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Remembering Maggie

Dixon made many people proud in her short life

Posted: Friday April 7, 2006 4:24PM; Updated: Saturday April 8, 2006 12:44PM
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Maggie Dixon
Maggie Dixon played college ball at San Diego and tried out with the Los Angeles Sparks before moving into coaching.
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The last time I saw Jimmy Dixon he was pacing the baseline inside the Palace at Auburn Hills, struggling to hold his excitement. Fifth-seeded Pittsburgh was 20 minutes away from squaring off with underdog Bradley. His son, Jamie, was coaching the Panthers. Jimmy couldn't sit still.

I sidled over.

"You know where I can find a TV with ESPN?" he asked.

No clue, I replied. Every channel in this joint is CBS.

"Ehhh."

The Pitt game's late tip-off had put Jimmy's hoops plans in somewhat of a bind. He had flown to Detroit a few days earlier to be with his son but also hoped to watch his daughter Maggie, whom he had just left behind at West Point. Just a kid, she had coached Army to its first NCAA tournament berth (and in her first year to boot), making her and Jamie the first brother-sister coaching tandem to lead Division I teams into the postseason in the same year. Jimmy was beaming. "I certainly didn't plan this," he told me. "It's just a wonderful thing that happened."

What happened Thursday night was the absolute worst. Six months after landing her first head coaching job, Maggie Dixon was dead, felled by heart arrhythmia at age 28. An autopsy conducted Friday blamed an enlarged heart and a faulty heart valve which, the Westchester County Medical Examiner's office says, could've caused her heart to beat irregularly and ultimately stop.

No one saw this coming. She and Jamie had shared breakfast earlier that day, and he remembers her feeling well that day. After saying their goodbyes, Maggie jetted off to a meeting with Army athletic director Kevin Anderson, then to tea at the home of a friend, where she collapsed. After being taken to the intensive care unit of Westchester Medical Center, she died Thursday night with Jamie, Jimmy, her mother and sister at her bedside. "Maggie touched so many people beyond basketball," Jamie Dixon said in a statement. "As her older brother, I know she looked up to me. But I always looked up to her, too"

Despite being 12 years older, Jamie always made a point of being there for his kid sister. When she graduated from San Diego after a four-year playing career, he was the one she called for advice on playing in the WNBA. When an L.A. Sparks tryout ended with her getting cut, he was the one who encouraged her to get into coaching, to make the big move to Chicago, where she'd work her way from graduate grunt to Doug Bruno's top assistant at DePaul.

When Army found itself without a coach last October, the Black Knights called Maggie. The first practice was just two weeks away. Better call big brother first. "I said, 'Hey, go see the place, see what you think, see if it's the right place for you,'" Jamie said. "When she got back, there was no stopping her. I couldn't have talked her out of it if I tried!"

There were no real expectations of her going in, but her brother had set the bar high. (Their almost daily talks reminded her of that.) After scrapping through the first half of the season, Army won nine of its last 11 games and beat Holy Cross in the Patriot League tournament final to claim the conference championship and a 15-seed in the women's tournament. Next up: Pat Summitt and the powerhouse Volunteers.

I never got a chance to see Jimmy again and ask if he caught the game. (After the Knights lost by 48, I didn't have the courage; after the Panthers lost by six, I didn't have the heart.) I certainly don't have the words to comfort a father who lost his youngest daughter in her prime. But what I do have is that memory -- that memory of him, with that wide smile and twinkle in his eye. A proud papa on his proudest day.

And I don't want him to ever forget that day.

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