February 27, 2014

Tanton: Call Diane Geppi-Aikens to the Hall

by Bill Tanton | LaxMagazine.com

This column by Bill Tanton originally appears in the March 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.

I come not to bury the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame selectors but to praise them. They have an almost impossible task and they do it rather well, year after year.

But I do want to offer a suggestion that could add to the Hall's sheen. It's past the time for the greatest honor in the sport to be bestowed on Diane Geppi-Aikens, the late Loyola University women's coach.

If you were to ask 10 knowledgeable lacrosse people today if Geppi-Aikens were in the Hall of Fame, I'd bet eight of them would say, "Uh, yeah, I'm pretty sure she's in it." That's what I'd expect regarding a woman whose impact on the game was so transformational.

Di, as everyone called her, turned Loyola into a national power. Battling brain cancer for eight years until she died in 2003, she coached her final season from a wheelchair and led the team to 14 straight wins and the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. There would be no storybook ending, though, as Loyola lost 5-3 to Princeton in the semifinals.

Impact? Lacrosse, men's or women's, has never seen anything like it. Her story drew national attention on CSTV's "Season of Hope: The Diane Geppi-Aikens Story," in national magazines and in a book written by Chip Silverman entitled "Lucky Every Day."

That was a long time ago. Within the lodge, we knew chapter and verse of Diane's story, but the general public was unaware. One of my best friends, a graduate of Loyola and a former athlete there, stumbled across the TV show and said to me, "What, girls play lacrosse now?"

Lacrosse has come a long way in the last decade.

But Geppi-Aikens doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame only because of the heartbreaking story of a coach who died of cancer at age 40. As a player at Loyola, she was an All-American goalie. In 15 years as the head coach there, her teams were 197-71. She led Loyola to the NCAA tournament 10 times and was a three-time national coach of the year.

Stats can't tell the whole story. Geppi-Aikens was a divorced mother of four children, one of whom, Shannon, now is a sophomore on the Loyola team.

Listen to Johns Hopkins coach Janine Tucker, who played for Geppi-Aikens at Loyola and has written several lacrosse books because of a promise the two made to each other to advance women's lacrosse knowledge: "Diane knew how to inspire, energize and motivate her teams. She was one of the strongest women I've ever known."

Listen to Kerri Johnson O'Day, who played for Geppi-Aikens and then succeeded her as coach at Loyola: "She was a role model for strong, independent women who can raise a family. She showed you could do it all."

Listen to Suzanne Eyler Williams, a three-time All-American who played in 79 games (a Loyola record) for Geppi-Aikens from 1999 to 2003: "She taught us that being with people you love and enjoying life, that's how you win at life."

Geppi-Aikens had universal appeal in the lacrosse community. Even the college men's coaches marveled at her. I remember a day at US Lacrosse when then-Towson coach Carl Runk bear-hugged her and asked, "Diane, how do you do all this?"

"I get up at 4.30 to write recruiting letters," she told him.

I believe Diane Geppi-Aikens will be elected to the Hall of Fame in time. What are we waiting for? Let's do it now.

comments powered by Disqus

More Headlines