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.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Guru Tribute to Mary Jo Haverbeck I: "There's a Woman at Penn State ... "

By Mel Greenberg

"There is a woman at Penn State, who is handling their women's sports. Her name is Mary Jo Haverbeck and you should give her a call. She has a lot of resources ...

Those were the words of newly-arrived sports editor Jay Searcy to The Philadelphia Inquirer from the New York Times to your much younger Guru in the late fall of 1975 as part of Jay wanting to ramp up women's coverage and helping the Guru get connected with people Jay knew from writing a women's sports column at The Times.

The Guru complied and thus began what became well beyond a routine newspaper reporter-athletic department relationship that continued for what is approaching four decades.

On New Year's Eve just before the arrival of 2014, word was suddenly buzzing out of nowhere on the social internet of Mary Jo's passing, though most of us didn't even know she had been ill.

Apparently just before Christmas she went in for an operation for a brain tumor and Monday a week ago she had been taken off life support.

But she was actually still with us when the clock struck midnight though what was learned the next morning was it was not going to be for much longer.

However, the sorrowful news was compensated because the many of us who knew and adored her could start preparing for the eventual but sad developments on the horizon and collect our thoughts for the homage to come.

And in a way Mary Jo making it to late Monday night this week was a good thing becaue rather than being left behind in the close of the books in 2013, for the next 12 months we can say she was with us in 2014, however short of time it was.

Funeral services are Thursday at Penn State and though many can't be there -- your Guru will be -- the technology that she so embraced allows us to hold our own world-wide memorial service right here on the internet.

After reaching out through the Guru's networks, a flood of responses came back and so, instead of only a few maybe getting to speak at the church on Thursday, we are going to proceed right here.

Your Guru is going to speak here first and most of the react follows in the post below this, though a few words from others are included in the Guru's ending.

Given the flood of emails that came through Linkedin, Facebook, regular emails and twitter messages -- and to think we were using typewriters when we first met -- it has taken most of the day and into the night to figure out how to go about this.

So be prepared for long, long reads, but of course you can pause and then go back where you left off. And for those of you who intended to join the conversation, still submit what you want becausse there will be some follow-ups.

The Guru is not going to give you all background and honors because they abound from others and he is going to offer some tales of our relationship over the years.

But just like you can go into a viewing where mementos of a well-rounded life adorn the room, we can do that here through the magic of links to what others are doing and Mary Jo's own pages.

Understand, because the Guru is working at his psuedo fedex headquarters using his two iPads, small pc, and a smart phone to look at multiple screens and because of the blog platform, you may have to copy the links into the urls.

Memory Lane

So if you want to take a break before the Guru begins, here's the link to the Female Athletic Media Relations Executives site F.A.M.E., which is on facebook: htttp://wwww.facebook.com/FAMEnews.

Tam Flarup at Wisconsin has posted a bunch of photos there from CoSIDA conventions and major sporting events that were worked.

And here is Mary Jo's personal page which offers her resume, accolades, and other items. http://www.personal.psu.edu/mjh11.

(The guru just tested it and the access that was there is not, so it could be others are dealing it but the guru will update when getting info.)

Tam is also putting things up on her pages, Barb Kowal is coordinating CoSIDA operations and that might cover everything.

Mary Jo and the Guru

But for now let us begin.

There were several reasons anyhow to get to know Mary Jo because at the end of 1975-76, Penn State was going to host the 16-team, mega-format national AIAW tournament finals, which, of course, Immaclulata from back here was still a major factor, though the Mighty Macs' string of championships had stopped the year before when Delta State came on the scene at James Madison.

Throughout these posts and elsewhere you are going to read about the pioneer that was Mary Jo, which is all true. But there is a time when pioneering ceases to be and the case of Mary Jo, she was more than that -- she was as contemporary as anyone could get.

Following so-called retirement, Mary Jo learned how to function on the internet, create websites and was even the editor of the Penn State athletic department web page, according to the university.

The Guru can tell you it was always double fascination when the Guru would travel up to Happy Valley -- "Mel, where did you get that recorder?"

"Mary Jo, how did you get all those women's basketball sites centralized."

(Incidentally, the Guru just tried to link to cup of coffee and was blocked so someone up there is probably guarding the pages.)

When the Guru broke word that Jay was pushing him to start a Top 20 poll, MJ (there's more than one with those initials and it will be easier moving forward in this writing to go with the initials), was delighted.

Why? Because if it takes off, athletic departments were going to have to hire women as sports information directors to deal with the media with the poll bringing attention to programs.

Understand when the Guru started in our world, there were three females -- basically -- doing those media duties in athletic departments: MJ, Rosa Gatti, the first female working as the head overall of the entire PR department where she was hired at Villanova before she went on to be a top executive at ESPN, and Joyce Aschenbrenner, then on the staff at Pitt, who later became prominent in the operation of the V Foundation.

The Guru nicknamed them his three apostles because in the summer of 1976, they went off to the CoSIDA convention and talked about a guy back in Philadelphia who is starting a poll and needs your help.

Two years later, it was MJ and the late John Morris, her boss, who at a CoSIDA session with AP that involved going over needs, etc., that they spearheaded the request to the executives "You need to run that poll that guy in Philadelphia is running."

A week later, AP called the Guru to come talk in New York and the rest is history.

A funny story revolves around the CoSIDA convention in Philadelphia in 1980. It was the first time that women -- en masse -- were in the organization and the theme at the big social party was, apppropriately, Bandstand.

Now people could actually dance with each other at this event. And trust your Guru, if MJ was in Congress, she would be written about as one of the few legislators who could draw respect from both sides of the aisle (as in men's athletics).

Anyhow, a few years later we go to San Diego and the theme was Beach Boys. Recalling Philadelphia, and by this time because of the Guru's operation and living off CoSIDA to make things work (still true today), he jokingly arrived telling people their dance card numbers and told MJ she had dance card 76.

So, in what became a legend of its own the Guru is out on the floor, a certain number known in the Jewish religion at weddings, etc., is played with a big circle forming and as the Guru kicks his foot, he feels something pop.
Turns out he found out he had popped a hamstring but didn't know that at the moment, so as he limps to the sidelines, MJ comes over and starts berating him: "How can you give me No. 76. All the years we've known each other."

The Guru responds, "Mary Jo, it's an ID number, not a ranking number."
Then she notices the Guru is in agony and she goes, "What happened to you?"

And the Guru, with the effects of certain liquids working that allleviated some of the distress, stands up and says to MJ, "You go back to Penn State and tell Paterno, I can dance with pain."

And then we hit the floor together for the next half-hour.

Mary Jo was always plugged into whatever was going on in the world -- and not just women's sports.

No trip to Penn State was complete in recent years without having dinner to talk about lots of things.

At some point, she might even offer some behind-the-scenes pearls that occurred at the previous Final Four on the human elements since she was on the staff of the media relations liasons for the tournament.

Sadly, we didn't get together on the Guru's last trip in November to the UConn game -- he called when he didn't see her -- because the water heater had broken in the house.

Mary Jo was unwittingly a helper to the Guru in March of 2007 when he was in North Carolina between rounds of the NCAA tournament. Temple had just lost in Round 2 -- Rutgers was coming to the Sweet 16.

At that moment, the Guru gets word of a potential WBB coaching change at Penn State. After calling the paper -- there were reasons to believe the report was true if not confirmed -- he dials Mary Jo and asks if she had heard any buzz up there.

She says, "No. But you are the second one who asked me that, a radio guy in town an hour ago asked the same question. Let me know what you find out."

The Guru, since he was out of pocket, geographically, says, just in case, can you get the history and biographical background of the success of the program to use so it can be ready to go if there is a confirmation.
Within an hour she shipped what was needed.

A year later the famous clockgate controversy occurs involving Rutgers at Tennessee.

In the postgame press conference, the Rutgers coach looks down at the Guru, who didn't have his memory cells on at the moment, and says to him, "But we've seen this before -- like that time at Penn State, right?"

The Guru had no idea what she was talking about, other than he knew at that regional Sweet 16 she might be bound from Cheyney to Iowa once the Wolves were eliminated, though he hadn't written it.

He didn't want Cheyney kids to get unduly upset beforehand and, anyhow, no one else back then was following this sport, with limited exceptions, so whenever he got around to writing it, the move would be breaking news.

Anyhow, trying to find out what did happen, the Guru could not find his coverage in the paper's electronic library, only the advance. When that game was played, computers were brand new to the newspaper.

So he calls Mary Jo to see if she remembers.

Bang. An hour later, she calls the Guru all excited.

Hey, I went to our library, found the game on microfilm and figured how to get it into an email and it's coming in the next half-hour.

Turns out a foul should have been called on Penn State at the finish, which could have allowed Cheyney to advance, though beating that Old Dominion team in the next round would have been a tall order.

But that's just a few stories.

The only time I saw her really miffed was when she chastized the Guru for keep saying Nittany Lions instead of Lady Lions, as copy desks have a way of making that change anyway.

But out of respect to her, the Guru told his copy desk certain programs are branded beyond gender discussion as in Lady Vols and Penn State had enough tradition to be treated the same.

They agreed and she was quite happy when I told her and I was happy she was happy.

I recall at the CoSIDA Convention in Philadelphia back in 2005 or so when I got the Jake Wade Award -- the first women's writer to win -- that goes to a member of the media making a contribution to collegiate athletics.

She was so excited when she called in advance to tell me I was the winner that year -- I knew she had been lobbying.

This was special to the Guru because CoSIDA was always one big family.

And the acceptance speech was more entertainment to have fun recalling times and the emotions were in check -- until -- I looked down from the podium toward the front and MJ was just beaming and it was more I knew how thrilled she was and I was happy for her and fortunately I was near the end of the speech so I got through it, but the last sentences, penned to uplift anways, were a little tricky to utter.

As you will see as the reactions come in the next posts, Mary Jo was about legacy. We may have just lost the person, but not her spirit.

Because the Guru had been working something to be a suprise involving Mary Jo and the United States Basketball Writers Association, of which she was a longtime member, he contacted Malcolm Moran, the former USA
Today and other papers writer, who had served a long stint in a key position at the PSU journalism department but is now at IUPUI in Indianapolis.

While he concurred with the Guru's plans, which could be announced in severral weeks, Malcolm was stunned by the news, emailing back: "I am so sorry to hear this. ... Some of the most fun times I had in State College were the lunches with her, or the times we wouldd sit together at games.

"We'll come up with something meaningful and special. She deserves it."

Vic Dorr, the women's beat writer at The Richmond Times Dispatch who dealt with Penn State back in the days of the ongoing rivalry with UVa and would regularly chat with MJ, said this on the FAME site in reaction on hearing the news:

"Women's college basketball in the 1990s was as much a family as a sport. If you cared -- as a competitor, coach, publicist or reporter -- you were regarded as a member of the family.

"I met some wonderful people during those years; smart, passionate, talented people who were bound by their devotion to a game and the women who played it.

"Penn State sports information icon Mary Jo Haverbeck was such a person. Mary Jo was a kind, considerate soul with a delightfully sly sense of humor and eyes that often hinted at mischief.

"Sometimes I called her to ask professional questions. Sometimes I simply called her. She was never too busy to share her insight into the history, potential and yes, problems of the game she loved.

"Perhaps you've noticed that I'm using the past tense. I'm doing so with sadness and more than a bit of difficulty.

"Mary Jo passed away last night. Thank you and fare thee well, my friend.

The game will be worse without you. But I can assure you -- I am better for having known you."

So here the's thing: Mary Jo, physically, is no longer with us but, as an Inquirer sports editor once said, "There's a woman at Penn State .. "

And she's still there in the legacy she has set across the nation for others to succeed. And though our hearts are a bit darkened now, her having been with us brings a glow like the light that comes from a thousand candles.
More than a pioneer, Mary Jo was a visionary. And for that, we are forever thankful.

And now we go to part two for others in our room to offer their tributes.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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