Six-foot-four-inch Sheila Patterson sliced the long fingers of one hand across her throat and said she has "had it up to here." One of the most publicized women college basketball players ever to play in this area, Patterson quit Federal City College's team after quarreling with coach Wanda Oates over what Patterson and some of the other players viewed as favoritism toward freshman Sheila Williams.
"I've almost come to the conclusion that women coaches are petty because they put all their feelings into their job," Patterson said."They can't be neutral. Because of the experience I've had with Bessie Stockard and Wanda Oates, I've learned some things I could use if I ever coach.
"Women are petty. They let their personal feelings get all wrapped up in their job and I don't think it should be like that," Patterson said in a lengthly interview recently.
Patterson's four years at FCC have been marked by one volatile situation after another. She clashed from the beginning with strong-willed Bessie Stockard over curfew regulations and other rules. When Stockard was fired in the fall of 1975 by newly hired athletic director Oliver Thompson, Patterson was one of the few players who didn't defend Stockard. Some insist that it was Patterson who recommended Oates as a replacement.
But Oates offered no solution to Patterson's problems. "The frustrations began to build from the William Penn game," Patterson said, beginning at the beginning.
She tried to make light of the situation, punctuating her long and detailed description of what happened with little bursts of near-silent laughter. But the laughter was strained.
"Sheila Williams walked off the court and all I know is she said no one was giving her the ball. You just don't walk off and leave the team after all that work. I was out at the time with four fouls and we lost the game."
"Tears began to fall down my face," Patterson recalled. "I began to get angry."
Patterson said she telephoned Oates to complain about the special treatment given to Williams, who she said, was not reprimanded for her action.As captain of the team, Patterson had been approached by other players who complained about the situation.
"I told Wanda that Williams would have never felt she was big enough to walk off the court if Wanda hadn't treated her better than the rest of us. She would take her to the grocery store and drive her to pick up her laundry. It didn't really matter to me because I'm so much older, but some of the girls were upset."
There were other incidents, Patterson said. Oates was trying to re-established the basketball dominance of FCC, which completed its season with a 13-10 record. But some players took exception to what Patterson called Oates' heavy treatment.
"She does a lot of cursing and I wasn't used to that. She screamed at all of us one night in practice and said she was going to write 'dummies' on all our uniforms. One night she got mad and told us we would have to find rides for ourselves after practice. We had to walk at night from McKinley Tech and it was five below zero," Patterson said.
"As captain, the players were telling me to tell Wanda this and that, but I was always trying to tell them to be cool. But there was just nobody to tell me to be cool."
Oates said Patterson took exception to a coaching suggestion she made. Subsequently, a personally conflict between the two flared. The breach became so irreparable, Patterson quit the team.
Patterson, 22, is still struggling for maturity. Her years at FCC have not offered her a smooth path to womanhood.
One of eight children, Patterson was sitting on top of her world her senior year in high school in Dayton, Ohio. She had a blossoming modeling career, a job that enabled her to live with three friends in a rented house and enjoy teen-age independence in the shadow of a close-knit family. Her basketball career was zooming; she scored 42 points in a championship game and Sports Illustrated featured her in its "Faces in the Crowd" section.
She decided to drop the modeling and go to FCC because, "I told myself if I go to college I can teach for all my life. If I model that my only last a few years."
She came to Washington and began to wrestle with growing-up problems in the public arena of a highly publicized basketball team. She had few close friends. She was the star of the team. And quite alone.
Then her brother, who had moved to Washington, was murdered. "He was the oddball in the family," she recalled. "Everybody else played basketball but he was a wrestler. When that happened (his murder), it blewmy mind. I almost fall out at FCC but I dedicated myself to getting through to set an example for my other brothers and sisters."
Basketball was an escape valve for bottled-up emotions and energies. "I'm the kind of student who needs something extra to do or I might end up on the most wanted list," Patterson joked.
And starring in basketball was a natural justification for being painfully tall. "I used to not even answer when people called me "Too-Tall," Patterson said. "But now I like it. I love being tall.
"Now I wish I was real tall - like 6-foot-6. You know, once I was playing "Horse" with Jennifer Mitchell and, you won't believe this, but I dunked. The boys we were playing with fell down on the floor and said they quit. I'm still trying to learn how to drunk but there's nobody to help me."
The memory is painful because Jennifer Mitchell died suddenly. "It pastor about my problems. She disturbed me because she was my friend," Patterson said. "I talked to urged me to consider if playing basketball and putting up with all that confusion was worth it.
"But the hardest part of it was letting it end up like this," Patterson said, her laughter now gone. The way her career ended was full of pettiness, the kind of pettiness that has marked the women's basketball program at FCC since its inception. "It's a case of strong personalities trying to operate within the same yard," Thompson said.
Thompson thinks part of Patterson's discontent was generated by a belief that the school didn't publicize her enough to gain all-America honors. Patterson denies this.
But she did want to be an All-America and to make the Olympic team. She knows she has basketball weaknesses but she has been conditioned by her FCC experience to blame personality conflicts. She wanted to finish her career at FCC, and she claims she went out of her way to remedy the conflict with Oates.
"She (Oates) turned her back on me one time when I went up to talk to her," Patterson claims. Another time, Patterson backed out of a meeting in Thompson's office with Oates because Thompson refused to be present as arbiter.
Patterson said she was not sloughing off and that she was not being a prima donna. She had simply had enough of the tension and personality conflicts that have no place in team sports.
"I feel like I went out of my ways to try to get things right," Patterson said. "I told my teammates I had reached my limit and I didn't have to prove anything to FCC or to Oates. I didn't just put FCC on the map locally or regionally. I put them on the map nationally.
"No, I have no regrets," Patterson said, a slow smile spreading. "Besides, I'm getting my nerves back. I'm just getting back in the swing of studying, and, you know, I'll be the first in my family to graduate from college."