Gorham author’s new work ‘captures the spirit’ of early women’s basketball
Gorhamite Joanne Lannin has a love affair with writing: Lannin wrote sports and features for the Portland Press Herald for 22 years, has taught English and journalism at Bonny Eagle since 2003, writes a monthly column for Maine Women magazine and has just self-published her third book, Finding a Way to Play: The Pioneering Spirit of Women in Basketball.
“I want readers to understand the struggles their great-grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers went through to play basketball,” Lannin says of her motivation. “Until very recently, the idea of women being just as passionate and competitive as men on the basketball court was frowned upon.”
Lannin herself is a lifelong athlete. She grew up “about 20 minutes south of Boston,” where she played high school softball and basketball alongside her twin sister. Later, she played basketball at the University of New Hampshire. “We beat UConn in the pre-Geno Auriemma era!” she says proudly. Auriemma, of course, is the head coach of the 11-time NCAA Division I National Champion Huskies.
Nowadays, she still plays: She’s a member of a 60-plus women’s senior team and has won two gold medals at the National Senior Games in the 55-plus division.
(Her team, as an aside, is actively recruiting: “I’d like to put in a plug here for Maine Senior Women’s basketball,” she says. “We could use a few more women for our 50- and 55-plus teams!”)
As many players do, Lannin also took up coaching. She coached middle school basketball at Mahoney Middle School in South Portland for 17 years and has coached at Bonny Eagle, where she teaches, for the past five years.
In short: She has all the experience and know-how readers could want.
Lerner Publications in Minnesota published her first two books, a biography of women’s tennis titan Billie Jean King for young adults and a history of basketball for girls and women. For “Finding a Way to Play,” though, she opted to self-publish.
“I thought it would be fun to self-publish,” she says. “It certainly does seem to be a trend. I did a good deal of research on self-publishing and had a professional graphic designer, Sue Schenning, design the cover.”
Lannin laid out the book herself, but conscripted her husband, Rik O’Neal, and a friend, John Halvorsen – both men are former editors for the Portland Press Herald – as well as her sister, also an English teacher, to scrutinize the manuscript.
“I wanted the book to look and be as professionally done as possible,” Lannin says, “and with their help, I think we accomplished that.”
Lannin gives a bit of history: “In many states, it depended upon what town you grew up in, whether or not you even had a team to play on. Many women ‘hit the road’ and traveled hundreds of miles to fuel their passion for playing basketball.”
The first few chapters of Finding a Way to Play, she says, are related to chapters from her second book. She used that book as a jumping off point, but where it was organized chronologically, “Finding a Way to Play” is more people-centric.
In returning to the topic of women in basketball, Lannin specifically aimed to be more inclusive. “I wanted to rectify some serious omissions from my first book,” she says, “which neglected the stories of African-American women, Native American women, senior women, and lesbians. I re-wrote some existing chapters and wrote four new chapters highlighting the struggles and accomplishments of some of these amazing women.”
Lannin – obviously one to stretch her horizons – has started a publishing outfit, Portlandia Press, as well.
“I’d like to see if I could help other writers get their sports stories into print.” She herself would also like to write another basketball book, “perhaps the story of a prominent player or coach.”
She refuses to be pigeonholed – or to pigeonhole herself – though. “I don’t like to think of myself as a one-trick pony, so I have some ideas for books that are not sports-related. We’ll see.”
Lannin blogs about women in basketball at http://www.findingawaytoplay.com, where she also promotes the book.
“Those who grew up before Title IX,” Lannin says on the site, “may find themselves or loved ones in the stories of women who kept the earliest flame alive.”
The site also quotes an effusive Jackie MacMullan of ESPN, saying: “Joanne Lannin…captures the spirit of the women who pioneered the sport she treasures. Their stories are inspiring, heartbreaking and infuriating, and they spring to life with the author’s steady voice guiding the way. If you love the game, you’ll love this book.”
Lannin proffers advice to the young female athletes of today: “Someone gave me a T-shirt once that said, ‘Basketball Is Life.’ I know I’ve learned a lot about life and about myself from playing this game….Appreciate the opportunities you have to play, play with passion, learn and grow from your experiences and pass your love of sports on to others when you grow up.