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.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Guru's Commentary On Tragic Death of Ryan Grad and Richmond Associate Head Coach Ginny Doyle

By Mel Greenberg

Just after 11 a.m. Saturday morning the phone rang from Kevin Lynch, the former Wagner women's assistant who is also a longtime AAU coach in the nationally-prominent and locally-based Philadelphia Belles organization.

"Do you know the news down at Virginia?" he asked.

The Guru, who scans the news several times on the overnight, did not notice anything of a balloon accident near Richmond, Va.

Lynch then informed that Archbishop Ryan women's basketball graduate Ginny Doyle, 44, who has been on the coaching staff of her collegiate alma mater Richmond for 16 years, and Natalie Lewis, 24, a 2011 graduate, who excelled in swimming, and was director of basketball operations for Michael Shafer since then, were on the balloon that hit power lines while landing and had been killed along with the captain Daniel T. Kirk, who was an Army veteran.

Shafer and his two young daughters were in one of the other 12 balloons, all of which landed safely.

When Doyle returned to her alma mater she joined the staff of then-head coach Bob Foley, was retained when Joanne Boyle (now with Virginia) took her first head coaching job, and then was retained again by Shafer, hired in 2005, who eventually promoted Doyle to associate head coach.

"What a shock! Unbelievable," the Guru responded.

"It's so tragic," Lynch said. "She was another great Philly girl."

This is the second tragedy in recent times involving women's basketball coaches in air accidents.

In November of 2011 Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budtke and his assistant Miranda Serna were killed in a single engine crash in Arkansas while on a recruiting trip. The plane was piloted by an elder former state senator, whose wife was also aboard.

Officials in Virginia said Kirk tried all he could do in a scant amount of time to save Doyle and Lewis before the balloon exploded.

By now accounts of the accident have been out there for some time so those details are not needed in this post.

However, throughout the rest of Saturday after the Guru received the phone call, the focus on the tragedy was a mosaic of horrific details with eyewitness accounts of the accident, numerous photos and tweets involving the two staffers that occurred ahead of climbing aboard, and then the national and local reaction.

The photos were tough emotionally because it was like when you know how a movie is going to end or there are pictures of a well known national figure in any field taken hours before a fatality and your mind is pleading with the image of happiness to avoid the path of destiny because it is one of peril.

It is painful because while the observer knows the future, quite naturally the individual(s) involved obviously have no idea.

This is one is rather personal because of the local ties and the fact that Richmond is an Atlantic 10 rival of Saint Joseph's and La Salle, and previously Temple before the Owls' move last season to The American, making the Spiders closer to an inner family.

Condolences from here to all affected from Michael and the Richmond staff to the families of Doyle and Lewis, who is a native of Buffalo.

Being from Philadelphia, Doyle always stopped by to say hello if she was the one making the first spot between us of being in the same place, whether it was pre-game, or at the Atlantic 10 tournament, or in social settings during the NCAA Women's Final Four.

At Richmond's website, Shafer had stated in Doyle's biography as part of the ongoing Spiders' roster descriptions:

"Ginny has been a loyal member of the University of Richmond women's basketball program," Shafer noted.

"As a former player at Richmond, she is a tremendous asset to our program and to the institution. Ginny has always been an excellent recruiter, but she has also developed into a great floor coach.

"Our perimeter players continue to get better under her tutelage. Her passion for the University and our players is evident daily," he added.

"She is the type of person who we really don’t understand all that Ginny does until she is gone, because she does so much good for us. Ginny has a bright future in our game.

"People around the country have a great deal of respect for Ginny Doyle and we are fortunate that we are able to keep her with us."

Richmond men's basketball coach Chris Mooney, who played volleyball at Ryan at the time Doyle played there, told The Philadelphia Inquirer for their account of the tragedy:

"She built relationships very easily because she was such a good person," Mooney said, while calling her an outstanding recruiter. "And she could speak so passionately about Richmond."

Mooney said the two always discussed the city's sports and their times at Ryan, especially since Doyle was a big fan of the baseball Phillies and football Eagles.

Showing Up Billy Packer

There is an irony as to the passing of time because within moments of the phone call from Kevin to the Guru, he observed instant reaction on twitter, facebook, and other social media platforms well ahead of the regular news organizations.

Back in 1992, Doyle's senior season at Richmond, she set an NCAA record that lasted until 2011 making her 66th consecutive free throw on January 18.

In today's world the achievement would have been all over the planet in a matter of minutes. But back then before the internet it took a bit before information was conveyed in newspapers or on newscasts beyond perhaps the local affiliates.

But the next day Andrea Joyce had noted on a CBS Sports broadcast the achievement to Billy Packer, a former Wake Forest star who was then one of the major analysts on men's basketball telecasts.

Packer responded that the women used a smaller ball, though it seemed to all at the time it was a tongue in cheek statement.

But it did set off a reaction and a few weeks later since he was in town anyway, a challenge was made between Doyle and Packer and Doyle smoked him, according to all accounts, completing all 20 of her attempts with just two touching the rim while Packer was 12-for-20.

Doyle acknowledged that Packer was probably joking in his initial remark but expressed gratitude that Packer would show up for the event, which had a large audience of Richmond fans.

When she graduated Archbishop Ryan, Doyle first went to George Washington for two seasons, and then transferred before Father Judge graduate Joe McKeown, who had been at New Mexico State and is now at Northwestern, became the new Colonials coach several months after the fall semester began.

Doyle moved to Richmond and in her first season of eligibilty played for Villanova graduate Stephanie Gaitley, who was then hired by Saint Joseph's before Doyle's senior season.

Local Memories

Former La Salle coach John Miller, now at Mount St. Joseph's Academy in suburban Flourtown, Pa., coaching girls basketball, was unaware of the news of Doyle when contacted Saurday night.

He coached boys' basketball at Ryan when the school was actually a separated Catholic high school institution for boys and girls.

"First, that's very sad to hear and my heart goes out to Ginny's family and everyone else affected," Miller said.

"When I coached at Ryan, I was with the boys but I taught at the girls' school so I actually had Ginny at my classes," Miller recalled.

"When she was in grade school, she came to my camps and we later became good friends. In fact, several times she has been to Mount Saint Joseph's looking for recruits and she always took time to stop by and say hello."

In an email response to a request, Gaitley, who is now at Fordham, offered her reaction.

"I recruited Ginny to Richmond and she chose GW and later decided to transfer to Richmond," Gaitley said.

"She sat out one year and then played a critical role
on our '91 championship team (Colonial Athletic Association)," Gaitley continued.

"I have such a heavy heart as I took great pride in being a mentor for Ginny and felt her head coaching opportunity was just around the corner," Gaitley added.

"As a person of great faith it is hard to make sense of these losses. I feel I will have another angel watching over me and will guide me to try and be a better coach," Gaitley wrote.

"It is such a great loss to our basketball community on so many levels.

"It hits home professionally but also very personally. We all need to learn that life is so unpredictable and to value every day and be thankful for all our many blessings," Gaitley said.

"Ginny and Natalie will be a constant reminder of this. We all need to do our best to make the world a little better in their honor."

Late in the day after confirmation of Doyle and Lewis being passengers, Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade offered condolences on behalf of the conference.

"Our deepest sympathy and prayers are extended to the Doyle and Lewis families; as well as the Richmond women's basketball student-athletes, staff, coach Schaffer and athletic department staff," stated McGlade.

"This tragic accident is a painful reminder of the precious gift of life -- condolences are inadequate, so we stand ready to support our Richmond family in every way possible."

On Richmond's website, in a posting by the university with the sad news, the school president and athletic director both had statements.

"As alumnae, classmates, and colleagues – and as invaluable and devoted mentors for our student-athletes – Ginny and Natalie have been beloved members of our community,” said President Edward L. Ayers. “Their leadership and friendship will endure in the lives of so many.”

“Words cannot begin to express our sorrow,” said Keith Gill, director of athletics. “We are all stunned by the tragic news. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their loved ones.”

This is the second tragedy in several months to affect an Atlantic 10 member involving women's basketball.

In March on the eve of the A-10 women's tourney in Richmond, Brian Moretti, 26, who was an assistant sports information director in charge of women's basketball, died suddenly of what school officials categorized as heart arrest.

Local Twitter Reaction

The Guru does not follow every twitter account but here's some local comments from area-related individuals on their accounts:

"Prayers for @Richmondwbball and families surrounding them," tweeted Saint Joseph's coach Cindy Griffin, whose comment was re-tweeted by Eastern Illinois coach Debbie Black, a former Hawks star who was a contemporary of Doyle as an athlete.

On her account, Black said, "Such tragic news out of Richmond today! Thoughts and prayers are with the Richmond women's basketball family, friends and community."

Delaware coach Tina Martin commented, "My heart is so sad. I have lost a good friend in the balloon tragedy in VA. Richmond Assoc. Head Coach Ginny Doyle. RIP. PRAYERS to UR WBB."

From the Penn State women's basketball twitter account: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Richmond women's basketball program during this difficult time."

From former Saint Joseph's star Katie Kuester, who is now video coordinator at North Carolina: "Beyond heartbroken for the entire University of Richmond family. Praying for their strength and unity through a time like this."

Former Penn State star Susan Robinson Fruchtl, now coach of Providence, said, "Can't even believe it - prayers to Richmond WBB and the families."

Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said, "Thoughts and prayers to @Richmondwbball. Unbelievably sad and difficult time."

On facebook, Temple assistant Way Veney recalled that Doyle was her position coach when Veney played at East Carolina and Doyle and her later became close colleagues as coaches.

National reaction reached coast to coast, especially with so many staffs who have spent time in gymnasiums crossing paths on the recruiting trail with Doyle.

Chris Campbell, a former Delaware assistant and Maryland basketball operations director, tweeted in two separate comments: " Ginny Doyle was the ultimate Richmond Spider. No one could be more passionate for their school! She will be missed.

"I always enjoyed sitting next to Ginny Doyle recruiting or at the Final Four. She was the nicest coach in the business. @Richmondwbball."

Also the WNBA offered condolences, which was retweeted by defending champion Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, a former La Salle star who was a contemporary of Doyle.

The Washington Mystics had a site comment and one from coach Mike Thibault, while Anucha Brown, vice president for women's basketball at the NCAA, also offered condolences.

Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, a former star at Richmond's state rival Old Dominion, was among notables in the sport with reactions as was former Tennessee star Kara Lawson, now with the Mystics as a player and also an ESPN commentator in the winter.

The Guru did tweet several hours ago a request for those with fond memories who would like to share, to email them (poll416@gmail.com) and he will compile them as was done in the past year with the sudden passing of referee Bonita Spence, former Penn State women's basketball SID Mary Jo Haverbeck, and longtime WBCA executive Betty Jaynes.

Funeral details haven't been determined yet but the Guru will post or re-tweet when they are announced.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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