West athletic director makes annual pilgrimage to Final Four

-A A +A
By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Most people never get to go to a Final Four.

Marcia Heady has been to 18.

For a few days each year, the West Brunswick athletic director traipses all over the country watching the best women’s basketball coaches and players in America.

Besides watching the NCAA Women’s Basketball semifinals and championship game, Heady spends her Final Fours listening to lectures, talking in elevators and even dining beside her heroes and heroines.

She just got back from the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Tampa, Fla. Her most memorable Final Four was in 1986 in Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

“Always the first one is the most memorable,” Heady said, “because I was in awe of the fact that I was talking to people who had been idols of mine.

“I got to meet Carol Blazejowski. A picture of her hung on my wall when I was growing up. In the picture, she’s looking over her shoulder, and she’s got her Converse All-Stars high-top sneakers slung over her shoulder. She was the deal—I always wanted to be like her.”

At Jonesboro, Ark., Heady was named Female Athlete of the Year. For her senior picture, she’s looking over her shoulder with a pair of sneakers slung over her shoulder.

Blazejowski, nicknamed “The Blaze,” led the nation in scoring with 38.6 points per game in 1978 at Montclair State College in New Jersey, scored 40 or more points in her last three games, was a three-time All-America and won the inaugural Wade Trophy as the best women’s basketball player in America.

She set a Madison Square Garden record with 52 points in one game, and her career 3,199 points is exceeded only by “Pistol Pete” Maravich.

Like Blazejowski, Heady could shoot the lights out in high school. She played college ball at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma City, Okla. She coached girls basketball at West for five years and has been athletic director for six.

“I’ve been a member of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association since 1985,” Heady said. “I was at Princeton Christian School in Miami—that was my first teaching job.”

The WBCA has seminars and banquets at the Final Four for high school and college coaches.

“Robin Roberts—is there a better person in the world to be around?” Heady said. “I ate beside her at the Final Four in San Jose in 1999.”

Roberts was a sports anchor on ESPN before she became an anchor on “Good Morning America.”

Also dining at the table was Nancy Lieberman, considered by many the best college point guard ever, on Old Dominion’s national championship teams. But Heady had met her before.

“Nancy Lieberman was obviously an idol,” Heady said. “She played for the Dallas Diamonds in the first women’s professional league when I was in Oklahoma City, and they were recruiting a big girl on our team.”

“The Dallas Diamonds had me come down and talk to them, but I decided to stay in school,” Heady said.

It was a wise decision because the league folded the next year.

Other notables Heady has rubbed elbows with during the convention part of the Final Four: N.C. State coach Kay Yow, former Duke and current Texas coach Gail Goestenkors, former Texas coach Jody Conradt, former Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp and former Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore.

“Kay Yow is one I love to sit and listen to and talk with,” Heady said. “Van Chancellor—I love him. I rode the elevator with him one time. It was 8 o’clock in the morning, and he was going to give a speech. He looked at me and said, ‘Hey, Coach.’ I told him I was coming to hear him speak. We talked, and he was so down-to-earth. That’s when you realize you’re just like them.”

Chancellor’s teams won four WNBA championships, and his LSU women’s basketball team made it to the Final Four this year before losing to Tennessee on a last-second tip-in.

“Pat Summitt—you can’t go without saying her name,” Heady said. “And I really like Debbie Ryan. She’s not flashy, but wasn’t it her that started the whole think-pink thing? Those are people to admire.”

When Virginia played at N.C. State last year, Ryan and the rest of her Cavaliers’ coaching staff walked onto court just before game time wearing pink sweaters instead of their school colors. The gesture brought tears to the eyes of Yow, battling a recurrence of breast cancer, and brought a roar from the crowd in Reynolds Coliseum.

Heady has also learned lessons at the Final Four that help her be a better athletic director.

“I learned more from (former Wake Forest coach) Karen Freeman at a round-table discussion than from any meeting I’ve attended,” Heady said. “The meeting was about separating the urgent from the important. It was at a round table at the Final Four in Charlotte in 1996.”

That was the same year Summitt, who always waits until just before tipoff to come out of the locker room, emerged in an over-the-top orange outfit that has remained in the minds of Heady and other women’s basketball fans.

The two Final Four plays Heady remembers the most are both 3-pointers. Kristy Tolliver drained an improbable 3 that sent the title game into overtime and allowed Maryland to beat Duke and win the 2006 NCAA championship in Boston.

“That was a heartbreaker,” Heady said, shaking her head.

North Carolina’s Charlotte Smith swished a buzzer-beating 3-pointer on an inbounds play to propel the Tar Heels past Louisiana Tech for the 1994 national championship.

“I’ll never ever forget that one,” Heady said.

Heady was honored at a coach-of-the-year banquet during the 2003 Final Four in Atlanta for winning her 300th game. Also honored at that banquet were three coaches who had achieved 800 wins: Rogers High School coach Harley Doggett, Texas’ Conradt and Tennessee’s Summitt.

Heady’s name is in the banquet program along with those legends.

Ticket prices have gone up since Heady went to her first NCAA Women’s Final Four. This April, a Final Four ticket for both sessions cost $175.

Heady coached at North Carolina Central one year and Mount Olive College four years before she came to West Brunswick to coach.

“When I coached college, college paid for it (going to the Final Four),” Heady said. “Now Marcia pays for it, but that’s fine. It’s worth it.

“I usually turn it into a little bit of a vacation. This year, the events were from Friday to Wednesday, and I stayed in Tampa until Saturday.”

Besides paying for plane fare, hotel room and meals, Heady, naturally, has to buy souvenirs.

Ironically, her most valuable piece of memorabilia was free.

At a banquet, the centerpiece on each table was a size-14 sneaker.

The second the banquet ended, Heady grabbed the sneaker and rushed to get players on the 1996 USA women’s basketball team to sign it.

The autographs include a fabulous four of gold medalists: Dawn Staley, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and Jennifer Azzi.

Sarah Sue Ingram is interim sports editor at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or at sports@brunswickbeacon.com