Widow, mother of six, junior high school science teacher, Jacqueline Kirchner last spring made a classroom promise: she would play in the student-faculty basketball game if - and only if - her daughter, Kris, made the U.S. Junior Pan-American team. Very unlikely [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
"But I made it," Kris Kirchner said, "and I called to find out how Mom had done in the game. She'd always said, 'Basketball? My fingernails!' Well, she scored three points and I said, 'That's pretty good.'
"Mom said, kinda sarcastic, 'Three is good?'"
late last Friday Jacqueline Kirchner and another daughter, Kendra, 16, decided to fly here. Kris would play in a game for the women's college basketball championship. So the mother flew seven hours from New Jersey to see Maryland and her tallest child play the UCLA Bruins.
Only four years ago, Kris Kirchner was so uncontrollably gangly - she grew six inches one summer, up to 6-foot-2 - she said, "I couldn't chew gum and run at the same time." A year from today, she may be an All-America player. The transformation did not just happen. It is a love story in sneakers.
Kirchner's father died eight years ago. So he never saw her play basketball. She'd been a softball player around Scotch Plains. N.J. Already 5-8 in the eight grade, she was embarrassed to think of running and jumping. She liked it a lot better standing still on a softball field.
But then, for no good reason other than "I just decided to do it," Kris Kirchner enrolled at a girls' Catholic high school prominent in athletics. If she were to play basketball, it might as well be for the best in town. Only problem was, she'd grown those six inches, making her a prospect certainly but also leaving her so awkward a sophomore, Nancy Foulks, took pity on her.
At Foulks' suggestion, Kirchner spent the next summer doing hours of agility drills in her backyard. She high-steeped through inner tubes and exchanged feet from a tall bench to the ground. Try those tricks for hours sometime. Then say women don't work at basketball.
As a high school senior, Kirchner was a good player, an All-Stater, the object of college recruiters' attention. The U.S. Military Academy wanted her and so did Rutgers, Virginia and Old Dominion. She averaged 23.5 points a game, 21 rebounds, seven blocked shots. her team lost in the state championship game. That's when Chris Weller, the Maryland coach, first saw her. "My heart went boom-boom-boom," Weller said.
An aunt, Mary Golden, gave Kirchner advice. "She said, 'kris, you're going to walk into a school and you'll know it's the one for you,'" Kirchner said. At some places, they turned on the arena lights for her. "I was awed," she said.
At Maryland, though, Weller said she wasn't authorized to turn on the lights at Cole Field House. She showed Kirchner the locker room.
"And there were all these little things scurrying around," Kirchner said."I asked what they were and Miss Weller said, 'Cockroaches.' I said, 'Cockroaches?' And she said, 'Better get used to 'em because they're hard to get rid of.'"
Right away, Kirchner remembered what Aunt Mary told her. 'Maryland was the place. I just felt it was in me. I didn't even want to visit anywhere else."
Eight months later, a star on a team that might win the national championship, Kirchner scored 30 points and had 17 rebounds in a semifinal victory. That night she called home to New Jersey, where her mother was waiting by the phone. In a voice heavy with mock depression, Kirchner said, "Mom . . ."
Then, loudly: "We won!"
The exciting part, Kirchner said later before she knew her mother was going to fly to California, was that the victory would enable her mother to see the championship game on television yesterday. "Whenever I've done something good, I kinda think of my father," she said. "But now it's more for may mother. She gets a personal thrill from it."
Her mother is a constant critic, Kirchner said. "I don't care if I get 1,000 points and 7 million rebounds, she'd find something wrong." Kirchner was glad for that, she said, and she smiled broadly, proud that her mother cared. "I'm glad we'll be on TV. I can't wait to see what she thinks."
That was Thursday night. The next night, Mrs. Kirchner flew here. her daughter, Kendra, wore a red blouse with white stitching emblazoned across the front: "Ruin The Bruins." The Kirchners sat at the end court. It was for the family a very long night.
UCLA won, 90-74. In the decisive first half, when Maryland had the ball near the Kirchners' seats, Kris made only two of six shots. She wound up with seven of 21 and had 15 rebounds. Not a bad game, but not the kind a star ought to provide when the national championship is the reward.
The arena, UCLA's home court, was awash with joy. The winners' All-America, Ann Meyers, stood on somebody's shoulders and cut down a net as a remembrance. The fans sang, "Happy Birthday, Annie," for the next day was her 23rd birthday.
And Kris Kirchner walked to the end of the court. There she stood with her mother and sister, occasionally shrugging, finally smiling at something. They laughed. It had been a good fight, and they'd live to do it again. When Kris left to return to the Maryland bench, her mother called after her, loudly, "You'll be back next year, Krissie."
She was happy her mother came to the game Kirchner said, "but it kinds made me a little nervous. It always does when she's at a game. She was sitting under the basket and every time down, I'd look her in the eyes."
Mrs. Kirchner said, "I'm tough on all my children," and her tallest child said, "She expects the best."
"And she gets it."