First annual Classic was time to celebrate, mourn

Originally Published: November 12, 2006
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- So good, so wise, so young.

That is Maggie Dixon's epitaph, unveiled on her tombstone just days ago.

The words, simple, poignant, emotionally touching, couldn't be more applicable to the late Army women's coach.

They were written by her father, Jim, who was here with his wife, Marge, and daughter, Julie, along with his son, Jamie, the Pitt men's coach who organized the first ever Maggie Dixon Classic played Sunday in her honor.

Jim Dixon said the words just "popped to me. That's it. They made sense."

The doubleheader event, where Pitt's men beat Western Michigan and Ohio State's women defeated Army at Christl Arena, is expected to become one of the marquee events on the women's basketball calendar. The hope of Jamie Dixon is that it will be held at Madison Square Garden from this point forward, with the backing of Aeropostale.

Marge Dixon
AP Photo/ Jim McKnightMaggie and Jamie's mother, Marge, was understandably emotional during the ceremony honoring her daughter.

While in the future, the event could have a legacy in this sport, it's hard to match the emotion that arose Sunday.

This event had been in the planning stages for months, really since about three weeks after Maggie Dixon's tragic death April 6 from a heart ailment. Maggie touched the lives of so many here at West Point, let alone the country. She was here for only six months, but led the Cadets to a Patriot League championship and their first-ever berth in the NCAA Tournament. The image of Maggie being carried off the Christl Arena floor after the Black Knights won the Patriot title was one of the lasting memories of last season, men or women.

So, it was fitting that Jamie wanted to hold an event in her honor here to start, but getting teams to come to West Point -- a nationally ranked women's team and an opponent for Pitt, as Army's men's team already had a commitment this weekend -- wasn't easy. As such, Jamie relied on friends in Jim Foster, the head women's coach of Ohio State and a good friend of Army women's coach Dave Magarity, and Steve Hawkins, the head coach of Western Michigan, who with his assistant Jeff Dunlap, are childhood friends of Jamie's from Southern California.

"Once Jamie said it, I said 'We'll be there, you got it," Hawkins said.

Dixon held his emotions together throughout the Panthers' impressive 86-67 victory over Western Michigan. But as the game was getting closer to the end, Dixon said his emotions were starting to wander. He knew what was coming -- a ceremony unveiling the Patriot League banner and Maggie's Patriot League coach of the year banner.

"We wanted to come out and play well and take coach's mind off of it as much as possible," said Pitt senior Levon Kendall. "It's been a pretty emotional weekend and a tough situation."

When the game ended, the Dixon family went to center court, where it was given Patriot League championship rings by Army athletic director Kevin Anderson. Anderson, who hired Maggie (then an assistant at DePaul) just days before last season started, had a hard time staying composed Sunday.

He said a few times that he was appreciative of the Dixons to allow her to be buried here on campus so that he could go and visit with her. The Dixons felt the same way. Jamie took the microphone at one point and thanked the crowd for allowing his sister to be buried alongside military men.

"I have a special affinity for this place," Dixon said. "They treated my sister so well in her six months here and since then how they've treated our family and welcomed us into their family. Once you get to know the people here and the Cadets and learn about all they do, you have tremendous admiration for them. I look forward to coming back here for various events and to visit her grave."

Maggie told Jamie as soon as she interviewed with the team and Anderson a year ago October that she wanted "to coach these girls."

"I'm so glad she got to coach them for those six months," Dixon said.

It showed.

Ashley Magnani, who played on the team last season, told the crowd Sunday that "[Maggie] taught us how to believe in ourselves and with each other." A tearful Megan Vrable, a former player as well, said "she made us champions not just in basketball but in life."

Maggie's imprint on this academy, one of the most historic institutions in the country, is hard to fathom. She also helped rescue Magarity, a former head men's coach at Marist who was disillusioned with the profession after being tossed aside by the Red Foxes after nearly two decades of coaching.

"She changed my life," said Magarity. "She was like a sister, a daughter for me. I told Jamie, 'Thank you for sharing her with us.' "

The Army women's players, some of whom got a shamrock tattoo similar to one that Maggie had, remain close to the Dixons. It was evident when they all embraced the family in a receiving line after the ceremony Sunday.

"[Maggie] enjoyed being around people and this was a very unique situation," Jamie Dixon said. "She definitely rose to the challenge. I'm proud to see that she was able to touch a community as special as the Academy."

There is a garden in Maggie's honor planted behind the coach's residence on campus. Her stone is a destination on this picturesque campus, with a team photo, a basketball and loads of flowers in front of it.

"My biggest concern was how my parents were going to handle the thing," Jamie Dixon said. "It's obviously been a tough last seven months, but they were looking forward to this. They wanted to come back to West Point. This was a big step for all of us."

Jamie and Julie embraced after the ceremony. His parents hugged as well. They looked up at the rafters and saw the banner honoring Maggie. The emotions were palpable and the expressions of sadness as well as celebration were evident on most of the 2,785 fans here.

The words on her stone, once again, ring true. Maggie Dixon was so good, so wise, so young.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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