That phrase doesn't mean what it used to. In fact, I've never ever said that in my life (I know better). I grew up in Martin, Tennessee, and playing like a girl meant that you were pretty good.
I was at a doctor's office early this morning in Paducah, and heard on local television that Nadine Gearin died - and I am in mourning.
Nadine was (I think) the first women's basketball coach at UT Martin, coaching from 1969-74. In 1971, her team went to the first national basketball tournament (at that time, it was called the Division of Girls and Women's Sports). On that team was a young woman and basketball standout from Cheatham County High School, Trish Head. You might know her now as Pat (Head) Summitt.
I don't know how widespread Nadine's death will be in the sports world; if it is not, it will be a crime against women's athletics. Nadine and Bettye Giles (who was the athletic director at UT Martin for many years) are the ones who helped Pat get her first - and only - coaching job at the University of Tennessee. Nadine was once quoted to say that she coached basically so that the women at the school would have an opportunity to play basketball. But I know better than that. (the above picture, from left to right: Bettye Giles, Pat Summitt, Nadine Gearin, as pictured in UT Martin's Campus Scene, Summer/Fall 2003 - an article well worth reading.)
I was a little kid when our women at UT Martin went to the national tournament. But I remember the hoopla, and I remember when Pat was selected to be on the USA Olympic team. All of that rubbed off on a lot of us. My high school girls' team always did well in post-season play, and Martin Westview has won several state tournaments. I once made the mistake of playing in a choose-up basketball game at the end of a girls basketball practice (I have the worst shot in the history of humankind). I was guarding Lyn Franklin, and she was posted up on the low post. I was determined that if she got the ball I was going to block her shot. She got the ball, and the next thing I knew I was sweeping dust across the lane. She threw a hip on me that sent me scattering. She learned that, I am sure, from Julia (White) Brundige, who was Lyn's middle school coach... who played basketball with Pat and squad at UT Martin. Coached by Nadine Gearin. Coincidence? I think not.
I really didn't know Nadine until I was an adult. When I was about to graduate from college, the records office called me and told me I was short 3 hours of physical education. So I signed up for a basketball class - and the professor's name next to the class schedule was "N. Gearin." I was going to get to have the coach for class.
She agreed that I had the worst basketball shot she'd ever seen. And she just didn't throw out basketballs and send us playing. We had written tests. We set up offenses and defenses. Went over the basics of screening, posting, running and breaking the press - all the fundamentals. Nadine knew I had started officiating basketball and she gave me some great advice: "McCracken, learn and study what the coaches are learning in coaching clinics. Know how the offenses are executed. You should know that coaches are always looking for a leg-up when it comes to the officials - don't get suckered by their charm." That's advice that has served me well.
I later got to know her when I moved back to Martin after seminary. I think the second time I saw her at a restaurant or at Walmart and called her "coach," she told me, "Sky, call me Nadine."
I am thinking about how much Coach Summitt has done for women's athletics in the United States. Girls/women's softball is big, big, big. Volleyball is slowly gaining respect as a high school and intercollegiate sport. And of course, women's college basketball is now televised regularly. Nadine Gearin, Bettye Giles, and UT Martin were a foundational and pivotal part of that.
I hope and pray that sports historians will take note of the passing of Coach Nadine Gearin. "Playing like a girl" has become a compliment because of her legacy.