The Quiet Legend, The Intense Teacher, My Coach, Anne Donovan

Tags

, , , ,

Sweat, Pain, Tears. Those are the things I remember most vividly about playing under Coach Donovan. We worked hard. We were always sore, and as a freshman and sophomore, I shed a lot of tears in my dorm room trying to figure out if I had made the right decision to play basketball at East Carolina University.

20 years later, when I think about playing for Coach, I barely remember the sweat. I cannot recall the pain. I don’t remember the tears. I only remember the love, the professionalism, the character, and the life lessons she taught me.

It is funny how time has a way of showing you what really matters. As a freshman and sophomore at ECU from 1996-1998, I was too immature, too narrow-minded, and too stubborn to realize that I was in the presence of Greatness. Of course, I was aware of Coach Donovan’s great accomplishments: Olympian, Naismith Player of the Year, National Collegiate Champion, one of the world’s most decorated women’s basketball player. I just was not aware of her inner greatness-her heart and character. That’s what she gave us each and every day. She gave us her heart wrapped in discipline, integrity, commitment, and poise.

As a rookie collegiate player, I could not appreciate that. All I focused on was the pain-the pain of leaving my family for the first time, the pain of being out of shape and unprepared for preseason workouts, and the pain of trying to learn the game of basketball as opposed to just playing the game of basketball. There is a huge difference, and Coach was determined to make sure we understood the game line by line, principle by principle.

She was an excellent teacher of the game and she coupled that with discipline. For Coach, you could not separate the two. If we were going to be great, we had to be disciplined. Our workouts were rigorous. I can remember so vividly, her watching our individual workouts. She would stand at the top of the key looking much taller than 6″8, arms folded, work out agenda folded under her right arm, khaki shorts with no noticeable wrinkles, crisp purple or white ECU polo collared shirt, whistle dangling, eyes laser-focused on our routines: “You have to crash to the post hard. Do it again. Do it again. Is that game-like? Do you really think that is game-like? Do it again.”

Along with the fundamentals and physical discipline, Coach focused on the mental. Coach was always having talks with me about focus. I would come into practice one day looking all-conference and the next day looking all-defeated. She had a problem with my inconsistency-the way I approached the game. I just thought she was trying to change me-that she didn’t like me and didn’t believe in me. It was during one of these moments of being in my feelings that Coach really demonstrated to me that I was wrong.

She knew my birthday was coming up and she asked me what I wanted for my birthday. Without hesitation, I asked her to have breakfast with me at Krispy Kreme. I had an 8:00 am class so we would have to have an early breakfast. I am not sure if Coach was even an early bird, but she agreed to meet me around 7:00 am the next day or so for a birthday breakfast. I still don’t know why I made that exact request. I was partially testing her just to see if she was being serious, and another part of me really just wanted to get to know my coach better.

In all my time at ECU during and after my playing career, I have never driven by the Krispy Kreme on 14th street without thinking about me sitting and watching my sharply dressed, laser-focused coach walking into those doors to have a donut with me. I remember her joking that I must be special for her to be up that early. I don’t even remember if we actually ate a donut, but I do remember that we talked about life, school, our families, everything but basketball. It was a defining moment for me. I left feeling so proud and happy about my day. We had practice that afternoon, and Coach acted no different. She demanded our best, penalized us for not giving it to her, and demanded our best again. Yet, that day was different because I realized Coach wasn’t pushing us beyond our limits to torture us. She pushed us beyond our limits because we had set the bar too low and she knew we were capable of so much more. She was right. We were.

Donovan passes_1528948053593.jpg_45413948_ver1.0_640_360.jpg

If you think the story turns into a happily ever after, it doesn’t. At the end of my freshman year our record was 13-16. The next year, we were 9-19. From a purely statistical perspective, there wasn’t much good to reminisce about. Those were tough years from a basketball perspective. There are no team records to speak of. No championship banners were hung. No jerseys were retired. I think everyone was glad to get to the end of that 9-19 season. Losing is never fun and in spite of our hard work and the foundation that was being laid, we just weren’t winning.

And that is why losing Coach so unexpectedly and so suddenly hurts so much. For so long I had viewed those two years of my collegiate basketball career as losses. But when my sister, Chasity, called to tell me Coach Donovan had passed, I realized what a real lost felt like. It is still hard to describe that pain.

I wish I could go back to that 18 year-old kid and have a one-on-one with her in her dorm room. I would tell her how blessed she was to be coached by Anne Donovan and her entire coaching staff: Coach Jinny Doyle, Coach Charisse Mapp, and Coach Danielle Charlesworth. I would tell her to suck up those tears, and stop complaining. Many people dream of playing college basketball. Few achieve it. Enjoy it. Enjoy it to the fullest.

CoachD

I would also tell her one more thing. Enjoy Coach Donovan. Make all the memories you can. Visit her office as much as you can. Learn all you can. One day, you’re going to look back and regret that you didn’t take full advantage of having access to one of the greatest players and person that the basketball world has ever known.

Unfortunately, I can’t go back and visit my 18 year-old self and that is okay. I’d much rather follow in the footsteps of my coach and pay it forward by inspiring my family, being committed to my friends, and impacting young people through the game of basketball and more importantly, the game of life.

People will often forget what you say to them. Rarely, will they forget what you did to them. Coach, thank you for what you did to me…you instilled in me the keys to success-hard work, dedication, mental toughness, consistency and most importantly a relentless drive to be better than the day before.

Those lessons have proven to be priceless and they are the true essence of the legacy of Anne Donovan. She gave her best not just to basketball but to people. That type of humility and excellence is rare in our world of “whats-in-it-for-me.” We truly were blessed with a beautiful gift in Anne Donovan and I will cherish that gift for the rest of my life.

Rest in peace, Coach. You fought the good fight.  You have finished the race.  You have kept the faith.  Thank you.  See you on the other side.

Danielle Melvin Koonce,

#00, #35

 

Advertisements

Black Panther, My Boys & One Billion Dollars

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Around December of last year, my oldest son, RK, came home from daycare and asked for a Superman costume. We had never mentioned Superman to him and we hadn’t watched any Superman movies or cartoons with him, but for the next few days he consistently asked for a Superman costume. I shrugged it off as something that he had picked up at daycare. No big deal, right? Wrong.

The problem with RK’s request was that his father, Richard, was completely against it. Admittedly it is rare for my husband to go completely to the “no” stage so quickly with the boys so I pushed him on it. His answer was simple: “The only superhero the boys can wear is the ‘Black Panther’.”

blackpanther_image1

I tried to push my husband a little bit. I told him that we could not force RK to like Black Panther. It should be a natural process. Richard didn’t budge. I suggested he purchase RK a Superman costume and purchase our younger son, Jimmy, a Black Panther costume so that we could have both representations in the home. Richard still didn’t budge. He just kept telling me, “once the movie comes out, you will see. He will like it.” This only led me to start another debate as to whether RK at the age of 3 should even watch the movie, “Black Panther.” Yet, my debates had no impact on Richard. His mind was made up. Our sons would be Black Panther fans whether they liked it or not.

Meanwhile, RK continued to ask every few days could we get him a Superman costume. Each time, I responded with the ancient parental response of “we’ll see” while Richard just pretended like he hadn’t even heard RK’s request. Talk about stubborn…

Finally, February arrived. By this time, RK had pretty much stopped requesting Superman paraphernalia. He would sometimes mention Superman but Spiderman, Batman, and the Paw Patrol were all now in heavy rotation. Personally, I didn’t think it was looking good for Black Panther. There were no Black Panther cartoon figures to associate my son with the character. None of the fast food restaurants that kids quickly learn to love had created toy versions of the Black Panther to give away with their kid’s meals. Disney Jr., Nick Jr., and PBS Kids carried no shows even remotely similar to a Black Panther hero. Yet, my husband was emphatic. Black Panther would trump any and every superhero figure that RK could possibly mention. Personally, I couldn’t see it, so I decided to do something that as a wife I have occasionally found difficult: Be quiet, let it go and trust Richard’s decision. And then the movie came out…

Richard and I dressed up in our best Wakanda-themed garb and along with my sisters and brother, caught the movie on its opening weekend. Needless to say, we were pumped.

DanielleRichardBP

Pumped is actually an understatement. We left the movie theater on this all-natural, organically Afrocentric, Black-centered, Africanistic high that could not be contained. Richard’s chest could have exploded. I think I floated out of the theater with visions of Black excellence swirling in my head. For two hours and 15 minutes, we had just been exposed to everything we knew we could be in all its glory and all its flaws. We watched the film channel our inner Killmongers as we grappled with a nation that never wanted us, systematically left us behind, and treats us often as a threat to its own security. We beamed at the beauty, strength, and brains of Nakia, Okoye, and Shuri as they demonstrated what Black women have long known…that at our best, Black men become their best…and when we shine, the whole Earth wins.

I kept trying to sum up my expressions and the only thing I can really think to write even in this blog is that, “I wish I would have had this movie when I was a kid.” I would have imagined myself as Shuri. As a kid, I was the one that asked for a chemistry set for Christmas. I am certain, Shuri would have been my shero. She was smart, pretty, confident, funny, and she could fight! I would have been obsessed with Shuri the way some girls obsess over Barbie or Elsa or whoever their favorite television or movie characters might be.

shuri-1

My musings hit me like a ton of bricks. Characters like Shuri and Okoye were not available to me when I grew up. There were no young, Black female cartoon/movie figures that spoke to my intellect and my body image. There were no Nakia’s to affirm dark skinned beauty and there were even fewer T’Challas who froze in the presence of that beauty.

To be concise, Richard was right. Clark Kent, Peter Parker, and Bruce Wayne could wait. We have had decades and decades and decades of White male superheroes and their alter ego narratives being fed to us through television, movies, and clearly daycare centers across the nation. As parents, we wanted to introduce our sons to a new superhero-a superhero that reflected them. We wanted to, as Richard explained to me, “make sure our boys didn’t see themselves as an afterthought.”

This past Saturday, Richard took the boys to see “Black Panther” but not before buying both of them Black Panther masks and figurines.

BPantherToys

I packed up a great big bag of snacks, diapers, wipes, sippie cups, cookies, extra clothes and underwear…all the things I could think of to help Richard keep them focused and prepared for the duration of the movie. I even offered a few times to keep Jimmy home with me, but he wanted to take both of them so I passed on the bag of goodies/potty items and sent them on their way.

On the way home from the movies, Richard called me on speakerphone. I could barely hear him because the boys kept yelling, “Mommy, Mommy, Black Panther!” RK tried to tell me the entire movie in 2 sentences…”he fighted and hitted him and the bad guy was sad, Mommy…and, and, and, and, and Shuri was fighting… and the Black Panther is not bad, Mommy.” Jimmy who is not yet in command of full sentences happily tried to repeat some of the phrases of RK: “Mommy, fighted..Black Pantha…”

RKJimmyBPanther

When they got home, you would have thought it was Christmas. Richard was as proud as a peacock as the boys clinched their Black Panther figurines like we had given them the world. Richard told me during the movie RK stared at the screen like he was in a trance while Jimmy grew restless after the first 45 minutes.

That night, both boys slept with their Black Panther figurines. They held them while they ate breakfast the next morning. They took them to church which almost became a disaster when RK left his in the children’s classroom. Also, the figurines have become my new go-to disciplinary action. If you get out of bed, no Black Panther. Don’t eat your veggies, no Black Panther. Who knows how long this Black Panther phase will last, but for us, Black Panther has accomplished exactly what my husband knew it would accomplish. The boys at very young ages have been able to see a version of themselves on the big screen. For them Chadwick Boseman becomes the new Christopher Reeve and in their minds he will always be the Black Panther. Will he be their only superhero? I doubt it. Will RK ask for Superman and Spiderman paraphernalia? Probably. The point was never to control our son’s taste or preferences. The point was to control his exposure.

This is why no one in the Black community is surprised that “Black Panther” has grossed over one billion dollars in movie sales. Representation matters and representation sales. Children soak up images like sponges. Those images send them messages about life, relationships, gender, power dynamics and cultures. Black Panther, the figure, and “Black Panther” the movie, provide new images and create new messages. Clearly, Richard got the message before I did, and that’s okay. It is coming through loud and clear as I write this blog. Besides, I have my own message that I want to send the boys. With or without Black Panther, there is one superhero that is a necessary fixture in their lives-their father. He’s the real life hero that the boys need more than anything. They may be clutching their Black Panther figurines today, but in the future it will be Richard’s words and actions that they will hold most dear. So, while Richard keeps his eyes on the bigger picture, I will stay focused on the tangible picture right in front of me, a dad and his two sons. And we can both keep building our legacy, one image at a time.

RichardandBoys

Black History Moments: The Finale

Black History is American history and by failing to remember the good and the bad…future generations lose momentum..

On the last day of #BlackHistoryMonth, I want to reconsider Black History along two lines: 1) the era of slavery and Jim Crow-an era that lasted over 300 years

and 2) the post-Civil Rights era-an era that is roughly 55 years old.

Let that sink in…300 years of separation and segregation compared to 55 years to try out liberty and integration. What other group of people in the history of people have had to endure such major contradictions in a country that isolated them completely from their native home, native languages, religions and customs?

Any historian could tell you that the odds of success would be slim to none. And yet, Black History illustrates over and over again that Black folks beat the odds over and over and over again. Of course with these highs there have been stubbornly persistent lows. There have been achievements and setbacks…

activism and new visions…

and Change and Hope presided over a nation for 8 straight years.

Black History is an incredible journey and the best thing about it is the fact that it is just getting started!
Cheers to you as you carve out your own piece of Black History. There are plenty of great chapters still left to write!

#BlackHistoryMonth
#TheGoodAndTheBad
#300YearsofOppression
#55YearsofOpportunity
#WriteYourChapter
#MarkYourEra
#YoureUpNow
#YoureUpNext

Black History Moments

Black History is American history and by failing to remember the good and the bad…future generations lose momentum…

When Marian Anderson applied to a school of music in Philadelphia, she was rejected solely based on the color of her skin. Yet, her talent could not be contained by skin color or racism. Anderson’s voice was considered the greatest musical voice of her generation and in spite of not being accepted to formal music schools, Anderson became the Queen of opera and arias. In 1939, Anderson was invited to sing in Washington, DC before dignitaries and elites, but the Daughters of the Revolution who owned Constitutional Hall refused to allow Anderson to sing there because the hall was for “Whites Only.” The organizers than tried to rent a public high school but it too refused based on its “Whites Only” policy. Accustomed to rejection, Anderson collaborated with Eleanor Roosevelt and several Black activists including Charles Houston and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and they arranged a public concert for Anderson on the National Mall in front of the Lincoln monument on Easter Sunday, 1939. Over 75,000 people of all colors gathered to hear the great Anderson sing, and over 2 million people listened over the radio. Anderson, essentially laid the foundation for the March on Washington that occurred in 1963 and she was asked to sing at the event demonstrating that her actions 24 years ago had not gone unnoticed. Anderson chose a very fitting song to sing that day, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” confirming to the audience of over 250,000 that rejection by man is no match for acceptance by God.

#BlackHistoryMonth
#SingBlackWomanSing
#MarianAnderson
#Legend
#MarchOnWashington

Black History Moments

Black History is American history and by failing to remember the good and the bad…future generations lose momentum…

This film director, producer, screenwriter, and film distributor probably hasn’t even hit her stride yet, but she is already breaking barriers in the film and movie industry. Ava Duvernay is the first Black female director to have her film, Selma, nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy award. Her documentary, 13, was also the first documentary by a Black female director to be nominated for an Academy Award. Her current film, A Wrinkle in Time, makes her the first Black film director to direct a movie with over a 100 million dollar budget. What is even more amazing than Duvernay’s film accomplishments is her path to film making. An English and Afro American studies major at UCLA, Duvernay hoped to go into journalism but then turned to public relations and started her own PR firm, the Duvernay Agency, in 1999 as well as many other business ventures. It wasn’t until 2005 that she made her first short film and the rest is history. Duvernay is a good Monday morning reminder that your day job does not define you. Your dream is what truly defines you. Work the job until it is time to work the dream!

#BlackHistoryMonth
#AvaDuvernay
#BlackGirlsRock
#WorkYourDream
#WrinkleInTime

Black History Moments

Black History is American history and by failing to remember the good and the bad…future generations lose momentum…

Long before Tiger Woods entered the golf world, Charlie Sifford was breaking barriers and making the road easier. A prolific golfer, Mr. Sifford was the first Black man to gain entrance to the PGA, an association that had a “whites only” clause in it’s bylaws. Although other Black players tried to integrate the PGA it was Sifford who after 9 years of unsuccessful attempts, finally broke the color barrier in 1961. Sifford credited Black athletes such as Joe Lewis and Jackie Robinson as helping him stay determined in spite of the death threats, hate mail and continual denials to the PGA. In 2004 Sifford became the first Black person inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Tiger Woods referred to Sifford as “the Grandfather I never had,” and in 2014 at the age of 91 and one year before his death, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

#BlackHistoryMonth
#CharlieSifford
#BarrierBreaker
#PGA
#Respect

Black History Moment

Black History is American history and by failing to remember the good and the bad…future generations lose momentum…

W.E.B. Dubois is one of the greatest minds ever. He was the first Black to graduate from Harvard with a PhD. He also attended Fisk University and the University of Berlin in Germany. He co-founded the NAACP, he is considered the Father of American Sociology, and he was an activist, prolific writer, and Pan-Africanist. Born in 1868, Dubois experienced 19th and 20th century life as a Black American. Highly educated, the doors of the eminent universities would not hire him. He coined the phrase, “Double Consciousness” and explained that Black Americans lived a twoness experience in America…one as a Negro and one as an American. Writing in 1903, Dubois felt that being Black and American and trying to reconcile the two experiences would be difficult. Dubois hoped for it to be “possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.” 105 years later Dubois’ double consciousness is still relevant and scholars and intellectuals continue to debate his words and legacy.

#BlackHistoryMonth
#WEBDubois
#ProphetScholarActivist
#DoubleConsciousness

Black History Moment

Black History is American history and by failing to remember the good and the bad…future generations lose momentum…

Feb. 23 will always be a special day of Black History celebration because Geneva Estelle Lamb Ellis was born on this day in 1926. Gebo as she was affectionately called represents a generation of strong, determined, practical and beautiful Black women who had to navigate between two worlds…the world that their parents groomed them in-a world of segregation, lynching, disenfranchisement, deference to all things White-and a world that their children, grand and great grand children would be groomed in-a world of new opportunities, Civil Rights, affirmative action, Black power and Black pride. Gebo, like all of these grand-mothers did the best they could bridging the gaps between such different generations. Their advice and wisdom emphasized manners, cleanliness, getting a good education, loving God and treating people right. They disdained lying lips, women who kept dirty homes and men who wouldn’t work. They churched hard, gardened harder, saved any and everything, and gave to everyone in need. They healed with aloe plants, spider webs, snuff, pine needles, castor oil and red clay. And they loved. They loved unconditionally, matter of factly and unfailingly. They raised their own, their neighbor’s children, their grands and a few greats on incomes that could barely sustain one person. And in spite of it all, we are here as testaments to their commitment and faith. For their sacrifices, their tears, their pain, I salute my Gebo and all the Black grandmothers like her who became the backbone of an entire generation. Your living was not in vain. Make sure their living was not in vain.

#BlackHistoryMonth
#GrandMothers
#Gebo
#RestingInHeaven

Black History Moments

Black History is American history and by failing to remember the good and the bad…future generations lose momentum…

This is a picture of what separate but equal looked like. The Black man seated at the desk outside the classroom is George McLaurin. He was the first Black student admitted to the PhD program at the University of Oklahoma and to attend the school he had to sue for admission. The practice was that if Black students applied to public White colleges and universities, rather than admit them, the White institution would pay for the Black students to attend the nearest Black college or university. McLaurin already had his Master’s degree and wanted to obtain a doctorate. The only PhD program was at Oklahoma so McLaurin sued to attend. Yet his admission came with conditions. All of his campus experiences-his dining experiences, library visits, bathrooms, athletic seating- would have to be segregated. McLaurin decided enough was enough. With Thurgood Marshall as one of his lawyers, he sued the University of Oklahoma again claiming the segregated class experience prevented him from an equal learning experience and his case made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1950. The Supreme Court sided with Mr. McLaurin and this marked the beginning of the end of segregating public schools, colleges and universities. Although Mr. McLaurin did not finish his PhD program at Oklahoma, his courage and commitmemt to endure the extreme isolation and exclusion that he experienced is a testament to his strength. Salute.

#BlackHistoryMonth
#GeorgeMcLaurin
#SeparateAintEqual
#PhDLife
#BreakBarriers
#BlackMenRock

Black History Moments

Black History is American history and by failing to remember the good and the bad…future generations lose momentum…

Black History has been made once again in the 2018 #WinterOlympics! This Nigerian bobsled team became the first African nation to compete in the bobsledding event marking what will perhaps be the beginning of a new era. Teammates, Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga raised money to sponsor their trip through Go Fund Me. In addition to a tough financial challenge, the women found themselves without a coach or a bobsled a week before their history making moment after the coach abruptly quit. Yet, they persisted and with much support they found and purchased another sled to use for the competition. Although these real-life #Wakanda women warriors finished last place in their first ever Winter Olympics, they have already torn down barriers for others to follow in their footsteps. They also remind us that the path with the most resistance is usually the path that will lead to the most success!

#BlackHistoryMonth
#AfricanBeauties
#WakandaWarriors
#Trailblazers
#Persist
#Nigeria