Friday, April 21, 2006

A Very Different Take On West Point – Loyalty, Excellence, Sacrifice: A Salute To Maggie Dixon

This article comes from the a weekly West Pont e-mail newsletter, entitled “Gray Matter,” written by J. Phoenix, Esquire. I found the story so moving and compelling that I felt I needed to share it with readers of The White Rhino Report.

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She had spent only half a year of her young life coaching women'sbasketball at West Point, but it was a memorable six-and-a-half months. This assistant coach from DePaul came to the Academy as one of several candidates for head coach, and not the first choice at that. But she had a certain spark that induced Director of Intercollegiate Athletics KevinAnderson to take a chance on an animated young woman who had graduated from the University of San Diego in 1999 with hopes of playing in the Women's National Basketball Association but turned to coaching at the suggestion of her big brother Jaimie, now head coach of the Pittsburghmen's basketball team.

At a school noted for discipline, Maggie Dixon could be a disciplinarian on the court and off. She was the field general of the team that she inherited just weeks before the season began. But at a school not noted for nurturing, she also could be a big sister to her team, convincing them that if they could deal with Beast Barracks and the demands of the plebe system at West Point, they could do great things on the basketball court as well. Her quarters were always open to her team members, and she was there for them 24/7. To back her up, she chose a man twice her age, Dave Magarity, a former long-time men's head coach from nearby Marist. Together, this contrasting coaching duo eventually took the Army women's team to the top, but things did not start off that well.

Near the halfway mark of the season, Army had posted an unimpressive 5-7mark. Encouraging her team to hold their heads high and do their best, she went to the Cadet Mess Hall to speak to the Corps and encourage them to come to the games and cheer on her team. Most had other things on their mind than women's basketball. But as Maggie spurred the team on towards the 20-11 record that would win the Patriot League regular season title, the Corps began to listen to this dynamic young woman only a half dozen years their senior. By the time of the post-season Patriot League tournament, more cadets turned out to cheer, and when Army's women beat Holy Cross in the finals to win the tournament and a first-ever appearance in the NCAA post-season March Madness, the cadets hoisted her on their shoulders and carried her around the Christl Arena basketball court. At a later appearance in the Cadet Mess Hall, she received a standing ovation.

A loss to powerhouse Tennessee in the NCAA opening round did nothing to defuse the excitement. Army had a winning coach who turned an average program into a thing of beauty without having had time to unpack her bags or do any recruiting. Army now had another coach who could get the best out of a team by understanding, guts, and sheer leadership. Then, on 5 April 2006, Maggie Dixon collapsed at a friend's house at West Point and was evacuated to Westchester Medical Center. The prognosis was not good. Both her family and her team gathered to say their goodbyes, and Maggie died on 6 April without having regained consciousness.

The following day, a Memorial Service was held at the Chapel of the Most Holy Trinity at West Point. An autopsy revealed that Maggie died of an irregular heart beat caused by a previously undiagnosed enlarged heart.

On 11 April 2006, a funeral service was held at St. Charles Borremeo
Roman Catholic Church in California, with the women of Army's Patriot League Championship basketball team in attendance. Then, at the completion of the service, as Maggie's coffin was borne down the aisle,the team stood at attention in cadet uniform as their coach passed enroute back to the East Coast. Her parents had been childhood sweethearts in Throgs Neck, the Bronx, before moving to California in 1966. Now, after LTG Lennox offered a plot at the West Point Cemetery as an exception to policy, the family agreed that Maggie would make another cross-country trip back to New York. A burial service open to the public was held at 11 am on Good Friday, 14 April 2006. Again the women's basketball team stood at attention, along with Maggie's family and several hundred others wishing to pay their last respects. After Father Edson Wood completed the burial service, the team filed by, kissed the coffin, and said their final good byes.

As the mourners departed the historic cemetery where Scott, Thayer, Custer, Buford, Goethals, Michie, Bunker, Blaik and others rest in hallowed ground with younger graduates who gave their lives in more recent wars, rain began to fall. Maggie was home.

After her stunning first season as head coach, it was inevitable that Coach Dixon would be courted by other schools proffering more lucrative contracts than the Academy could hope to match. But Maggie had told the Superintendent that she would stay the course at West Point. And she did just that.

Well done, Maggie.

Be thou at peace.

Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire

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Al Chase

1 comment:

jsavard said...

Al,

GREAT story ... It is so WONDERFUL when an individual/leader touches the hearts and souls of young people.

LTG Lennox - Good on you!

Warm regards,
Jim Savard