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, September 28, 2014

Richmond Mourns Loss But Service Reflects the Joy of Knowing Ginny Doyle and Natalie Lewis

By Mel Greenberg

Though Ginny Doyle, the Richmond associate women’s basketball coach, and Natalie Lewis, the staff’s operations director, were 20 years apart, they became forever linked through the tragic event of May 11 when they along with pilot Daniel T. Kirk died when the hot air balloon they occupied struck a power line coming in for a landing and immediately caught fire, a few miles north of here, near the King’s Dominion Amusement Park.

But Saturday morning also was a time to know that Doyle, who was 44, and Lewis, who was 24, should forever be remembered for the joy and passion their lives brought to all with whom they had contact.

It was in that spirit that Richmond held a Celebration of Life Service inside Cannon Memorial Chapel, an event that was clear to everyone inside the nearly full chapel that in a period of deep mourning that may never end, considering the circumstances of the tragedy and the way in which two productive lives were cut short, thre can be joy in the memories of their presence.

Indeed, throughout the ceremony that lasted less than two hours, followed by a reception in the nearby Tyler Haynes Commons, it was possible for those who knew Natalie, a native of Buffalo, more so as a prolific swimmer for the Spiders athletic program also got to know Ginny a little better.

Conversely, the many who knew Ginny for her basketball stardom at Archbishop Ryan in Philadelphia and then at Richmond, and her 15 years on the coaching staff at her alma mater, also got to know Natalie much better, as well.

When the visitation service was held in Philadelphia in May on a night that was quite rainy, that was seen as the tears falling from the heaven expressing sadness over the loss.

But if that were to be true, then the likewise the glorious weather of Saturday with a clear blue sky and balmy temperatures under which the Richmond campus was quite vibrant, then that should be a sign that this was a day in which smiles and happiness over having known Ginny and Natalie trumped heartache.

Indeed, the picturesque campus reminded the Guru of that spring afternoon in 2006 at Army when first-year coach Maggie Dixon was laid to rest, having died suddenly of a heart stoppage soon after leading the Knights to their first Patriot League title and NCAA tournament appearance as a first-year coach.

The crowd Saturday was less than the service held a few days after the tragedy, when actually a good deal of the Richmond University population had already left town for its annual summer hiatus, one reason for delaying the formal tribute until this weekend.

But this weekend is also one of the key recruiting dates, a time when Ginny would have been in the gyms with other staffs from across the country.

Still, many who could not come, tweeted comments noting the service being held.

Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade, whose conference Richmond is a member, attended, as did former Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry, who oversees women’s basketball for the conference, as well as other A-10 officials who deal with the sport as part of their duties under McGlade.

This season, A-10 athletes are wearing rubber bracelets that carry signage: A10 Family Ginny-Natalie-Brian, the latter being Brian Moretti, the Saint Bonaventure women’s basketball media contact, who was serving his first year and died suddenly of cardiac arrest on site on the eve of the conference tournament in March, which was held here in the city.

The heart of the service centered on two similar presentations in which on Ginny’s side, remembrances were offered by women’s basketball coach Michael Shaffer, representing the basketball program; Cathy Rossi, a colleague and friend; and Ginny’s brother Joe, representing the family.

Understandably, at times, each struggled with their emotions over expressing the joy but coping with the loss.

Joe sent a copy of his speech, which can be found in its entirety down below, while Cathy and Michael said they will soon send electronic copies, also.

In the interim, the Guru taped everything and if enough is clear, you should see highlight quotes from associates of both individuals before Joe’s speech.

On Natalie’s side, Matt Barany, her swimming coach at Richmond, represented that program; Katie Sieben, a former swim teammate of Natalie represented that phase of Natalie’s life, and then her parents Evan and Tricia Lewis gave a dual offering.

At the end of each set of speeches, video tributes in the form of slide photos, were shown with the background music for Ginny being the tune My Old Friend, song by Tim McGraw while Love Is All Around, made famous by the Troggs, played during the photos of Natalie’s life.

The Procession of Symbols

University chaplain The Rev. Dr. Craig Kocher gave a short opening welcome to get the service under way, followed by a procession of symbols carried by friends and family of Natalie and Ginny, who then placed them on a table in the front below where the choir sat.

“The hope for the service was to create a space for some of those who were close to Ginny and Natalie to give memories, tears, laughter, and other gifts of music and stories as to who they were and goodness in body they inspired and to surround one another with our love and support as we give thanks for the lives of these two,” Dr. Kocher said in his remarks.

Rachel Mercer Perkins, a friend, and Kennedy Perkins, Ginny’s goddaughter, represented her by carrying a candle to start the procession.

Michael Dougher, the fiance of Natalie, next carried a candle.

Ginny’s Niece, Kelly Doyle, carried a a photo of Ginny’s dogs Maggie and Lexi.

Natalie’s brother Evan Jr. carried a family photo.

Ginny’s nephew Michael Doyle, carried memorabilia from Philadelphia while Natalie’s sister Caroline next carried a proclamation from the City of Buffalo that was made in August.

Genevieve, the senior captain of this year’s squad, carried the basketball with which she set an NCAA record at the time for most consecutive free throws that has since been surpassed.

That was the representation of Richmond basketball.

Chrissy Brodt and Nicole LePere, who were senior teammates and classmates graduating the same year as Natalie in 2011, carried a championship trophy.

Then several persons from the past in both sports carried a daisy chain representing Westhampton College, which is celebrating its 100th year and was established for women and is part of Richmond University.

Kate Flavin, a 2005 graduate of the women’s basketball program, and Cara McCracken, a 2009 graduate of the swimming program, carried Spider Paperweights to represent the alumni association.

Finally, Richmond University president Ed Ayers carried a folded UR Flag, which represented the university community.

Athletic Director Keith Gill after the six speeches, gave a brief address detailing some of the plans to honor the memory of the two fallen staff members.

It was at that moment, that the Guru’s tape recorder went into a software update, curious since it does not have communication capabilities, so Gill’s list wasn’t captured.

But the Guru will request a list and then note the plans in a short blog.

Joe’s speech has details about plans to convert the memorial fund established in Ginny’s name to be converted to a scholarship fund so she would always have a presence on the Richmond bench through one athlete.

Memories of Natalie and Ginny

Here are some highlights, for now, from the speeches made recalling the lives of Natalie and Ginny:

Michael Shafer: “I was given 3-5 minutes but what I’m going to do was what we always asked Ginny to do – give a scouting report in the allotted amount of time. So you iknow this is not going to be short.”

“Ginny lasted at Richmond under three head coaches – that right there is a tribute in of itself.”

“When I came, I was the new young head coach and I was going to bring in my own people. Then I met her. Three hours later she remained at the University of Richmond.”

“She was not an employe of the university. She was part of the university.”

“Ginny was probably the hardest worker in America. … She wasn’t working at all. It wasn’t work. She was doing what she loved to do every single day.”

“Sbe still had time to go to the beach .. be with her family .. go to a Phillies game. I know she lived her life to the fullest because I watched her every single day.”

“One day I asked her why she didn’t like staff meetings. She said they last too long. I said that’s because of you.”

“She didn’t sell (when she recruited). She shared her experiences at the University of Richmond.”

“She was entrenched in this community. She loved her family and she was able to love us, too.”

“She took her family recruiting.”

Cathy Rossi : “I asked her friends what they would say if they had a chance to speak. There were so many positive responses it would be impossible …

“She had a huge sense of humor and even dressing as a nun on Halloween.”

“I was so lucky to have known her and call her a best friend. When we leave today I hope we understand how blessed we are to even had the opportunity to know these two extraordinary women among us.”

Matt Barany: “I’m really a tough guy. These tears are all fake. They will all find out Monday morning. And Monday afternoon.”

“If Natalie were here, she would probably go home and write everyone a thank you.”

He then offered a bunch of thank you comments and also commented of sending a note to his yet-to-be-born daughter and who Natalie was.

Katie Sieben: “She was the light in every room. When I think of her, I think of the smile when she saw me”

Tricia Lewis : “She declared me best mom. In fact, I won every single category. She made you feel like you wre a better person than you were.”

Joe Doyle’s Complete Speech

Good morning, I am Joe Doyle, Ginny’s brother; and although many thought that Ginny and I were twins because of our looks and mannerisms, we were not, but we were extremely close in mind and spirit, just like twins. I was please (as well as nervous) when The University asked that a family member speak about Ginny. So on behalf of my Mom and my family, I want thank every one for being here today. We are grateful to Reverend Craig Kocher, President Ayers, Dean Juliette Landphair, the University of Richmond faculty, students, Keith Gill, the athletic department, the women’s basketball team and the entire Richmond community for your kindness, hospitality and support, as we come here to celebrate the life of Ginny and Natalie.

Two families, as well as the University of Richmond family, were forever impacted for the events that took place on May 9th. Literally, life changed. Natalie and Ginny were very close friends and colleagues and we can almost guess that their enthusiastic spirit caused them to take that balloon ride. Neither Ginny, nor Natalie, would have risked such adventure if they knew the true danger or the outcome. They each had too much to live for and they leave all of us steeped in grief, for the loss is still almost unbearable.

My family has been coming to Richmond and The University since 1990 when Ginny began playing for the team. Ginny played for 3 years and coached here for 15 years. Our family lived, Lady Spider Basketball year around; we probably came to 90% of the games over those 18 years. Driving 6-8 hours was never an issue for us…as long as we were going to see Ginny. Ginny was proud to work for the University and extremely proud to be a Spider. Never in our wildest imagination did we ever think we would be here, celebrating her life at the University.

My families’ memories of Ginny will be as a loving, devoted daughter, a strong and fiercely loyal sister, a dotting aunt, and for me, my idol. For others, Ginny will be remembered as a cherished teammate, a formidable competitor, a hard-working colleague, a best friend, an awesome recruiter, an amazing mentor, a player’s coach, and a caring person.

Ginny was welcoming to everyone, thoughtful, approachable, positive, honest, funny, sarcastic and loyal. Ginny could very easily walk into other people’s lives and make a connection that would last for years, we have witnessed that by those that have reached out to us over the past 5 months.

She always gave her time to conversation and when she got to know you, she showed her dry witty sense of humor. Over the years, many parents of the girls on the team would tell my Mom that Ginny was the reason they were entrusting their daughters to the University. Her integrity, character and demeanor spoke volumes to them and they wanted that for their daughters’ lives, beyond their basketball careers.

As a family, we watched Ginny so often in her role as coach, recruiter, and advocate for young women, so the words and stories following May 9th didn’t surprise us. However, as a family, we knew the “other side” of the public persona, so we knew that Ginny was also very competitive, and spoke her mind.

She was patient to a point and extremely generous; lending air miles, reward points; purchasing Phillies season tickets, summer vacations, the latest electronic gadget and of course lots of Richmond gear! Ginny had great expectations of herself and she continually challenged herself, players and others abilities to take the next step.

Although she kept an eye out for head coaching positions (at universities in the south, similar to Richmond) she truly loved her job here at the University. She always said she had the best associate head-coaching job in Division 1 Women’s Basketball.

Ginny lived life to the fullest. When opportunities came her way, her classic response would be, “let’s do it!” Ginny traveled around the US and the world; she never sat still and we have the pictures to prove it! From her earliest years, Ginny looked to athletics for fun, competition and adventure.

She begged her brother Ray to teach her how to waterski when she could hardly see over the deck of the boat.

As a young teenager we shot a be-be gun in the backyard, Ginny very rarely missed the target, which was usually something the size of a coin!

Her accuracy was amazing whether she was shooting a be-be gun or basketball, hitting a tennis ball, driving a golf ball or throwing a football. Ginny had all the athletic talent in our family. She literally excelled at every sport.

In the Richmond community, at the University and in the world of women’s basketball; Ginny will forever be known as “Dead-eye Doyle.”

She acquired this name due to her accuracy in shooting the basketball; she was extremely humble but yet proud to bear the name! As a basketball player, Ginny was a formidable competitor.

She was extremely proud of her 1991 teammates as they secured an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and hosting their first game; they finished that season 26 and 4.

Ginny played high school basketball at Archbishop Ryan High School for Girls, in the prominent Philadelphia Catholic League.

Teammates have said, you always gave the ball to Ginny when she was open; simply put, she made shots! She surely wasn’t known for her assists!

Ginny held many records; played for four different head coaches, coached under three head coaches at the University of Richmond and I’d be remised, if I didn’t mention her NCAA Division I consecutive free throw shooting record, which she held for 18 years.

Ginny went on to have a ‘friendly’ free throw shooting contest against CBS Sports Commentator Billy Packer, for which she received much national acclaim, as the New York Times in 1992 described, “The Woman Who Outshot All The Men”.

Billy Packer sank 12 for 20 free throws and Ginny sank 20 for 20 free throws, with the men’s ball! My parents remember the crowd in the Robins Center yelling to Ginny, “shoot with your eyes closed” and “shoot with your left-hand.”

She actually could have, and probably would have still won! Packer actually conceded and said “Ginny could shoot whatever size basketball they handed her!” For many years her larger-than-life picture with Billy Packer adorn the corner perimeter of the Robins Center…all the while Ginny was always humble and never bragged when asked about the contest.

Ginny was a hard-worker, on and off the court. As a kid she lived on the courts (on the streets of Philadelphia), my parents often received complaints from neighbors, as the backboard was on a telephone pole in front of their house. My parents received the same complaints about her as she monopolized the local tennis courts. She would play all day and all night. Ginny didn’t like to lose! She was always picked first in pickup games, even before the guys. As a college player she lived in the gym and although she wasn’t the fastest on the court, she wasn’t going to be stopped or be outworked!

Off the court, at her job, Ginny worked around-the-clock. There were so many occasions where we would come to visit and she would be scouting a team, breaking down plays or writing a scouting report for an upcoming game.

She would work hours at home, constantly recruiting; using her time efficiently east coast calls first, west coast calls second. I can’t count the number of times, that we were in her presences, when a player, recruit or AAU coach was calling her; she would abruptly stop the conversation, leave the dinner table and take the call. It didn’t matter to us because we were so happy just to be in her presences.

My brother Ray and I would always go with her on recruiting trips when she visiting the tri-state area...again, we just enjoyed being with her. She was passionate about her work and loved what she did; everyone enjoyed being in her company. In our family Ginny was BIGGER than life itself.

I wanted to explain the meaning of Ginny’s symbols:

The CANDLE, symbolizing eternal life, was carried by Rachel Mercer Perkins, Ginny’s George Washington University college teammate, roommate and best friend and her daughter Kennedy, Ginny’s Godchild.

The PORTRAIT carried by Kelly Doyle, Ginny’s niece, is of Ginny’s Yorkshire Terriers, Maggie and Lexi. They were Ginny’s family! They went everywhere with Ginny, they literally put themselves in her suitcase before every trip! You may have seen them here on campus with her at times!

The PHILLY MEMOROBILIA carried by Michael Doyle, Ginny’s nephew, includes the Philly Phanatic, an Eagles hat, a Philadelphia Soft Pretzel; and her Philadelphia High School All-Catholic

Letters represents where Ginny came from; although she lived a large portion of her life in Richmond and had developed a southern drawl and told long stories; she was a die hard Philly sports team fan and Philly Catholic League basketball and tennis player.

The BASKETBALL carried by Gen Okoro is the actual basketball that Ginny broke the NCAA Division 1 men and women’s free throw shooting record in 1992. Ginny shot 60 consecutive free throws is one season and 66 consecutive free throws over two seasons; Ginny led the nation in free throw shooting percentage at 98.5%.

A special “thank you” to the other symbol bearers, Kate Flavin, Ebony Tanner-Moore and Danielle Bell; colleagues, Richmond Spiders and very close and dear friends of Ginny’s.

In closing, it hasn’t been easy for any of us since May 9th. It hasn’t gotten easier either; in fact our hearts ache for Ginny everyday.

But we know, we are all truly blest to have had the opportunity to be part of her life.

She truly touched many lives and her legacy will live on in our hearts, memories and stories! Through Ginny, our family has come to know so many players, players’ families, coaches, colleagues, Spiders fans and neighbors. We have created many friendships that will last a lifetime.

Ginny’s story encourages us to live our lives to the fullest, as though each day may be our last.

Our family has literally millions of memories of Ginny, as a player and coach, many here at the University of Richmond; likewise, I am sure you do as well!

Our family would like Ginny’s name and memory to always be associated with the University. We are hoping we can convert her Memorial Fund to a Scholarship Fund in her honor so that she never leaves the University of Richmond’s Women’s Basketball Team or the bench in the Robins Center.

Please remember to make a donation in her name; even if you think it is small…every little bit helps! The information to make a donation is on the back of your bulletin!

We miss Ginny tremendously, we think about her constantly, a day doesn’t pass were something doesn’t remind us of her…we see her everywhere…we are comforted in her spiritual presences and our loving memories. The life she led inspired many. To us, Ginny was larger than life. To the team, I know Ginny was very proud and for this year she would say, “let’s do it!” OneRichmond! We love you Ginny. We will never forget you!

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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