Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Guru Special: Remembering N.C. State's Linda "Hawkeye" Page

By Mel Greenberg

Somewhere back in time when Villanova longtime women’s basketball coach Harry Perretta was accepting an award on behalf of Shelly Pennefather, one of his former all-time players from his Wildcats teams of the late 1980s who later became a cloistered nun, he related that in a conversation he had, she mentioned to him that you never know sometimes how many other lives you many touch from something you do.

Surely, it is something to ponder with the news late Wednesday afternoon that announced that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had passed away at age 56 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Jobs, with his company’s technological innovations of such devices as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, as well as the growth of Mac laptops and desktop computers, certainly affected for the betterment thousands of lives of persons across the globe that he never met.

In the same manner it seems between the stretch drive of the end of the WNBA season, which could occur Friday night in Atlanta unless the host Dream find a way to rally against the Minnesota Lynx, and the start of the collegiate season, which is phasing into preseason practice, the Guru has been consistently running into stories, blogs, facebook announcements and tweets of women’s basketball notables who are making a difference in the lives of persons they may never meet.

On Wednesday Maryland posted a story at its women’s basketball website of a letter coach Brenda Freese wrote to a congressman, Elijah Cummings, about a situation associated with cancer patients and her young son, Tyler, who has been fighting leukemia.

It seems Frese discovered during Tyler’s treatment vital medicines fail to get into the hands of many patients because profits are not large enough for drug companies to offer them.

As a result of her letter, Cummings and his staff have launched an inquiry of the practice after Frese had stated someone should get the pharmaceutical companies to change the way they do business at the expense of those in need.

The revelation in August by longtime Tennessee coach Pat Summitt that she has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s launched a bunch of initiatives by former Lady Vols and others to raise money to battle the disease.

The WNBA Connecticut Sun’s Kara Lawson, who broadcasts women’s games on ESPN, is running in a marathon. South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has been tweeting fundraising efforts on behalf of the state chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

In Seattle, new University of Washington assistant coach Adia Barnes, who also is on the WNBA Storm’s broadcasting team, is sponsoring a 5K run/walk on behalf of a former UW men’s basketball player who has also been a Storm practice player who is fighting for his life.

Jayda Evans of the Seattle Times, the Guru believes, has details at her blog.

In another sense, the crowd of 15,134 in the Target Center Wednesday night in Minneapolis that saw the Lynx take a 2-0 lead on Atlanta in the best-of-five finals with a comeback 101-95 victory was the third largest in the franchise’s history following the second largest crowd by a few hundred more that attended Sunday’s opener.

It’s an example of how the Lynx, with their WNBA-best season run of 27-7 after years of mediocre brought joy to the Twin Cities populace, whose other pro sports teams hit the skids.

Atlanta, with its rise in the Peach Tree State the last two seasons, has done likewise and that will probably be reflected in the crowd at the Philips Arena Friday night for Game 3.

A week from Friday in downtown Philadelphia a red carpet premiere at the Kimmel Center will advance the new movie The Mighty Macs about former coach Cathy Rush and the Immaculata women’s team at the then-small women’s only (it is now co-ed) catholic school in the Western suburbs that won the first of three national titles to bring a new dimension to the campus and to the sport.

Rush’s efforts helped speed the sport into the modern era, even if many games were played in tiny gyms at the time.

And of course among a slew of other initiatives, of which those mentioned here are just samplings, has been the recently rebranded Play 4Kay, formerly Pink Zone, efforts of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association on behalf of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

The fund is named for the longtime Hall of Fame coach at North Carolina State who died in January 2009, after a length battle against breast cancer.

The Guru saved the mention of Yow for here to transition to a discussion of his daylong effort Wednesday to chronicle apparent sad news of a passing of a notable from one of the happier times in the Wolfpack’s storied history.

And this is about making a difference and touching lives across the board.

In 1981 a storied high school girls player in Philadelphia named Linda Page from the same Dobbins Tech that was to later produce Dawn Staley made headlines across the country when she scored 100 points in a game that broke what had been a record of 90 points from the city’s three leagues achieved in 1955 by one Wilt Chamberlain at Overbrook High.

Page shortly later or maybe shortly before said no thanks to four finalists recruiting her: St. Joseph’s, a local women’s collegiate power along with C. Vivian Stringer’s Cheyney squad; Tennessee, Old Dominion, and Louisiana Tech; and chose to go to North Carolina State for two reasons.

One reason was Yow and the other was that N.C. State was the school of Page’s favorite men’s player Charles “Hawkeye” Whitney, from whom the prolific shooter took her nickname and also wore his uniform number 43, which was later retired from the women’s program.

Page went on to become one of the all-time greats in Atlantic Coast Conference women’s history and she and Yow hit it off famously.

“She had said Kay was the only adult she trusted,” ACC associate commissioner Nora Lynn Finch related Wednesday.

Finch was then Yow’s top assistant and had started the recruiting process, which resulted in Page becoming the first big out-of-region star to join the Wolfpack.

“Kay loved her as a player and as a person and Linda later came to appreciate that.”

Mike Flynn, who coached Page in his nationally prominent Philadelphia Belles Blue Star AAU program, recalled saying to Yow, “Just do one thing – make sure she graduates.”

That occurred with Page getting a degree in criminal justice and after she returned from several years of international competition she became a junvenile parole officer for youngsters at-risk for 10 years in Philadelphia before she retired.

Page, who hard to believe was 48, in recent years started a shooting academy in Yeadon, a community in the western suburbs just outside the city limits and a year ago or so she reached out to the Guru after a longtime absence to invite him to a book signing for an autobiographical work she had recently completed.

Available on websites, it is entitled Love, Pain & Passion … The Heart of a Champion.

Now flash back to the previous 24 hours when the Guru last offered some previous posts at the blog(s).

Shortly before sunrise the Guru noticed a tweet with the words RIP and a reference to Page.

The Guru thought it strange since surely he would have heard some news. He checked with Jonathan, who also lives an all-night vampire life, but as one of the key operatives of the sports part of Philly.com, the website of both the Guru’s former paper – The Philadelphia Inquirer – and its sister publication The Daily News, to see if any coverage existed of her passing.

The answer was in the negative. The Guru then left a note for the posting tweeter, to try to track down the source. He also sent a note to his former boss at the paper, mentioning what was out there, but unconfirmed, but noting that if true, it’s a big story.

The tweeter poster, a good friend of the Guru who works in the media with women’s basketball as a broadcaster, later related than maybe it wasn’t true.

Meanwhile, since what’s left of the sports department is busy with the Phillies in the baseball playoffs, the struggle of the NFL Eagles, and the start of the NHL Flyers, the Guru was asked to make a another alumni guest star appearance and get on the case.

But that began a difficult day of trying to flesh the news and also produce a tribute in the same story since the Guru has ties with many contemporaries of Page.

Remember the Guru did not retire to mow lawns and he still operates from the journalistic traits practiced in his 40 plus years at the paper.

The result of that effort for the print section is over in Philly.com (don’t have the link) and perhaps the Daily News produced something – not posted yet as of this writing – since its longtime high school writer covered Page.

Actually, just checked again and the Daily News story confirms most of what the Guru is relating here and you can read their coverage also at Philly.com. Just search Page’s name inside the site to get to both stories.

But to continue the events of the Guru’s day on the case, as the morning wore on, many people were confirming variations that Page had died of a heart attack but also she may have been dead in her residence for a couple of days.

At the time of Page’s invitation to the Guru she said she was living in Yeadon but as the day wore on there was no police report out of the township.

One source said there’s no report yet because her body had not been officially identified.

“It happened, but we’re all waiting for the official word so we can proceed,” one person told the Guru.

Still, in the afternoon, N.C. State posted a notice at its website but had no details and indicated only that the athletic department had learned of her passing and then provided some reaction and its own tribute.

Late Wednesday night after publication, a colleague who could search names, found a potential match but Page’s residence if true was in Lansdowne.

But that is a quibble in that the township adjoins Yeadon and apparently Page moved there in late June of this year.

So, thus the difficulty until the Guru can learn more particulars as Thursday comes along.

The aforementioned behind-the-scenes is just to explain why details are a little ambiguous in the story, though as mentioned above the Daily News has more finite information.

But still, the important thing in all this, is not the Guru’s tale of his pursuits, but in keeping up with the theme of this blog, Page may now be in heaven with Yow, her collegiate coach, but here on earth the two will continue to impact numerous lives in a positive manner for years to come.

-- Mel

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