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Paula, the conservative, old-fashioned, practical half of the pair, is an industrial engineering major. She has a B-minus average and someday would like a job working for a major corporation. She had at one time been considering pursuing a career in computer science until her high school counselor suggested she switch. "I've always 'been pretty good in math and science," Paula says, "but I had a computer class in high school and didn't like it. Then I read an article on industrial engineering and found out that it included subjects like psychology. Industrial engineers are called the people engineers."
Pam, more outgoing, emotional and perhaps a touch more glamorous—she seems trendier—than Paula, has temporarily abandoned plans for a career in sports broadcasting for one in business. She also has a B-minus average. "I made the change because I can do more things with economics, like banking, or opening a business," says Pam. "Eventually, I'd like to get into the stock market and be a financial adviser to professional athletes. There aren't too many people that athletes can trust these days, and there aren't that many women in the stock market."
"They always have been self-motivated," says Dianne McGee, the twins' mother, herself 6'2". "Anytime anything was going on in church, some youth activity, they'd be involved, but I had no idea all of this was going to happen."
One thing Dianne was always sure of was that someday women would be offered athletic scholarships. So when her daughters began to display a special interest in basketball as fourth-graders at Ralph Bunche Elementary School, Dianne put a basket and backboard above the door of the garage behind their Cape Cod-style house. After work on an assembly line at the General Motors plant in Flint, she would take in whatever sport her girls were involved in that day—basketball, volleyball, track and field. "She was right there whenever we did something," says Paula. "Even when it was parent-teacher night, she'd take off work to be there."
Less than enthusiastic about the girls' athletic pursuits was Jimmy McGee, their father, also a worker at the GM plant in Flint before his death in a drowning accident in 1978. "A real male chauvinist all the way," recalls Dianne with a laugh. "When we were little, Daddy used to play ball with us in the backyard," says Pam, "but when we got older and started playing with the boys, he'd say, 'I'm tired of all these boys coming around here. These girls need to stay in and learn how to cook and clean.' Sometimes my mom would talk about us getting scholarships, and he'd just say, 'Ain't no girls going to get no basketball scholarship.' "
But by the time the twins graduated with A-minus averages from Flint Northern High in 1980, they had led the Vikings to a three-year record of 60-2 and two straight Michigan Class A girls' titles. Both were All-Americas as seniors. Also, Paula ran the first leg and Pam the third on the Northern mile-relay team that in 1980 established the state girls' record (3:51.6). When she wasn't sprinting during track and field season, Pam threw the shot, setting a state girls' mark (45¼ feet) in her junior year. More than 200 scholarship offers poured into the McGee home. "I wish Daddy could have been around to see us," says Pam.
Had Jimmy McGee not died, his daughters might not have ended up at USC. AIAW rules forbid schools to fly in recruits, but because of the return on Jimmy's life insurance policy, Paula and Pam could afford to pay for a visit to one campus far from home. The twins decided on Southern Cal. "They were looking for a program that was young, up-and-coming, one to which they could contribute right away," says Dianne. "The campus excited them, too."
Which excited Linda Sharp, who in 1977, after one season as a part-time Trojan assistant coach, took over a team that gave no scholarships, had never employed a full-time coaching staff and was considered an automatic W by opposing coaches. "We just didn't have any players," says the 31-year-old Sharp. In 1977-78 she guided USC, which had won but five games the previous season, to 11 victories. The Trojans went 19-9 in 1978-79. The next season they were 22-12 and finished second in the AIAW Western Regionals.
Despite the growing success of her program, Sharp didn't think the McGees would select USC. (The twins never considered going to separate schools.) Says Sharp, "I was surprised when they committed, because their father had died, they were the two oldest children in their family [they have a 15-year-old sister and a 6-year-old brother], and I didn't think their mom would let them go away from home."
The girls also had North Carolina State, Oregon State and Michigan on their final list of schools: USC won out because both they and their mother were impressed by Sharp's no-nonsense approach to recruiting—"the soft sell," as Sharp calls it—not to mention Southern California's balmy climate. "When we left Michigan it was snowing," says Pam. "When we got to California—swaying palm trees!"