Her Legacy Lives On at the Maggie Dixon Classic
Nov. 8, 2012
CHICAGO - Before every game, a patriotic Doug Bruno stands straight with his gaze firmly fixed on the American flag during the playing of The Star Spangled Banner.
The same name swirls through his mind each time.
Flash back to a scene just six years earlier. A young and dynamic DePaul assistant coach had spent five seasons learning under women's basketball head coach Bruno's tutelage and was ready to take flight on her own.
Dixon was named head women's basketball coach at Army just 11 days before the start of the 2005-06 season. This is not exactly the easiest environment for a woman to succeed.
But the U.S. Military Academy at West Point had never before seen anything like Maggie Dixon. She galvanized this male-dominated culture with the force of her will and her gift for bringing out the best in others.
This extraordinary leader of young people worked her magic and made the cadets want to attend women's basketball games.
Just six months after her arrival, Army edged Holy Cross 69-68 to win the Patriot League Conference Tournament and secure the Academy's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Several hundred cadets, led by the football players, stormed the Christl Arena court and carried Dixon off---a memorable scene telecast to a national audience on ESPN's "SportsCenter."
Those in the stands that night felt goose bumps and could see how Dixon had electrified the entire academy.
The next day brought the formal presentation of the Patriot League trophy. As Dixon rose to speak, 4,000 cadets in the dining hall erupted into a spontaneous standing ovation.
Army lost its NCAA opener to a powerful Candace Parker-led juggernaut from Tennessee. After that, Dixon traveled to San Antonio to cheer on DePaul at the NCAA Sweet 16. Back at West Point, she watched the women's basketball title game on TV with her older brother, Pittsburgh basketball coach Jamie Dixon.
The next day (April 5), Dixon was having tea with a friend when she collapsed from heart arrhythmia and was rushed to the base hospital. She was later airlifted to Westchester County Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y.
On his my way to the Boston airport the day after the women's title game, Bruno got a call from Dana Pump of Adidas. He was crying and kept saying over and over: "Maggie's not good."
At the airport, DePaul Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto reached Bruno by phone and said: "Doug, she's in tough shape." Bruno immediately changed his flight, jumped into a four-seat plane and flew to Westchester County.
He was a jumble of emotions upon arriving at the hospital to see his 28-year-old former assistant coach.
"Maggie was lying in a comatose state, breathing through a ventilator," Bruno said. "She had her normal, beautiful face. Jamie was the first family member to arrive. Her parents, Jim and Marge, and older sister Julie, got there at 4 a.m. the next morning from Los Angeles.
"I was riding up the elevator with Julie on Thursday when tears started streaming down her face. `My sister is brain-dead, we're done,' she cried out.
"I flew back to Chicago later that day, and I knew she had passed when I got off the plane. It was tough breaking the news to our team. We all went to her funeral in North Hollywood, Calif.
"Maggie is one of the few civilians buried at West Point, near Army football legends Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard."
Competing against Nicholls State at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the Maggie Dixon Classic at McGrath-Phillips Arena carries a special significance for everyone in the Blue Demon program.
"Not a day goes by without thinking about Maggie," Bruno said. "It's a sign of how much impact she had on my life. It's the impact she had on so many people. That is who and what Maggie was.
"Our tournament is another small way of trying to remember her and the impact she had on our program. We will never forget how much she meant to us and to people from all over the country.
"You want to make Maggie's legacy equal to what she gave us every day, and that's so hard to do. She was so unique, and there's only one Maggie Dixon."
There are three Maggie Dixon tournaments---at Madison Square Garden, at her alma mater the University of San Diego and in Chicago.
"In the coaching world, your staff becomes every bit as close as your family," Bruno said. "It's not the same intimacy, but you have people that you spend so much time with that you come to know them in a stronger way than some of your close friends.
"I spent so much time with Maggie---more than with my own children. There's a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth in coaching. But when you're with good people, there can also be some good, fun times.
"Maggie was a champion of those fun times. She always found a way to ease the stress and magnify the laughs and good times."
Jasmine Penny appreciates the significance of the Maggie Dixon Classic.
"Coach Bruno gets really emotional when he talks about her," said Penny, a junior forward. "There are so many people who looked up to her because of everything she did.
"It's an honor to be in the same program that she coached in for five years. She is someone who is really important to women's basketball, and it's a real big deal to support all that she stood for.
"I'm glad we have the honor of playing in her memory."