February 12, 2009

Remembering Coach Collins-Parker

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The walls of volleyball head coach Deitre Collins-Parker’s corner office were mostly bare Monday when I knocked on the halfway opened door. Deitre was obviously in the process of packing up the last of her stuff — a dejected black mini-fridge stood, unplugged, in front of her desk, and piles of office paraphernalia lay in haphazard heaps. In front of the dark monitor, a row of unopened Slimfast shakes stood quietly. It was their last day too, after all.
This was it, the final interview. After five seasons Deitre had decided to accept the newly vacated position of head coach at San Diego State, a university much closer to her elderly parents. She will be greatly missed; by her team, obviously, which she led to three Ivy League titles and two NCAA tournament berths. But she will also be missed by me, a lowly Assistant Sports Editor, who will never forget her professionalism, her candor or the respect she showed me from the very first time I walked apprehensively through her door more than two years ago.
It was a crisp October day, October 3 to be precise, when I first set foot in Deitre’s Bartels Hall office. I was a freshman from California, still adjusting to the October cold, this assignment was only my second as a rookie sports reporter for The Sun. Ironically, I wasn’t in Deitre’s office that day to write a story about her, or, for that matter, about volleyball. My assignment was to interview Deitre’s husband, Dale Parker, who had recently been named an assistant coach for the women’s basketball team. I remember Deitre cut an imposing figure, especially when framed by her less-than-spacious office. Dale was even taller than his wife, and his legs seemed far too long for the small desk chairs we were all sitting on. Obviously, I was intimidated by the power couple … one could even say terrified. What I didn’t realize that day was just how many more times I would return to that office, how many times I would find myself talking to Dale at 10 p.m., nervously asking if I could please speak to Deitre, just for three minutes, I promise, in search of last-minute quotes. I didn’t realize that one day I would be the one to announce Deitre’s final goodbye.
While this might seem silly to some, when I heard that Deitre was leaving, I was truly sad. For me, Deitre represents so much of what I love about writing for the sports section, so many of the reasons that keep me from abdicating to the News section, that keep me reporting on Cornell athletics day after day after day.
I cannot stress enough the importance a sports reporter places on open access to athletes and the coaching staff. Deitre never declined an interview request, never blew me off. She gave me her office phone number, then her cell phone and home phone numbers as well. She would patiently answer my countless queries and provided her own analysis of players and match play, all while trying to prevent her puppy from destroying the furniture at her feet.
The type of tired sports clichés favored by many a Division I coach never snuck into our frequent interviews — there was none of the “We just need to give 100 percent” crap that is the bane of sports journalists everywhere. If one of Deitre’s payers was playing like crap, she would tell me, with the expectation that I would publish that girl’s name in my article, along with the less-than flattering evaluation. Frankly, it was refreshing.
My sophomore year, I was assigned volleyball as my permanent beat, and then, when I became an Assistant Editor, a job that comes with the perk of being able to pick your beat from among the “best” of Cornell’s high-profile sports teams, I requested volleyball again. I learned to appreciate the team’s youthful enthusiasm, its pride.
And as I gradually learned more and more about Cornell’s volleyball program in general, I also began to learn more about Deitre herself. I leaned that this remarkable woman had a lot of experience to back up her intimidating stature on the court, learned that she had graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1985 as perhaps the best collegiate volleyball player of all time, learned that she had collected enough awards over her career to fill the shelves of her Bartels office many times over.
While leading Hawaii to consecutive national titles and a 110-5 record in her final three seasons, Deitre was a two-time Broderick Award honoree for player of the year, in 1983 and 1984. During this time she also made the NCAA all-tournament team twice. Her senior year, Deitre capped off her career by winning the Broderick Cup outright, and was named the nation’s best collegiate athlete — in any sport.
After finding herself to be too big a fish for the collegiate pond, Deitre spent three years playing professionally in Italy and France. In 1988, she started as middle blocker for the U.S Olympic Team in Seoul, South Korea, and retuned to the Games in 1992 as an alternate. She also earned medals at the 1986 Goodwill Games, and 1987 Pan-Am Games before heading back home to start her coaching career. She has been named to the Big West All-Decade Team and the NCAA 25th Anniversary Team, and was inducted into the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008.
There are many more things that could be said here, many more accolades to shower and facts to spout. But instead, I will end with a simple thank you. So, Deitre, while you are reclining by the sunny beach courts of Southern California, just remember that Nor Cal will always be better than So Cal. Always. And, more importantly, that East Hill thanks you for everything you have done for Cornell. Good luck, Coach. You will be missed.