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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Grip on Sports: Trailblazers like Virginia Danke should never be forgotten by anyone – but especially by those following in their paths

Virginia Danke, a pioneer for women’s sports in the region, died Sunday at the age of 94. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Virginia Danke, a pioneer for women’s sports in the region, died Sunday at the age of 94. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It’s mystifying how losing someone can remind others of how much they’ve gained. But that’s the case today as we look back at the changes wrought over Virginia Danke’s long and full life.

•••••••

• We’re not here to write an obituary of Danke’s 94 years of life. Our friend Chuck Stewart did that for today’s newspaper. We are, however, here to celebrate the changes she, and people like her, brought to our sporting world in that time frame.

Danke, who taught and coached at Lewis and Clark High for three decades, was born in 1925, the same year as my father. That means she came of age in the worst part of the Depression, when no one had much of anything, including food, money or free time. It was a time that shaped everyone who lived through it.

Then came the war, another time that blasted away at society’s norms. Women took over positions formerly occupied solely by men and showed they were more than qualified. That included, in minor ways, the world of sports.

Attitudes were changing, albeit slowly.

Danke (at right in the picture above) helped move those attitudes along here in Spokane as a teacher and coach at LC. As Chuck’s obit states, she was “considered the mother of girls high school sports in Spokane.”

And she watched over them as they grew.

Not having lived in Spokane in those years, I can’t speak to how it was here. But I know how it was where I grew up. Even in the early 1970s – not all that long ago, it seems to me – the best athlete at my sister’s high school in Pasadena was a girl. She just didn’t have the opportunities to show it the boys did.

I don’t remember her name. All I can remember is this young woman’s abilities. She was the older sister of a boy I played Pop Warner football with and her skill at running, at throwing a football, at kicking it, dwarfed those of her classmates.

We watched her in awe.

By then Danke was in the middle of her long life and trying to ensure girls had the opportunity she had lacked. What better way to spend your years than helping others improve their lives?

And it worked. Thanks to efforts by Danke and others with the same views, the girls of today have the opportunity to compete in athletics if they want. That door is no longer barred to them as it was, for the most part, to those of Danke’s generation.

Never taking no for an answer. Always looking ahead. Doing more with less. Those of Danke’s generation grew up learning how to overcome the odds. What she did in helping the ensuing generations can’t be understated. It was the natural outgrowth of a time with nothing, ensuring others that followed had the chance at, if not everything, certainly much, much more.

Such pioneers should never be forgotten.

•••

Gonzaga: One of those who availed herself of opportunities mentioned above was Lewis and Clark High graduate Heather Bowman. The standout forward at GU is the Bulldogs’ WCC Hall of Fame inductee this season. Jim Allen has more in this story. … The women’s team is on the road tonight with a chance to clinch sole possession of the conference title. Jim has a preview of the game at Loyola Marymount as well as the news coach Lisa Fortier is a national coach of the year candidate. … The men host USF tonight in McCarthey, a rematch of what was a tight game in San Francisco earlier this month. Jim Meehan has a preview of the game and follows up with a look at the key matchup. … Back to the women, Jesse Loera’s sister Jamie traveled from Arizona to Spokane to attend the GU guard’s senior day. The trip caught the interest of the Phoenix media. … Elsewhere in the WCC, BYU’s offense is respected around the country, but it is how the Cougars defend that will decide the future.

WSU: The Cougars hosted California last night without starting point guard Isaac Bonton. Once again his absence hurt, as the Bears stifled the Washington State offense en route to a 66-57 victory. Theo Lawson was there and has this game story. … Around the Pac-12, the most important games of the weekend happen in the desert, with the Oregon schools facing off with the Arizona teams. The Ducks are at Arizona State tonight while Arizona, on a roll, hosts Oregon State, which needs to improve its outside shooting. The conference title is still up-in-the-air. … The question is being asked on the West Side. Will Washington win another game this season? Stanford comes to town tonight. … UCLA heads to Utah tonight trying to stay hot and slow down the Utes at home. … Colorado faces off with USC. … Should basketball adopt some of football’s eligibility rules? … How does the Pac-12 feel about new transfer rules? … In football news, Colorado is still looking for a coach and now the Buffs may lose a quarterback. … Utah has to replace a key linebacker. … USC won’t be playing UC Davis after all.

CCS and NIC: The Cardinals haven’t been tested all that much in the NWAC season, but host CCS did just that last night. Still, NIC survived 103-100 in overtime. Ryan Collingwood was there and he has this coverage.

Preps: District titles and seeding were decided last night in girls and boys basketball action around the area. … The State wrestling tournament is this weekend in the Tacoma Dome. Ryan has a preview of what the local wrestlers can expect. … Dave Nichols previews the State gymnastic meet, which will be held at Sammamish High. … Dave also spoke with Larry Weir about the weekend’s basketball matchups. The conversation is part of the latest Press Box pod.

Chiefs: A 6-3 win at Lethbridge on Wednesday night clinched a WHL playoff spot for Spokane.

Mariners: Kyle Seager is the veteran in camp, having played more games for the M’s than anyone else in the clubhouse. But he knows he could be wearing a different uniform tomorrow if that’s what the team thinks helps for the future.

Seahawks: The NFL is thinking hard about expanding its playoffs. Will the Hawks need Jadeveon Clowney to get there?

•••       

• My dad was pretty much a man of his times, with attitudes that many would consider unfathomable today. But his thoughts about his daughters and sports went well beyond what most of his peers ever believed. No one was going to tell his girls what they couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do. Until later …

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