Maggie Dixon

Maggie Dixon contributed much to West Point Athletics

by RUSTY WILKERSON — Class of 62 Can Do

Back on March 14, I wrote about my quandary when the Army women were about to meet the Lady Vols in the NCAA tournament and what I predicted would happen. As one of my readers wrote, my forecast was right on target. Army got clobbered, both teams played with heart, and Candice Parker got not one dunk but two – and I watched the whole game from start to finish.

What I didn’t foresee – and no one else did – was the sudden and unexpected death of Maggie Dixon, the Army coach, of a heart problem at 28.

I didn’t know Dixon, but like a lot of other West Point grads I followed the whole, sad saga of her death as best as I could on the West Point Web site, ESPN, etc.

In these days death is a fact of life for the cadets and faculty at West Point. That same week a young captain (and pilot of an Apache gunship) was killed in Iraq.

Somehow though, Maggie Dixon’s death was even more tragic, if that can be. After all, the military academy is in the business of training young men and women to lead our soldiers into harm’s way. But a basketball coach – and one who wasn’t much older than her players and in her first year as a head coach? It shows us how life can be totally unpredictable (and unfair).

The superintendent said she stood out as a leader in “a house of leaders” and that she left behind 20 more “Maggies.” One of her favorite comments to her players was “Adversity, ladies, learn to deal with it.” From their comments at her funeral and memorial services, she has made a lasting impression on all of them that they will carry for the rest of their lives – not a bad thing for someone starting a military career.

I would bet they’ll be the team to beat in the Patriot League next year. Instead of winning one “for the Gipper,” it’ll be “win this one for Maggie.”

But why, other than the obvious sadness of a life cut so short, the major impact on the West Point community and, more to the point, someone like me, who is so far removed? I’m a little slow, but I finally figured it out.

Army, in the last 30 or 40 years has not been much of a “player” in the collegiate sports world as compared to the “days of old” as my kids call it. The days of the lonesome end, and Heisman award winners Dawkins, Davis and Blanchard are long gone. Most of the major stars in the world of college athletics probably couldn’t make the grades to get in one of the service academies. Even if they could, they can’t compete for the “big bucks” as a professional for five years after they graduate.

Then, not from the football field where one would expect – and seemingly out of the blue – comes a young, first-year head coach who brings, of all things, through the Army’s women’s basketball program at a predominantly male institution, excitement back into Army athletics, something no coach has been able to do in decades. (I read in one of the columns eulogizing her that she was “a Pat Summit in training.” Her brother, Jamie Dixon, coach at Pitt, said after she was buried, “They’ll never look at women the same way here.” He may be right.

Maggie Dixon was buried in the West Point Cemetery with some familiar (and not too familiar) names: Gens. Winfield Scott, George Goethals (Panama Canal), Lucius Clay, George Custer, William Westmoreland, “Molly” Corbin (“Molly Pitcher” of Revolutionary War fame), Col. Ed White (astronaut), and a lot of others that most of us have never heard about (including one of my roommates).

Maggie Dixon’s grave is next to Glenn Davis (of Davis and Blanchard fame) and Earl “Red” Blaik. Not bad company for a coach to spend eternity with!

Rusty Wilkerson is a Kingsport resident. E-mail him at wilkersonbr@earthlink.net. Article reprinted with permission from the Kingsport Times News, Kingsport, TN.

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