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Hello everyone. My blog, which looks a little different now but is pretty much the same, is at a new address. Please go there. Thanks! Everything I’ve previously written since starting this blog in 2008 is available there. And it’s where all my subsequent blog entries will be posted:

http://www.mechellevoepelblog.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(Note from MV: I wrote on Feb. 14 about the anniversary of the 1961 plane crash that killed the U.S. figure skating team on its way to the World Championships in Prague, and how that event had prompted some essays I’d written over the last decade. Here is another. The documentary “Rise” is replaying in theaters on March 7, and there also will be a subsequent DVD release.)

Whenever I get frustrated about sexism and “glass” ceilings these days in the United States, I always try to take a breath and think about how things were just 50 years ago.

That is the period chronicled in the documentary “Rise,” which looks at the lives of those who died in a 1961 plane crash that killed the entire United States Figure Skating team’s travelling party on its way to the World Championships in Prague.

The woman who was considered a matriarch of the sport at that time, Maribel Vinson Owen, perished in the accident along with her two national-champion daughters. The film does a very good job portraying that family’s dynamics, and the struggles that Vinson Owen had as a working woman with great ambition and drive at a time when those qualities were discouraged in females.

She was born in 1911, so she was a young adult in the 1930s, when the Great Depression still hovered over the nation, and into 1940s, when World War II’s demand for soldiers meant American women moved in unprecedented numbers into jobs that previously were almost always the domain of men.

By the 1950s, Vinson Owen’s against-the-grain personality was firmly established, and she had two children to support after her ex-husband’s death. The 1950s backlash against the gains women had made in all endeavors had somewhat less of an effect on Vinson Owen, I would theorize, because she was already who she was.

But what about women who were a generation younger than her and came of age in the 1950s and early ‘60s?
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(Note from MV: I wrote on Feb. 14 about the anniversary of the 1961 plane crash that killed the U.S. figure skating team on its way to the World Championships in Prague, and how that event had prompted some essays I’d written over the last decade. Sorry for the delay in posting, but here is the first.)

If she went into a room that was dark, she’d be the light bulb.”

_ Mike Michelson on his sister, Rhode

The coastline in Wilmington, Calif., is quite different than the beautiful, languid beaches just to the north or south in greater Los Angeles. This is an industrial area, one of refineries, docks, cargo and backaches. This is business, not pleasure.

When Phineus Banning helped settled the area in the mid-1800s, he named it after his hometown in Delaware and helped develop one of the largest and busiest seaports in the world.

Nearby are his family home _ a small oasis _ and a high school named after him. A few miles east in Long Beach is McHelen Avenue, from where you can’t see the ugly, endless jungle of pipes, tanks and gigantic crates that clog the shore.

On McHelen, you’re in a neatly kept, working-class Southern California neighborhood with stucco-finished homes dating back to the ’30s and ’40s and painted a variety of colors.

The home at 21808 McHelen is tan, and you can imagine that once, there was an energetic little girl running around inside this house, getting into everything, exhausting her mother.

Or, at least I can imagine this because of what I’d been told about Rhode Lee Michelson from the people who knew her, all of whom seem to have exceptionally vivid memories of her. She would grow up to go to Banning High School, but she wouldn’t finish there. Her life would end during her senior year.
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It was January in Greensboro, N.C. _ and a mecca of figure skating this is not. The most important sport in this city is ACC basketball, and that’s what often has filled the Greensboro Coliseum.

Still, a decent-sized crowd came to stay late on a school night, a Thursday, to see the women’s short program of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Three young women later sat at a podium, having placed 1-2-3 that evening, setting themselves up for a showdown in the long program two nights later. One of them earlier had been asked about her very active Twitter account, and she responded, “I do that so you guys can quote me.”

Later, as I walked to my car while appreciating weather that felt comparatively warm, my mind traveled back in time. It was quite cold in Colorado Springs that January night 50 years ago when a group of talented people unknowingly sealed their tragic fate by performing well in competition.

The skaters who competed at figure skating’s national championships back then had no notion of a “short” program – it didn’t exist as part of competition until 1973 – and, of course, wouldn’t have been able to conceive of Twitter.

How about professional skaters being eligible for the Olympics? Women skaters routinely doing triple-triple combinations? A complex, points-accumulating scoring system no longer based on 6.0s? All would be in the future _ something the top skaters at the 1961 nationals didn’t have much of left.

No other U.S. sport has been so irrevocably changed by a few horrifying, heartbreaking minutes. That’s how long it took for the plane’s loss of control while attempting to land, its subsequent plunge, the impact and the explosion.

At 10:05 a.m. on Feb. 15, 1961, the 18 members of the U.S. figure skating team _ en route to the World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia _ died when a Sabena 707 jet crashed in a field near the airport in Brussels, Belgium. Also killed were 16 relatives, officials and coaches accompanying them.
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Back in 2009, I wrote a blog entry reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of the famed ’99  Women’s World Cup, and a large chunk of it was about that being my first trip to New York/New Jersey. And how I managed to spend two hours trying to find an exit that I’d been told was 2 minutes away. And how I finally played the pathetic “I’m from Kansas!” card to get someone to literally lead me to where I needed to go but couldn’t figure out.

Such things are only hysterically funny in retrospect … or when they happen to someone else. One of my all-time favorite comedy films is “The Out-of-Towners” (the original!) because it is the quintessential Midwesterers-traveling-to-New-York nightmare. And because I love the late actress Sandy Dennis (a Nebraska native, by the way, who eventually settled in New York in real life. I was sure in that way she could relate to her character, Gwen Kellerman of Twin Oaks, Ohio.)

Anyway, my buddy and the world’s best sports writer, former KC Star columnist Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated, had one of those, “This can’t be happening” trips going from Kansas City to NYC on Wednesday.

Joe being Joe, he could make it hilarious very quickly. But I happen to know this was one of his busiest weeks in a schedule that is ridiculous all the time. He was in St. Louis on Monday for a sports panel that included the likes of Bill James and Bob Costas. Then it was back to KC and off to NYC.

Except his route ended up including the Pennsylvania Turnpike. (Which I can assure you is generally not something you experience in flying from Missouri to New York.)

At any rate, if you’ve ever had one of “those” days traveling – even if you’re not a Midwesterner – you will appreciate this.

Makes me glad that all I have to do today is drive from St. Louis to Lincoln, Neb. And I know all the exits.

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Sorry that it has been dead around here at the blog in recent weeks. I started my new role at ESPN.com – covering a variety of college sports beyond women’s basketball – in late September, and it’s taken up not just a lot of time, but a fair amount of emotional energy.

I don’t say that in a bad way. It’s really good. I had followed some of the other college sports _ such as volleyball, women’s soccer, wrestling and cross country/track _ formerly for the Kansas City Star, so catching up on them again has been a little easier. Still, each year in every sport brings you a new cast of characters.

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But my first game of the 2010-11 campaign will be today in Connecticut. Action has been very slow here on the blog because I’ve been pretty busy elsewhere, covering several fall sports. Which has been a lot of fun, too.

I’ll try to remedy the blog deficit a bit as the basketball season begins.

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