends
Young, tall and striking, high heels seemed altogether unnecessary for Maggie Dixon.
While Dixon’s collection of some 50-odd pair of heels, from black pumps to fire engine-red boots, were the envy of the young women she coached, the men who cared for the basketball courts would cringe every time they would see Dixon stalking the sidelines, knowing she was leaving imprints on the wood floor.
As word of Dixon’s sudden death began to circulate Friday, it didn’t take long to realize that the 28-year-old North Hollywood native and head coach at Army made an impression with more than her shoes.
No matter whom she came in touch with over the years teammates, classmates, coaches, administrators, Army grunts or Valley girls she left a mark with her personality and passion.
April 8th, 2006: A Final Salute
Death is no stranger here. It is the United States Military Academy, Army for the less formal. The chapels here, for Catholics, for Jews, for Protestants, are used often to mark the deaths of young soldiers, male and female.
But even so, on a cold and rainy spring Friday, more than 670 packed the 550-seat Chapel of the Most Holy Trinity, which sits on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River. Mourners attending this memorial service had come to cry for and laugh about, to praise and honor Maggie Dixon, 28, not a soldier, a coach.
April 10, 2006: Remembering Army’s Coach
Even though I’d never met coach Dixon and only watched her and her Army team once or twice on TV this season, I can’t get her death or her life out of my mind. By all accounts, Maggie Dixon was remarkable young woman, funny, compassionate and wise beyond her 28 years. She was also without question on the verge of a great career coaching. It didn’t take very long, even watching on TV to know there was something truly special and unique about coach Dixon and the way she energized the entire Army athletics community.
April 11, 2006: Coach touched core of cadets
His plane had just arrived Monday afternoon in Van Nuys, Calif., a city and landscape so different from West Point, N.Y. An atmosphere so opposite of the stringent United States Military Academy.
But Kevin Anderson, Army’s athletic director, knew this was the area that Maggie Dixon called home. That today at St. Charles Church in North Hollywood, Calif., he and an army of family and friends say final goodbyes to Dixon.
This reassuring Army women’s basketball coach died Thursday from an arrhythmic episode caused by an enlarged heart and a defective valve. No warning. No clue. Just dead – shocking Army and the world of sports – at age 28.
“Maggie and I had become pretty close,” Anderson said via telephone from the Van Nuys airport. “I thought I was starting to get a little better with all of this. And then I read so many e-mails on the flight out here from people who did not know her, people who do not know us at Army. People who understood our pain. People who have been following her story. Our story.”
What a fairy tale.
April 15th, 2006: West Point burial locks in Dixon’s legacy at Army
“What Maggie Dixon accomplished here in six and a half months,” said Patrick Finnegan, Brigadier General and West Point Dean, “some people won’t accomplish in a lifetime.”
They’ll never look at women the same way here; that’s what Maggie’s brother, Jamie, said as he stood near the empty silver and black hearse from the William F. Hogan Funeral Home. Jamie is the big-time men’s coach at the University of Pittsburgh. He knows people who didn’t even realize women attended West Point.
They realize it now. They saw the clips of Dixon leading her Army team to the Patriot League championship, leading the academy on its first trip to the NCAA Tournament. They saw the clips of Army football players in fatigues storming the court as if they were taking a hill behind enemy lines, and throwing Dixon onto their shoulders for the kind of ride Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski never got at West Point.
April 17th, 2006: 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.
May, 2006: Maggie Dixon
I didn’t know Dixon, but like a lot of other West Point grads I followed the whole, sad saga of her death as best as I could on the West Point Web site, ESPN, etc.
In these days death is a fact of life for the cadets and faculty at West Point. That same week a young captain (and pilot of an Apache gunship) was killed in Iraq.
Somehow though, Maggie Dixon’s death was even more tragic, if that can be. After all, the military academy is in the business of training young men and women to lead our soldiers into harm’s way. But a basketball coach – and one who wasn’t much older than her players and in her first year as a head coach? It shows us how life can be totally unpredictable (and unfair).
The superintendent said she stood out as a leader in “a house of leaders” and that she left behind 20 more “Maggies.” One of her favorite comments to her players was “Adversity, ladies, learn to deal with it.” From their comments at her funeral and memorial services, she has made a lasting impression on all of them that they will carry for the rest of their lives – not a bad thing for someone starting a military career.
October, 2006: They’re playing for Maggie — Dixon’s presence hovers over Army women
Sometimes Margaree “Redd” King thinks her former Army basketball coach is going to walk through the door at any moment. Six months after Maggie Dixon died from heart failure at 28, the disbelief lingers.
“I feel like she’s off on a recruiting visit or something,” says King, a junior guard.
To various degrees, the players are still struggling with the loss of the vibrant woman who guided Army to its first Division I NCAA Tournament and changed their lives immeasurably during her short time on campus.
October 20, 2006: Army Women’s Team Trying to Move Forward
On a rainy September day, coach Dave Magarity invited the Army women’s basketball team to his house — the one that used to belong to Maggie Dixon.
He wanted to be sure the players felt comfortable with him living in the home where they’d spent countless hours with their former coach, friend and mentor, who died April 6 after suffering heart arrhythmia at the age of 28.
To help ease their pain, Magarity took a suggestion from his wife, Rita — an impromptu backyard memorial service.
November 13, 2006: In Classic Style, Army Pays Tribute to Dixon
In six short months Maggie Dixon taught these young women – who will go on to bigger and better things than basketball – how to spread their wings and fly.
Jim Dixon looked at a picture of his daughter calling out a play and said, “She had such beautiful hands.” Then in a moment of grief, he asked, as any father would: “Why did they have to take her?” No one can answer that question.
All we do know is that Maggie was needed here, and so deeply loved here.
January, 2007: For Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, the loss of his sister Maggie makes Chicago visit trying
The photo of Dixon being carried off the floor by jubilant Army players and fans was one of last spring’s most poignant images.
Meanwhile, older brother Jamie, in his third year as Pitt’s head coach, was compiling a 25-8 record and earning a third straight NCAA tournament berth for the Panthers. The Dixons were believed to be the first brother-sister tandem to take teams to the tournament in the same season.
Maggie Dixon was a visible presence behind the Pitt bench during the Big East tournament title game with Syracuse, her palpable nervousness a testament to family bonds. The term “feel-good story” was invoked more than once.
November 21, 2009: The Maggie Dixon Story: An Inspiring Legacy
Doug Bruno was getting fired up about an evening with the guys on a spring-fever kind of Friday night in May of 2000 when Blair Banwart hollered into the DePaul locker room: “Coach, there are a couple of tall girls that look like players standing at center court and they are asking to see you.”
Recruits, thought Bruno, and the nationally renowned women’s basketball coach finished his shower and quickly got dressed.
Little did Bruno suspect he was about to embark on a most amazing life experience as he walked out to the old Alumni Hall gym.
Instead of encountering prospects, Bruno would meet for the first time an extraordinary young lady named Maggie Dixon, who had driven all the way from North Hollywood, Calif. with a friend to join the Blue Demons’ coaching staff.
It was as if the 22-year-old Dixon—made up of equal parts moxie and charisma—was planning to shake Bruno’s hand, give him a resume and ask: “When do I start?”
October 2, 2009: Maggie Dixon’s legacy lives on
Every day, Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon is reminded of his late sister, Maggie, who died 3 1⁄2 years ago of a heart arrhythmia at age 28.
“It’s constant,” Dixon said earlier this week, as he was driving through Texas on a recruiting trip. “Every day, something or somebody will remind me.”
And that evokes conflicting emotions.
“It’s sad but inspiring at the same time,” Dixon said. “I’ve resigned myself to knowing that is how it’s going to be, and that’s a good thing. Her death continues to provide inspiration to people.”
Proof of that will be on display 1-4 p.m. Saturday at the Petersen Events Center, in the form of the Maggie Dixon Heart Health Fair, which, for the first time, will be part of Pitt’s annual basketball Fan Fest.
December 18, 2010: More than four years after Maggie Dixon’s death, basketball classic helps healing
There are certain times when Jamie Dixon feels the past five years have gone by quicker than he could have imagined. And then there are other times where the loss of his sister Maggie lingers in a mix of pain and confusion.
“In some ways it’s moved quickly, and in some ways it’s moved very slowly,” the Pittsburgh men’s basketball coach said last week by phone.
But despite the pain, this is a weekend he looks forward to.
With the fifth annual Maggie Dixon Classic tipping off this afternoon at Madison Square Garden, Dixon knows his sister’s memory lives on through the excitement and attention the in-season tournament in her honor has generated since she died suddenly in April 2006 of an arrhythmia from a previously undiagnosed heart condition.
April 8th, 2011: Maggie Dixon still revered for her impact
Micky Mallette hesitated to dial the number and ask. It was good news, which is something all of them could use, but who knew how Maggie Dixon’s parents would react?
Jimmy and Marge Dixon had 28 years with their youngest girl Maggie; Mallette and the Army women’s basketball team had only six months. But when the cadets huddled together for one last time, Maggie told them this: that it was the best time of her life. The team made pancakes together, danced and bowled and laughed. They took the United States Military Academy to its first NCAA tournament in basketball, and along the way, Maggie splashed pastels into a camouflaged world. And then she was gone.
But, as the ’62 West Point grad said – she left she left behind 20 more “Maggies.” Which made me wonder, “Where are they now?”
With a little help from google and some input from the West Point media folks, I can offer you some information on some of the cadets/players Maggie worked with:
Class of 2006
Currently: Deputy Project Manager at CACI International Inc, Washington D.C. Metro AreaMilitary
Previous: 1ABCT, 3ID, 1HBCT, 3ID, Fort Stewart, GA
As of 2010: 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.
As of 2007
At Stanford, the performance of Brooke Smith will be vital to the NCAA Tournament hopes of the Cardinal.
And in Baqubah, 30 miles north of Baghdad, in the playoffs of a makeshift league of soldiers of the 215th Battalion Support Brigade, 2nd Lt. Adrienne Payne will be expected to provide floor leadership by the Bravo Company Pitbulls.
The Pitbulls lost a playoff-tuneup game Monday night to the always-tough Charlie Company Witchdoctors, but in your bracket for the Camp Warhorse playoffs, you have to ink in the Pitbulls to go all the way. People who know Payne will caution you not to bet against her. They say she’s a leader.
Besides, Payne has her good buddy rooting for her.
“I opened my e-mail this morning to find a note from Brooke,” Payne said Tuesday via e-mail. “It definitely brought a smile to my face.”
Payne will try to catch news of Smith and Stanford via ESPN in the mess hall. In Army’s 2006 media guide, Payne names her favorite basketball player: “Brooke Smith.”
Current: Director, Imaging On Call, Greater Los Angeles Area
Previous: Served as an Officer in the U.S. Army for 5 years. Received MBA from Saint Joseph’s University in August of 2014.
Class of 2007
As of 2010: 1st Lt. Jillian Busch, of Fort Hood, Texas, to Capt. Brian Bourque, of Fort Bragg, N.C. The couple met while serving in Iraq in June 2008. Jillian is serving as the brigade ground maintenance officer in the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade. She will start her Captain’s Career Course in June at Fort Lee in Richmond, Va.
Currently: Human Resources Professional, New York area
Previous: US Army, Combined Arms Unit, 3rd Infantry Division
Class of 2008
Currently: stationed in Germany as a Telecom Systems Engineer, transitioning out of the Army in January of 2016
Previous: Graduated from in 2007 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Systems Management. Upon commissioning as a 2LT, was branched in the Chemical Corps. In 2010, she was selected by the FA24 branch. Telecommunications Systems Engineering (FA 24) provides the Army with a core of professional telecommunications systems engineers, who engineer, design, develop, install, implement, integrate, test, accept, and upgrade tactical, strategic, and sustaining base wired and wireless telecommunications systems and networks enterprise-wide at all levels of the GIG (terrestrial, air, and satellite) in support of Army, Joint, interagency, and multinational operations worldwide.
Currently: General Mills/Yoplait- Logistics
Previous: US Army, 2014, including Ft. Bragg, NC. Planned, coordinated, and resourced operations and training for Air Defense Battalion of 700+ personnel. Directly supervised 25 personnel.
Currently: Stationed at Fort Campbell KY as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Officer. CPT.
Currently: Stationed at West Point working in Department of Military Instruction. CPT.
Previous: Graduated from two of the most sought after and prided Air Defense Schools in the Air Defense Artillery branch: Air Defense Artillery Fire Control Officer Course and the Patriot Top Gun Course. The Air Defense Artillery Fire Control Officer course qualifies an Officer to conduct duties in a branch qualifying position at the Brigade Level. The Patriot Top Gun Course is designed to populate Patriot and Air and Missile Defense (AMD) units and selected AMD staffs with at least one individual with a “graduate level degree” in AMD Operations and Defense Planning. The Patriot Top Gun course typically has a 33% graduation rate. Stefanie was one of four personnel that graduated out of twelve students.
Currently: Financial Advisor at First Command Financial Services
Class of 2009
Currently: Company Commander for a Military Police Company at Camp Walker Korea. CPT.
Currently: Company Commander for a Military Police Company at Ft. Riley KS
Currently: Assistant Professor of Military Science at University of Wisconsin Stevens Point
As of 2010: Disarmed bombs in Afghanistan
And so now we come to tomorrow’s Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden (it’s on ESPN2 @ 8:30). I invite you to celebrate the athletes on the court as well as the athletes and coach who made such an impact.
And, if you feel inspired, donate: Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation: Maggie’s Legacy
The Dixon family made a firm decision. They would remember Maggie by honoring her passion—women’s collegiate basketball and their new cause—heart health issues, including sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). “We decided we would do everything we could to educate ourselves about sudden cardiac arrest, and then educate others,” says Jamie.
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