Dateline: Claflin, KS
“Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.”
The setting was the somber occasion of my Dad’s 2011 funeral. Ten minutes before the start of the ceremony my friend Jackie Stiles walked through the lobby doors. I introduced her to several of my relatives. One asked, “Jackie Stiles, didn’t you play basketball?” Really, come on. Did Shakespeare write? Did Rembrandt paint? Did Dizzy Gillespie blow a horn?
The rule in the rigid world of journalism is that when producing a biographical piece, you address the subject at first notation with their full name, for example, Jack Jones. After the first mention, the subject is then identified by only using their last name; Jones. For this biographical sketch, I will not be following the above journalistic template, nor will I claim any sort of journalistic distance of non-bias when documenting this subject. For this piece I am biased and protective. You may label my work “gushy,” I don’t care. This is, for sure, a fluff piece of writing. This story is about Jackie.
Between the years of 1997 to 2001, while playing for mid-major Southwest Missouri State University, Jackie put a basketball through the hoop more times than any other women in the history of college basketball, before or since; and she did it against the best Division 1 competition the women’s game had to offer. To see the physically unassuming Jackie in public, one would never peg her for the one in a million basketball super star status she holds. Jackie was twice named a first team All-American and in 2001 was selected the Collegiate National Player of the Year, pretty heady stuff for the 5 foot 7 inch 130-pound small town girl from Claflin, KS.
I personally met Jackie in 2009, as she was making the difficult transition from athlete to non-athlete, her inchoate professional basketball career short circuited by injuries that would eventually require 13 surgeries. For the ultra-competitive firebrand Jackie, this forced benching was the start of a very painful and personal meandering journey- a life sentence it seemed to her at the time - a period requiring bereavement; filled with self-doubt and numerous heart tugging detours. It didn’t seem fair. It is a personal misfortune her and I have commiserated on. She truly still grieves for the passing of her time on the basketball court. Jackie Stiles was put on this earth to play basketball. I don’t know if my friend will ever fill completely the void in her life that the hanging up of her competitive sneakers has left.
We canonize our sports heroes as invincible and view them as such right up until we realize they are not. A few, like Sandy Koufax and Jim Brown walked away while still at the top of their game, retiring on their own terms, dignity and legend in tack. Sadly, they are the exception; most hang on way past time, diminishing the accomplishments of their prime years as we recoil at the images of a once god turned mortal.
Willie Mays should be etched in our minds forever as a 1954 young Giant out running a batted ball to make “The Catch,” a back to the infield gem robbing Vic Wertz in the World Series, a glorious over the shoulder snatch in the deepest of center field; not the image of a bumbling 42-year-old misplaying simple fly balls as a misplaced member of the 1973 New York Mets.
We remember Joe Namath for his dazzling success as a cocky long haired anti-establishment upstart who backed up his 1969 pre-game Super Bowl bravado with an unforgettable performance on the hollowed turf of the Orange Bowl, the cool image of Broadway Joe trotting off the field into the Miami night, index finger pointing to the sky; but wish he had never taken his final bows in LA with the 1977 Rams, limping through his final season on a knee so battered he could not even jog, let alone scramble away in his famous white shoes from pass rushing defenders.
A former star athlete’s body growing old is "just a helpless hurt" is how Mays once described not being able to slow time.
A few years ago in an unguarded moment at an Italian restaurant on “The Hill” section of my hometown of St. Louis, MO, our dinner companion Jackie wistfully related to my wife and I, “they don’t have to pay me and I don’t even care if no one comes to the games, I just want to play again.”
In America, we don't like our heroes born, we like them made- and we like them humble- and if there has ever been a humble self-made American hero, it is Jackie Stiles, the pony tailed kid next door.
Jackie’s story is one of the most heart-warming in the history of college athletics. How did Jackie Stiles, a small town Kansas girl who stood only 5 feet 7 inches tall, become the All Time Leading Scorer in the history of Women's College Basketball?
Jackie’s legendary work ethic played a vital role in her success and she was relentless in her study of the game’s finer points. Over the years she developed innovative practice strategies that allowed her, as an offensive player, to “create space” against larger and more athletic opponents. The many hours of trial and error made all those mellifluous - sweet and flowing - moves she executed on the biggest stages in women's basketball look natural, almost easy. Don't be fooled. There was nothing “natural” or “easy” about the development of Jackie Stiles, the basketball player. Her legend may have been validated under the bright lights of the NCAA Final Four and the professional world of the WNBA, but her skills were forged by hours of toil in countless empty small town gymnasiums across Kansas and Missouri, with nothing but sweat for a companion.
From the time she could walk Jackie Stiles was a whirl wind of perpetual motion with an obstinate dream to be the best female basketball player who had ever played the game. “My Dad was the varsity boys’ basketball coach in Claflin,” Jackie recalls, “so from the time I was 4 years old I was going to practice with him. I was daddy’s girl, for sure. I would beg him to show me a ball handling drill to work on and then I would work on it for hours. When I had it down perfect, and I do mean perfect, I would show him and say, ‘now give me another one.’”
“I remember in second grade we had to stand up and say what we wanted to be when we grew up,” Jackie said. “I said I was going to be a professional basketball player. At that time there was not a professional women’s league. But it didn’t matter; I knew I would find a way because it was all I ever aspired to.”
“My Mom tried real hard to give me balance in my life,” Jackie remembers. “She worried I was too obsessed with basketball and that it was not healthy for me to be so single minded, so driven. She had me in Girl Scouts and other normal types of activities for a girl my age. I was in 4H, oh my, was that a disaster. My project was a rabbit and the poor thing died.”
Trying to keep the young Jackie off the basketball court was like trying to slip a sun rise past an alert rooster. Mom gave in. Jackie and her basketball became a fixture in Claflin. One favorite training routine was dribbling her ball while running the small town’s perimeter boundary streets. “It was a two-mile workout to run around the edge of town, dribbling my basketball,” she recalls.
To the pure followers of the game, a journey to watch the teenage Phenom perform her court magic was tantamount to a hoops pilgrimage to the Mount. Jackie didn’t play basketball, she devoured it. Starting in high school, when as a freshman she scored 53 points in a state tournament semifinal game, the legend of Jackie Stiles went viral. By her senior year the Claflin High School gym doors would open on game day at 2:30 pm - first come, first serve seating - for the evening’s 7:00 pm game. By 3:30 pm, the double doors would be closed, the gym filled to the Fire Marshall’s capacity. Those tardy and left lacking admittance to the sold out gymnasium were forced to watch in an adjacent auditorium on closed circuit TV.
With a basketball in her hands and a game on the line, Jackie Stiles was a marvel to watch; not only for the way she night after night lit up scoreboards, but more so for the harmonious style of her game. Jackie brought grit and a savoir faire attitude to the basketball court that few, if any, have ever replicated. Jackie mesmerized the sport’s true believers with the simple and pure way she conquered the game; the euphonic sound of the swishing net of another successful Jackie Stiles jump shot; the soft tap, tap of leather on wood before an explosion to the hoop to complete her signature ankle breaking cross over move. “Unstoppable,” head shaking and smitten fans would say as they departed glowing small town gymnasiums, stepping into the frigid Kansas winter prairie night. In those pre-internet days, the legend of Jackie Stiles spread by word of mouth until the media caught hold. Sports Illustrated and the USA Today were two of the many national media outlets who wrote about her court heroics before she had yet to graduate high school.
Today, Jackie is an assistant coach at her alma mater, Missouri State University. (The name change from Southwest Missouri State occurred after Jackie graduated. No doubt, the more upscale current moniker can be at least partially attributed to notice Jackie’s game brought to the school). Jackie is 36 years old and in her third year as a collegiate coach. She claims to be content, at least as content as possible for the notoriously finicky and ubiquitous Jackie.
Jackie and I have over the years conducted numerous clinics, camps and seminars around the nation. I consider her foremost, a very good friend; and then my business partner.
Before our acquaintance, as all basketball fans, I knew the feel good story of the unassuming middle of America kid who willed herself to stardom, but I didn't know the person. Now that I have met Jackie and witnessed her first hand and up close spin her American success tale, I have a renewed appreciation of why she is, over a decade removed from playing the game she represented so well, still so immensely popular with mainstream America.
If you are a true fan of American heroes, you already know that Superman was raised in the fictional tiny burg of Smallville, Kansas. “If I can do this, so can you, you just have to want it as bad as I did,” is the message I have heard Jackie repeatedly deliver at school assemblies, youth clinics and camps. This is a young lady who came from a town so small, smack in the middle of the lonely Kansas prairie, that the total free throws she made in her high school career (662) eclipsed the total population of her hometown of Claflin, KS (659). Her unassuming nature is no accident. Jackie's ego was grounded at an early age. “My dad always told me, 'know you are the best, but never shout it out.' I have always remembered that.”
At an AAU tournament in the summer of 1992 Southwest Missouri State University’s assistant women’s Coach Lynnette Robinson decided to by-pass a luncheon invitation and instead wandered into an auxiliary gym to watch a game in the 13-year-old division. As fate would play out it was a fortuitous lunch to skip. Robinson’s trained eye immediately identified a pony tailed whirling dervish who knew only one speed of play, feverishly full out. The slightly built youngster dominated the game, clearly the best player on the floor. “Who is that,” Robinson inquired to the man in the bleachers sitting next to her? “That is my daughter,” responded Pat Stiles. The SMS six-year quest for Jackie Stiles was on.
When Robinson reported back to her boss in Springfield, MO, she raved of the prodigy she had found. “We invited Jackie to our Elite High School Camp,” former Southwest Missouri State Head Coach Cheryl Burnett recalled. “At the time, we had a great Elite Camp, some of the best high school recruits flew in from all over the nation. This little Junior High kid made the all-star team. From that day on, we knew Jackie was going to be a great player.”
In the fall of 1996, when 17-year-old Jackie Stiles was #1 on the recruiting wish list of every top women's college basketball program in the nation, in a head spinning 19-day period, 18 of the nation’s best coaches came courting. To reach Claflin, KS and deliver their pitch to this once in a lifetime prospect, the biggest names in college women's basketball flew into a local regional airport in Great Bend, KS so small its entire rental car fleet consisted of one white sedan. That same car was parked in front of Jackie's Kansas home every day for almost three straight weeks. It had to be the strangest and most unlikely recruiting saga ever, but as they say, if you build it, they will come - even to Claflin, KS.
The glitz of the major college power coaches like Tennessee’s Pat Summit and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma did not turn the head of the pragmatic small town girl. Jackie Stiles signed on with Southwest Missouri State. The college basketball world was aghast, but for Jackie the decision was as easy as a TV Guide crossword puzzle; she followed her heart.
Few in Jackie’s inner circle were pleased with her collegiate selection. “The whole process was so stressful,” she remembers. “I have such a hard time saying no to people to begin with and then I have all the top coaches in the nation in my house and I have to say no to all of them except one? It was all very awkward for me.”
Her choice, when finally made the morning of national intent signing day, was met in Claflin with a community wide cold shoulder. “Few were happy with my decision,” Jackie says. “I vacillated between Kansas State, Southwest Missouri and Connecticut. Most in Claflin wanted me to go to Kansas State, which had a strong program and would have kept me local. My dad wanted me to go to Connecticut. So did my high school coach. It got so bad I stayed home one day from school and called one of those 800 number psychic hotlines you see on TV. The psychic recommended Tennessee, but they were not even on my list, so that was no help, either.”
Jackie initially chose to cast her lot with the Queen of the Court; the Huskies of the University of Connecticut, the nation’s most renowned program. “I even signed the letter of intent for UConn,” she recalled. “I said ‘I am going to sleep on it and if it feels right when I wake up, I will mail it in the morning.’ When I woke up, I just knew it was not what I wanted. I wanted to be a Southwest Missouri State Lady Bear. I didn’t even have a signing ceremony in Claflin because I knew how upset people were with me. I just mailed in the letter of intent to SMS and went to school. Everybody said I had made a big mistake; that I would never be on national TV; that we would never be in a Final Four.”
From that day on the Final Four became Jackie’s personal white whale. “To get SMS there became my goal, to show everyone that yes I could accomplish my goals at Southwest Missouri State.”
In the mid-1970’s a non-descript Indiana State men’s team landed a small town legend, Larry Bird. Upon the arrival of this once in a lifetime player, ISU soared to the national championship contest in 1979 and an historical encounter with Magic Johnson and Michigan State University, a game many credit as the event that launched March Madness and the incredible growth of the men’s tournament. After falling short in the title game, Bird rode off into NBA stardom and Indiana State, a one trick pony, returned to obscurity, where it has remained for the past 36 years.
Missouri State women’s team in 1996, unlike Indiana State in the pre-Bird days, was a constant top tier program and had qualified for the NCAA final four in 1992. “If they had not already established the program in Springfield as nationally competitive, I would not have gone to SMS,” says Jackie. “I knew we would have in place what was needed to compete with anyone in the nation. All I wanted was a chance to play on a top ranked team.”
What makes Jackie smile today when reflecting on her legendary years as a Lady Bear are the lifelong relationships she developed with her teammates, a group that over a decade removed from their maroon jerseys remain very good friends. “I loved my teammates at SMS,” Jackie says. “We were a very superstitious team. We had been together for four years, us six seniors. At the beginning of the season, it was tradition that the seniors would come up with the combination number for our locker room. We added up our jersey numbers and decided that would be our combination. The numbers added up to 314. Then somebody realized that was the area code for St. Louis, the site of the Final Four. We all said, ‘it’s an omen,’ it’s meant to be; our fate is to go to the Final Four.”
“Those are the kind of memories I have of college. The togetherness, the comradery, eating late night pizza on the bus trips home from road games; I loved my teammates. What I wouldn’t give to go back and live those four years over again. I know I can’t but at least I do have the memories and my favorites were not the championships and the banquets, all the honors; what I have grown to treasure are just the time we spent as a team of friends hanging out. They were a special group. I miss them every day.”
True to her pledge on the day she signed her letter of intent four years prior, in Jackie’s senior collegiate year, the Lady Bears pulled off one post season upset after another on an improbable ride to the NCAA Final Four. Along the way the nation fell in love with Jackie Stiles.
In the 2001 NCAA regional semifinals held in Spokane, WA, the Southwest Missouri State University Lady Bears were matched up with the nation’s number one ranked team, the Duke Blue Devils. The mismatch on paper was undeniable even to the most die-hard Jackie Stiles and Lady Bear fans. Duke sported a roster made up of nine former high school McDonald’s All-Americans; an exclusive group of only 30.
But, the Lady Bears had Jackie Stiles and on this one magical March night in the Pacific Northwest it was enough to punch their ticket to the Regional finals with an epic 81-71 win over the seemingly invincible Blue Devils. The next night in an almost anti-climactic affair, the Lady Bears topped the University of Washington Huskies 104-87 and were crowned West Regional Champions.
Jackie is by personality quiet and humble, almost meek, but put her on a basketball court and she morphs into a swash buckling gun slinging cut throat. Down 12 points against Duke at half time, in front of a national TV audience, Jackie took over the second half of the game in a domineering fashion that when viewed even today, will produce for me goose bumps.
I often use at the many clinics Jackie and I run the video of the second half of the game with Duke. I fast forward to 23:31 on a DVD I have literally worn out from over use. The game is tied, Duke’s double digit half time lead erased, with still 10 minutes of the second half left to play. The camera spans and then zooms in, close up, on Jackie poised at the free throw line, waiting on an inbounds pass. I reduce the speed on the DVD to slow-motion and then to pause. “Look at Jackie’s eyes,” I tell campers. It is the proverbial Eye of the Tiger. The eyes, the window of the soul, do not lie. Jackie has that locked in look; an assassin with a pony tail. Ready for the kill. Duke is doomed.
The eyes of the Duke players do not lie, either. As the game grinds through the last 10 minutes of the second half, their season slipping away, they show first fear, then resignation to their fate and finally almost what seems to be admiration of their unstoppable adversary’s performance; as if to say, “we see ya Jackie, we see ya.”
Jackie drains shot after shot, each one seemingly more impossible than the one before, rudely and unceremoniously with a one lady gang 31 point second half show stopping performance bouncing the nation’s number one ranked team from the tournament. For the game, Jackie totaled 41 points. As a nation watched, it would prove to be her signature moment as a basketball player.
“I remember so little of that game,” Jackie once told me. “I just remember being so zoned in. Everything that night just came together. I remember how the game seemed to just slow down, almost like I was at game speed and everyone else was in slow motion. It was all very surreal. I remember thinking at half time when we were down 12, ‘it will not end here. I have worked all these years for this moment, right here, right now, and this is my time. It will not end here.’”
Due to Jackie’s scintillating play, it didn’t.
“We flew home from Seattle after winning the West Regional and it was pure bedlam at the airport,” Jackie says. “This was a year before 9/11 and people could still come right up to the gate. The estimate in the paper was that the crowd totaled 10,000. It took us over two hours to get through the crowd of well-wishers and get to the bus to take us back to the campus.”
Now, as she had vowed four years prior she would, Jackie led her unranked band of upstarts 175-miles northeast on Interstate 44 to St. Louis, having accomplished the unthinkable, crashing the NCAA’s extravagant Final Four invitation only party. “Who are these guys,” the college basketball world asked?
All the attention and hoopla took its toll on the players. “We were in Springfield for two days before we had to go to St. Louis (for the Final Four),” Jackie recalled. “We tried to get things back to normal. We tried to go to class like nothing special was going on. The coaches tried to keep things as normal with practice, as well, but it was impossible. The whole campus wanted to celebrate and it kept us, I believe, from achieving the focus needed for winning the national title.”
In the national semifinal game against Purdue, the wheels came off. Jackie hit the wall.
The Lady Bears arrived for the Final Four in St. Louis on Thursday. Jackie did not make the short bus trip from Springfield with her teammates, having instead boarded a plane for a flight to Minneapolis, MN, site of the men’s final four, to accept on national television that night the National Player of the Year Award. Hoping to grab a few hours of precious sleep on the flight, Jackie instead spent most of the trip signing autographs.
After catching a red eye Thursday night from Minnesota back to St. Louis, Jackie awoke Friday facing the mandatory team practice open to the public at the game site, the downtown Savis Center. Jackie recalled what would be one of her few good memories of the Final Four experience. “Our workout time was the same as U Conn’s. Being from Missouri we were not only the home court favorite but also the Cinderella team. Everyone jumped on our bandwagon. After the practice, tables were set up for autographs and when I looked out, hundreds were lined up at our table and almost no one was in line for U Conn’s autographs. We all got a good laugh out of that. Everywhere we went on our bus, people would see our name on the side and start pointing and cheering. We were for sure the crowd favorite.”
By the time they reached St. Louis, Jackie and the Lady Bears had already endured a fast and furious three weeks of cross country travel while defeating top ranked team after team. SMS was the only entry in the final four who had not played their first two games in their own arena. The NCAA tournament bracket had assigned SMS to New Jersey where after a first round win over Toledo (with Jackie suffering a mild concussion) they would face in the second round top 10 Rutgers on their home court. The Scarlet Knights held a home winning streak that stretched nearly two full seasons. It was a daunting challenge and not a good draw for Jackie and the Lady Bears, the lowly 5th seed in the West Regional. But a focused Jackie Stiles would not be denied; SMS 60 (Stiles 32), Rutgers 53.
After pulling off a shocker in Jersey and breaking the Rutgers home court strangle hold, the NCAA next sent the nomadic Lady Bears winging across the country to the West Regional in Spokane, WA, a perceived semi-final sacrificial lamb for the might Blue Devils. After dramatically disposing of Duke, the next night SMS toppled the home state University of Washington. With the Regional championship trophy in hand, it was a triumphant flight back to Springfield, MO for two days of pure pandemonium.
Anyone who knows Jackie’s capricious level of self-esteem and her vagarious personality can appreciate her struggle with an ill-timed bad hair day. “On Saturday, the day before the (Final Four) semifinals, I barely had time to eat the entire day,” Jackie recalled. “We left our hotel at 8:30 in the am and then went from event to event all day long. I had just a short time to get ready for the Final Four banquet that night where all the teams were in (mandatory) attendance. I found out after we got to the banquet I was going to have to go up on stage. My hair was so awful. I had a teammate in the bathroom with me trying to help me fix it while I was in tears.”
“Normally my hair does not make me cry,” a slightly to this day embarrassed Jackie clarifies, “but I was just so exhausted that I was in tears. We got back to our hotel around 10 at night. I know crying about my hair sounds dumb, but this was all happening the day before the biggest game of my life. I was exhausted.”
No, not dumb, but human, pure with no pretense. With Jackie there is never a hidden agenda. She shyly exposes her feelings to the world and it makes her vulnerable to all of the shortcomings of life we all face; and it is what makes her so popular, so likeable. She is a superstar for sure, but like one of us, falls apart over a bad hair day. Who in our normal life’s world cannot relate to a hero with such unwashed commonality?
Jackie was to her legions of fans in March 2001 a hardwood warrior who had blasted her way from obscurity to become a top of the hour lead story on Sports Center, the day’s Michael Jordan of women’s basketball. But in reality she was just a typical fragile 22-year-old kid, with all the normal youthful insecurities; lacking for sleep who just wanted to play basketball. It is why in her adopted hometown of Springfield; MO she is still to this day referred to with civic pride as “our Jackie.”
Purdue ended the improbable 2001 Lady Bear run, 71-64. “To this day,” says Jackie, “I cannot make myself watch that tape. I have never seen it. I just want to forget the whole game. I didn’t play well. I was exhausted.”
Jackie’s professional career was short lived, tantalizing cruel with how much she accomplished in such a short period of time. Selected 4th overall in the 2001 WNBA draft, in her first professional season Jackie was chosen to the All-League team and named Rookie of the Year. But the injuries continued to pile up, her body breaking down under the self-imposed stress of being pushed so hard for so long.
“The WNBA draft was right after the Final Four,” remembers Jackie. “Then the season starts right away, I had no break.” The WNBA season, to avoid conflict with the NBA, follows a summer schedule. “Plus, I was trying to finish my course work to graduate that May,” Jackie continued. (She would graduate from SMS as a two time Academic All-American) “I was getting maybe four hours of sleep a night, then I had to report to Training Camp. It was all pretty overwhelming.”
After her star studded rookie season, Jackie’s fortunes quickly went south. “My second year,” she says, “I never was healthy. I shouldn’t have played, but I tried to gut it out, to play through the pain. I had a wrist injury that made it almost impossible to shoot the ball without being in pain. It affected everything in a negative way. I got my confidence as a player from knowing no one worked harder on their game than I did. Now, because of the pain from the injury, I couldn’t do my daily shooting workouts and my confidence went downhill.”
“I had always dreamed of playing professional basketball,” Jackie said, “it was my dream job. But once I got there, it just was not the game I loved anymore. Everything in the WNBA was about ‘me’ and not about ‘team.’ It was not fun like college. When practices and games were over, everyone just went their own way. In the WNBA many contracts were loaded with personal incentives to get your pay up. How many points you scored and individual things like that. There was no incentive to play together, to win. And there were no consequences, no discipline. If the coach called a certain play, it might be run and it might not be. That would have never happened with Coach Burnett. And a lot of my teammates resented me before they ever knew me. I was the high paid rookie coming in. It got so bad in practice that my coach told me to quit driving to the basket in practice scrimmages because my own teammates were trying to hurt me.”
The Portland franchise folded after the 2002 season and Jackie’s contract was picked up by the Los Angeles Sparks, but after her injury plagued second season, Jackie never played in the WNBA again. For a period of five years she became what she labeled a “professional rehabber,” spending several years in Colorado Springs, CO, rehabbing her injuries under the guidance of USA Basketball’s medical personnel. She attempted several short lived comebacks, one with a semi pro team in Lubbock, TX, then a professional team in Australia. She also dabbled in competitive cycling, advancing to just below the national elite level.
In 2007, Jackie reluctantly pulled the plug on her dormant basketball career. “I was done and I knew it, but that doesn’t mean I accepted it and it does not mean it has been easy. It has not been.”
I do have a favorite Jackie Stiles story: In Jackie's junior year of high school, her worse individual performance ever came on a night that a local rival's cheering section took it upon themselves to harass her. “It was a large group of boys,” Jackie recalls. “They started during the warm-up, chanting my name and making rude comments every time I touched the ball. I had never before had this happen to me; it just seemed really mean spirited and personal. They kept mocking me the whole game, and I let it affect me. I had my worse game of the year, shooting terrible and scoring only 19 points, which was more than 20 (points) below my average. I was awful. To make it even worse, coaches from Drake and Creighton had come to watch me play. I was very disappointed in myself for letting those boys get to me. I told my Dad after the game, 'next year I am going to break the (state) scoring record when we play them.' I normally didn't worry about points, but I used that game, and that goal, to motivate my whole off season practice (program). That is when I started my thousand makes a day program. For years, I never missed a day.”
“It normally took me four hours to make the 1000 shots,” she recalls. In those pre- Shooting Gun days, Jackie was her own rebounder, “unless I could bribe one of my brothers or my sister to go with me to rebound, then I could do it in about two hours.”
“When we finally played them the next year, I have never felt so 'zoned in,' so ready for a game. I don't think I missed a shot the whole night, even during warm-ups. At first, the same boys started again to taunt me, but it didn't last long. We beat them so bad(ly), I only played the first half and three minutes of the third quarter.”
Much like Babe Ruth pointing to center field and calling his shot, in those 19 minutes, Jackie established, as she had vowed she would, a new individual state scoring record (which still stands) of 71 points. Do the math yourself, almost four points a minute, a pace of over 120 points for a full 32-minute game- by one player!
“The word got out,” said Jackie, “the rest of the year, I never got heckled again.”
I asked, “You had to have said something to those boys, after scoring 71 points.” Who could resist?
“No,” she told me, “I didn’t, but I did go out of my way, I will admit, when I was taken out of the game for the last time to walk right passed them and smile at each one of them. None of them would look me in the eye.”
I would like to sit down every young chest thumping basketball player I see today, blinded by their own braggadocio behavior; and tell them the refreshing story of the star player who let her playing do her talking. As a society, we have raised a whole generation of young people who demand instant gratification, along with a perceived entitlement of “respect.” How many times do we hear from young people today, “you are disrespecting me?” Well, if you want my respect, earn it.
Players today who seek attention have two paths to choose from. One, they can cover their body in tattoos, color their hair purple, pounding their chest while howling like a rabid wolf to the ceiling every time they make a simple layup; or two, take the path less chosen, the Jackie Stiles way: make a commitment to excellence by hitting a thousand shots a day, every day, all summer, then lay awake at night dreaming up new ways to improve.
Jackie Stiles, the humble small town superstar from Claflin, KS, delivers a simple message, but one that needs to be pounded into the head of every player, at every level of the game: Want attention? Want respect? Want to shut up the hecklers? It’s simple; just hang 71 points on them in 19 minutes, and then smile as you walk away. Now, that is class and the epitome of cool. That is the legacy of Jackie Stiles.