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KORCEK'S CORNER: Three books for the true Huskie sports fan

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

Scratching your head for holiday gift ideas? Time running out? Know a sports fan and an inveterate reader who knows nothing better than curling up with a good book? Then do we have the column for you.

As a public service (again), “Korcek’s Corner” highly recommends these three sports books written by Northern Illinois University-related authors. Yes, I’ve read all three and enjoyed them. Full disclosure, yes, two were complimentary copies. All are available from Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. End plug.

“Keith Magnuson: The Inspiring Life and Times of a Beloved Blackhawk,” by Doug Feldmann, Triumph Books, hardcover, 274 pages

Feldmann, a professor in the College of Education at Northern Kentucky University, in essence, switched sport loyalties for his 10th book. A two-sport NIU performer in the early 1990s, Feldmann earned two varsity letters in baseball as a first baseman and outfielder for coach Spanky McFarland and made the football team as a walk-on. While pursuing his master’s degree and a Ph.D., he doubled as a scout for three major league baseball franchises.

After writing eight baseball books on the St. Louis Cardinals, Bob Gibson, Cubs, etc., plus one textbook, Feldmann revisited his first trip as a 9-year-old to the historic Chicago Stadium and his boyhood hockey idol, Magnuson. “Maggie” was a scratch that night due to injury. But youthful Feldmann would rivet his attention back home on Magnuson’s NHL trading card, his face, the fiery red hair, and wonder about No. 3’s selfless, relentless “policeman” role on the ice.

What made Magnuson tick? Now, Feldmann tells the entire Magnuson story from his Wadena, Saskatchewan, hometown to his untimely death in a 2003 auto accident. In hockey rabid Chicago, it’s often easy to forget that Magnuson is one of only seven Blackhawks to have his number retired (he shares that honor and No. 3 with Pierre Pilote). Everyone knows “the Golden Jet” Bobby Hull (No. 9) and his 50-goal seasons. Or Stan Mikita (No. 21). Or Tony Esposito (No. 35).

How could someone be so revered back then and decades later with only 14 career goals in 11 NHL regular seasons? Because as a player and a coach, Magnuson sacrificed his all to and for the Indian head logo.

He accepted the physical and mental challenge – within the game’s fighting “Code” – from every team’s thug enforcer(s) and more than paid for it.

Like Magnuson, Feldmann’s book is a winner, upbeat and meticulously researched. Where else would you discover that “Maggie” often skated without socks or all the practical jokes that teammate Pat Stapleton pulled on him?

“Home Sweet Hardwood: A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers through Basketball” by Pat McKinzie-Lechault, WordPress Books, paperback, 191 pages

If you’ve been around NIU sports long enough, then you’ll recognize Pat McKinzie-Lechault’s family lineage immediately. Her late grandfather Ralph McKinzie (yes, the namesake of NIU’s McKinzie Field in baseball) and father Jim McKinzie are Huskie Athletics Hall of Famers not once, but several times for good reason.

It’s that competitive McKinzie resolve and positive attitude that carries Pat’s hardwood playing career from pickup games, through high school and college at Illinois State as the first female full scholarship recipient in our state’s history and eventually pro ball in the United States and overseas. Title IX or no Title IX, basketball is essential to her as much as breathing. The law, granting equity for men’s and women’s sports, passed when McKinzie-Lechault turned 16.

The book is her personal basketball life journal, written from the heart. With apologies to actor Kevin Costner and his role as an aging pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, “Home Sweet Hardwood” could have been titled “Love of the Game,” too. Throughout, McKinzie-Mechault overcomes endless life double teams – from being bit by a rabid skunk as a child, to overcoming the “tomboy” label as an active youngster and the stereotype of female athlete later, to coping with the rigors of playing pro ball with little or no compensation, or dealing with the end of her playing days after a near tragic car accident.

Born in Sandwich, McKinzie-Lechault starred on her dad’s early Sterling High School powerhouse quintets and went on to play for coach Jill Hutchison at ISU. She performed for the Washington Metros and St. Louis Streaks of the fledgling and short-lived Women’s Professional Basketball League (remember the Chicago Hustle?) before finishing her pro career in Germany and France and confronting more hardwood cultural shock.

The midwestern gal from the cornfields has lived overseas for 30-plus years and now resides in Switzerland. Married to a Frenchman, McKinzie-Lechault teaches, coaches, and writes a blog site called “X-pat Files From Overseas.” She has a unique, funny and down-to-earth perspective. If you’ve ever been hypnotically transfixed by shooting baskets and dribbling for hours by yourself, you will enjoy this book. I recommend it, especially for young women players.

“My Life, Deleted: A Memoir” by Scott and Joan Bolzan, and Caitlin Rother, HarperCollins Publishers, hardcover, 291 pages

Scott and Joan Bolzan transcended the classic NIU romance story. He the former Huskie team tri-captain, Honorable Mention Associated Press All-America offensive tackle, and NFL draft choice on the Hall of Fame 1983 California Bowl squad and she the pert, cute blonde cheerleader. This was 1950s Walt Disney material.

On the morning of Dec. 17, 2008 – the exact 25th anniversary of NIU’s victory in that Cal Bowl game – Scott stopped in the men’s washroom before work, slipped on a wet spot, and hit his head on the floor. The result: a severe concussion, brain damage and retrograde amnesia. He woke up in the ER, didn’t recognize his wife and couldn’t recall his own name. Forty-six years, his life, his memories, like a computer hard drive, all deleted.

When I saw Scott’s story on NBC’s “Dateline,” I honestly, didn’t believe it. “Dateline” interviewed him in his office with his framed white Cal Bowl jersey in the background. How could he forget that? But the bizarre circumstances captivated America. The couples’ book – a New York Times best-seller after only two weeks in release – followed with a national speaking tour and TV appearances. The Bolzans guest-starred on “Dr. Phil,” “The View,” “Good Morning America,” “The 700 Club,” and in People magazine among others.

When the Bolzan book tour reached the Duke Ellington Ballroom at NIU’s Holmes Student Center, I went. Who wouldn’t be curious and I knew them both. Like the book, their lecture was interesting, personal, poignant and humorous. Think about “relearning” your life with your spouse, family, friends, ex-teammates.

Before the program, I got a knowing hug from Joan. Afterward, I introduced myself to Scott and told him I had worked for the university and with the football team when he had played. As strange as it sounds, at that point, I knew more about his college and pro football careers than he did. When I looked at his face and made eye contact, there was no sense, any sense, of prior recognition from him. If Scott was faking this, then he made Robert Redford look like a pauper as an actor.

In fairness, I must note that some media – particularly the New York Post in 2011 – remained skeptical about Bolzan’s condition and that the amnesia story was a money-making ploy. Not that the Post represents the pillar of journalism, mind you.

In any case, fact or fiction, the Bolzans tell a fascinating story. It’s an absorbing read. Enjoy.

Mike Korcek is a former NIU sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at sports@daily-chronicle.com.

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