Will anyone EVER truly forget that stunning victory the Army women's basketball team pulled out against Holy Cross in the Patriot League Tournament championship game?
I know I never will.
The two most cherished images I had of this year's college basketball season involve the late Maggie Dixon. First was that magical night she led Army to its first ever Patriot League conference title. Seeing the cadets storming the floor and raising this remarkable young lady to their shoulders still gives me goose bumps every time I see it. Second was seeing her on TV behind Pitt's bench rooting with all her heart for her big brother's team in the Big East tournament. Pitt's run to the tournament final was still a high point of the season for all Panther fans. Seeing someone who shot to the national forefront just a few nights before rooting for my beloved Panthers immediately made me an even bigger fan of Maggie Dixon than I already was.
Sadly, we were just getting to know how incredible a person Maggie was when she passed away so suddenly. It's a cruel twist of fate that as we just started to get know her, she was taken away from all of us way before it would seem to be her time. There's no question in my mind that we would have become so familiar with all the wonderful attributes people have reflected upon in mourning her passing had she gone on to a long and successful coaching career in basketball.
In one year she proved that no matter how impossible the job seemed, she could succeed…no matter what.
Has there ever been a finer example of a young person who defied the odds and superseded expectations like Maggie Dixon did this past year at West Point? As much respect as I have for the great coaches in the game, how many of them could go to Army as a 28 year old, first time coach and lead the cadets to their first NCAA tournament ever? And that includes the first bid for Army for either tournament – women's or men's.
In sports we tend to over emphasize how great a coach is by their wins and losses. I'm just as guilty as that as anyone. But Dixon proved in her short life that by embracing adversity and having fun doing it you can be successful no matter what the odds are. Dixon was poised for coaching greatness, and she proved this year that she was on the track for it. And although she died very unexpectedly last Thursday night before she had her chance for greatness, she has now moved past just being great, she has become a legend in the history of not only women's basketball but the whole world of college sports.
It is very appropriate that someone of Maggie Dixon's character and courage will now rest for eternity on the grounds of the United States Military Academy. So many impressive leaders who helped forge this nation rest in this hallowed ground. And like so many of those legends who made this country so majestic, Maggie did exactly what they did by taking on such unbelievable odds and succeeding anyway. And although she might not have been in the military, she definitely magnified the same spirit as those who proudly wear the uniform. It's also very appropriate that Maggie now rests within steps of Red Blaik and Glenn Davis, two other legendary Army sports icons who also lived and breathed the principles that make the USMA so special.
Another nice way to remember Maggie Dixon might be to have a special night of basketball each year dedicated to her memory, like the Jimmy V Classic. Maybe even a doubleheader of basketball with Pitt's men's team in one game and the women cadets in the other. The game could be played at Madison Square Garden, or at the Petersen Events Center. The Maggie Dixon Classic would be an excellent way to remember Maggie Dixon year to year and to also raise money for a cause that was important to her and her family.
Many have understandably suggested that Dixon's sudden passing is proof that life must be lived to its fullest because you never know when your time is going to come. Although I do strongly believe in that mantra, I'm not sure Maggie is the perfect example of it. It may be so hard for those closest to her to understand this, having lost her earlier than they could have ever imagined, but Maggie already lived her life to its fullest, certainly as much as any 28 year old ever could. At such a young age she already had done so much more than many coaches twice her age have ever been able achieve. She had such a profound and positive impact on her players, and more importantly she not only saw the best in everyone around her, she helped make those close to her even better. That's a pretty incredible quality to have so early in life, especially when many of us were (or are) still learning how to just make ourselves the best we can be.
But of all the wonderful things said about Maggie Dixon because of her passing, there is one comment made about her that really stood out for me. Her brother Jamie, a successful coach in his own right summed it up the best to me when he said: "when I grow up I want to be just like her."
I know when I grow up I want to be just like her as well.