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Vol. 50, No. 3 • March 2013 • .pdf version
Twenty-five years ago, Katha Quinn set the standard
She had to know she was dying.
As she stood before us in Kansas City a quarter century ago, honored for turning strength of will into an event at the Pan American Games during the previous summer, Katha Quinn spoke of a future that had not been promised. She acknowledged her circumstance without dwelling on it. She chose to concentrate on everyone else, especially the people at St. John's University, the Big East conference and beyond who had made her role as sports information director so rewarding.
And when she was finished, in a room filled with tears, the applause went on and on and on. In the history of the USBWA, there had not been a moment quite like it.
Katha had been honored for an achievement she did not consider remarkable. She had agreed to supervise the basketball media operation at Market Square Arena during the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis. She wouldn't allow a little thing such as a diagnosis of liver cancer get in the way of her job.
The diagnosis was made in January, approximately six months before the event. So she made her commitment part of a recovery plan. Actually, the commitment became the focal point. Obsession might not be too strong a word.
"Dying is no big deal," Red Smith once said. "The least of us will manage that. Living is the trick."
The way she lived her life became the lesson she left behind. Katha began to undergo experimental chemotherapy treatments that would continue for 18 months. According to St. John's officials, previous treatments with other patients had not extended more than seven months. Katha was going to be there in the late summer, and she was going to complete the job. She followed every instruction. She endured the treatments. She took naps. She ate fruits and vegetables. She made it to Indianapolis, navigated through the demanding tournament schedule and supervised an efficient operation.
During the final days of the tournament, in the middle of a quiet afternoon, there was concern on her face as she asked a question:
"How do I look?"
The truth was that she looked great. On behalf of those of us that had not been following a healthy regimen, regularly choosing to conclude our workdays with a cheeseburger and adult beverage at 1:30 a.m., the truth was that Katha was in the 98th percentile among credentialed media members in Indianapolis.
That is how she looked on that Monday morning in Kansas City when she received a then-unnamed award for outstanding service to the industry. In the quarter century to follow, the roster of Katha Quinn Award winners has grown into a collection of outstanding public relations officers and administrators. This year's award is going to Greg Shaheen, the former NCAA executive vice president, championships and alliances.
The sad reality was that the truth lied. The 50th Final Four was Katha's last. She passed away the following March, one day before her birthday, at the age of 35.
"Yesterday she said to me, 'I need a miracle,'" Lou Carnesecca, then the St. John's coach, said after her passing. "What she didn't know was that she was the miracle."
Malcolm Moran is director of the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University Indianapolis.
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