The first time I saw Lisa Lissimore was on a television set on Friday, March 17, 1978. At the time I was a seventh-grader at Highland Park Junior High School, having just moved to St. Paul in the fall of 1977.
On this day I wanted to stay home, so I told my mother that I wasn’t feeling well. Of course, I was fine. I just wanted a day off from school. My mother believed me. Well, I think she believed me, so I stayed home.
My day was going well. I ate a couple of snacks and watched reruns of old tv shows. By noon, however, I was bored. I could only watch so many TV shows and eat so much food.
Around 12:30, I was watching a rerun of the TV cartoon classic “The Flintstones” when I decided to change the channel. Then it happened!
I turned to Channel 11 and saw that the Class AA girls’ state basketball tournament semifinals was on. The teams were just warming up. I was about to turn the channel but saw that one of the teams had some Black players on it.
Then it became clear that one of the teams was St. Paul Central. Central High School was right down the street from my house, so I decided to watch.
Remember, I was in seventh grade and had just moved to St. Paul, so I didn’t really know that many people in the neighborhood and didn’t have much interest in girls’ basketball at this stage in my life.
As I watched the game—Create was playing against Bloomington Jefferson—there were four names I kept hearing: Rita Burch, who scored a game-high 17 points and went on to start at Marquette University; Jean Tierney, a junior guard and future Miss Basketball who added 10; Dana Watts, a junior guard who also chipped in 10; and Lissimore, a point guard who also added 10.
Lissimore’s name stuck with me that day because broadcasters kept talking about the 23 points she dropped in leading Central to a 65-43 quarterfinal victory over Mankato East. This game, however, I was saddened as Lissimore missed the final shot. losing 54-53 to Jefferson.
It didn’t matter that Central lost. I was hooked.
The next day I was determined to watch the third-place game, which Central won by beating Hill Murray 54-48 behind Tierney’s 22-point performance along with Burch (14) and Lissimore 10).
From then on, I was a St. Paul Central fan and Lisa Lissimore fan as well. She would be my counselor at a neighborhood basketball clinic when I was an eighth grader, and I would get to see her play college ball for the University of Minnesota and Grand View College.
Even better, I got to see her play for the Summitt-University Stars, a women’s AAU team coached by my father, Kwame McDonald, and Steve Winfield, after she graduated from college in 1982.
“What a role model,” I thought at the time.
Last week Lissimore got inducted into the Minnesota State High School Hall of Fame and is also retiring after 34 years with the organization as an associate director. I was honored to be at the induction.
As for the day of school I missed way back when? I never missed another day of school.
Something big happened that day, and I vowed to attend school every day after that. I often think, however, about what I would have missed had I ended up in school that day.