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The Adventures of Maggie

A continuing saga

Sunday, December 19, 2004; Page W04

Our story so far: Maggie Lonergan, the women's basketball coach at Catholic University, prepares for her first season without her husband at the same school to help her with court strategy or child care. To catch up on Episode 1, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.


A little boy with greasy hands comes flying toward women's basketball coach Maggie Lonergan as she rounds a corner at Catholic Universitywearing a gray skirt, gray jacket, red blouse and black-leather pumps. This is her attire for the season's first game, which begins in less than 30 minutes, notwithstanding the child currently planting his pizza-stained hands squarely on Maggie's backside. "Mommy," he says.

(Photo by D.A. Peterson)

"Were your hands just on my goopa?" Maggie asks, looking down at her 5-year-old son, Jack. He shakes his head guiltily, but Maggie , 32, twists around to make sure that Jack hasn't left palm prints on her skirt. She glances toward a coffee table where a cheese pizza sits one-third eaten. One piece looks as if it's been nibbled on by a mouse, so tiny are the bite marks.

Where is your little sister? Maggie asks Jack.

She's with Poppy, Jack answers.

Catholic is hosting a two-day basketball tournament, and Maggie has shouldered much of the work: inviting teams, drawing brackets, designing programs, getting T-shirts printed, hiring referees. To complicate matters, Maggie's sister, Kate Cruz, who usually looks after Jack and Margaret in the afternoons and evenings, is out of town this week. Maggie's husband, Mike Lonergan, Catholic's former men's basketball coach and a newly hired assistant at the University of Maryland, has a game tonight, too. Needing backup, Maggie called her dad, Maurice Meagher, aka Poppy, who drove to Bowie to watch the kids.

Poppy walks through the door with Margaret, a pigtailed 4-year-old. Maggie is relieved to see that her daughter is okay and rushes off to make final preparations for the 8 p.m. game. "I'm a little bit out of my mind," Maggie says as she whizzes by.

Margaret and Poppy take a seat next to Jack, who is contemplating one more piece of pizza. "I usually don't watch the games," he announces. "But Poppy might make me." He takes one bite and tosses the slice back into the box.

When the Catholic University Cardinals take the court, they jump out to an 8-2 lead against the team from McDaniel College in Westminster, Md. Maggie is the portrait of an intense coach: pacing, yelling to players from the bench, castigating or congratulating them with a single, focused gaze. Margaret takes up a position along the baseline, among the Catholic cheerleaders, and waves a pair of pompoms to encourage her mother. Jack, true to his word, doesn't pay much attention to the game. He prefers the lobby over the gym. "One of [the cheerleaders] once kissed me. That's why I'm never going near them again," he explains. "That wasn't funny at all."

By halftime, Catholic's lead has shrunk to one point. During the second half, it evaporates, and McDaniel wins by 11. Maggie walks briskly from the gym, clearly frustrated. In the lobby, Jack is lying flat on his belly on a table. "Mom," he calls out in a groggy voice.

"Can you give me five minutes?" Maggie asks her sleepy son. "It's 300 seconds." Jack nods, and as Maggie hurries away with her team, he begins to slowly count.

-- Tyler Currie

© 2004 The Washington Post Company