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Transforming Women's Basketball.

Tara VanDerveer coached the Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. Women’s basketball team. The team’s performance drew large crowds and secured the formation of two professional U.S. women’s leagues: the WNBA and the ABL. VanDerveer has written a book about her own experience as a woman in sports. Its called “Shooting from the Outside: How a Coach and her Olympic Team Transformed Women’s Basketball.” (Avon Books) VanDerveer now coaches the Stanford University Women’s basketball team. (Interview by Barbara Bogaev)


Other segments from the episode on August 14, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 14, 1997: Interview with Cheryl Pearl Sucher; Interview with Tara VanDerveer.


Date: AUGUST 14, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081401np.217
Head: The Rescue of Memory
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.

My guest, Cheryl Pearl Sucher, is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Both of her parents were sent to the concentration camps and lost family members.

They emigrated to America and even though they made a successful new life in Brooklyn, her father was compelled to talk about his memories of the war, frequently and with horrifying detail, oblivious to the effect it might be having on his young children.

Cheryl Sucher's new novel, "The Rescue of Memory," is based on many of the stories her father told and the ways in which her parents' history shaped her own life.

The book is about a filmmaker named Rachel Walfish (ph). In this scene at the beginning of the book, Rachel is about to get married and she's gone home to see her parents.

CHERYL PEARL SUCHER, AUTHOR, "THE RESCUE OF MEMORY": On the hat shelf in my father's closet lies a steel-skin briefcase crammed with black and white serrated-edged photographs taken by him with his Leica after the liberation.

The images record such landmark occasions as the time Novelsky (ph), the lawyer-turned-mystery-writer, gave Nina the nightclub singer a diamond brooch; the afternoon that Edga (ph) from Osweicim (ph) collapsed in the snow after walking five miles with a ruptured appendix; and the first time that Kuppold (ph), who manufactured propeller parts in a Silesian slave labor factory, commanded an Opel Kapitan (ph).

But these images paled beside the predominant record of marriage. At first glance, these photographs seem to record a single wedding. The bride, pale from a day's fasting, is seen on the nuptial dais awaiting the groom's cortege to establish the verity (ph) beneath her veil.

Beckoning the camera with shy, upturned eyes, she smiles -- wistfully radiant, a rose bouquet wilts in her lap as she fixes her bobbed hair. She is a vision of innocence, younger than the years of her experience. Though she appears to be a single bride, over time she reveals herself to be as diverse as the shadows captured by the Leica's highly complex gradient lens.

BOGAEV: Cheryl Pearl Sucher, reading from her new novel The Rescue of Memory.

Now, your father survived the Holocaust. Did he have a closet full of photographs?

SUCHER: Yes, he did.


BOGAEV: And were a lot of them of weddings?

SUCHER: Yes. Most of them were of weddings, and huge weddings. I think that the entire community came out for every wedding. And my father, himself, like the father in my book The Rescue of Memory, was always fascinated with machines and implements and the nature of recording events. And he had this -- one of the first single-lens Leica -- reflex Leica cameras, and took, I think, hundreds of photographs.

And I was -- as a child, I was fascinated with my father's photograph collection, just like Rachel.

BOGAEV: Were these group weddings?

SUCHER: My father got married with my aunt and uncle. My mother survived the war with her mother and brother, and my uncle was too poor to pay for a wedding himself, so they had a double wedding in the make-shift synagogue in the town of Lubeck (ph), which is where they lived after the war.

And I think that it wasn't a formal event. It was sort of a community event; that the survivors sort of celebrated every act of renewal, which is what I think the marriages were. And there were, as I say in my book, very few parents left. My grandmother who survived was one of the few mothers.

And so you see these masses of people, all of the same age, basically. And it's very startling.

BOGAEV: Now all throughout your book, the father, Raphael (ph), tells his stories of...

SUCHER: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: ... the war; of survival, and really in graphic detail, to his daughter.


BOGAEV: Both of your parents survived the Holocaust. Did they both talk about their experiences with you?

SUCHER: No. My father was very unusual in this way. And my father was a real storyteller. And my father, I think, got a lot of release out of telling the stories of the war. And the character of Raphael is very much that way; very garrulous; very gregarious. I mean, my father himself, like Raphael, was the kind of person who believed that talking was a virtue and that listening was -- there was nothing valued in listening.


And so he told a lot of stories and one of the interesting things that's happened to me since this book has been published is having children of other survivors read it and say, you know, my experience was not like that at all. My parents didn't talk at all. And my father really never stopped talking. And my mother, who was very sick my whole life, like the mother in my book, Aluba (ph), never really talked about it.

Her images were very distinct. She would talk about running away while the Americans were bombing Germany at the end of the war. And they were very, very specific. And they usually came out when there would be group meetings of survivors, because most of my parents' friends were survivors.

BOGAEV: When would your father start talking about his experience? At odd moments? Or a ritual after dinner?

SUCHER: Well, there was two times when my father would usually talk about the war. One was when we would drive together and we would be stuck in traffic. And he would start telling stories about what had happened to him in the war; about his family, who he missed greatly.

And the other time would be at the high holidays or at Passover when there would be groups of family members, and they would be together or we would have a meal, and somehow almost every story would digress to a story of the war; like some memory that happened yesterday would recall a memory of someone that had been lost.

And then they would almost digress to a sort of competitive talks about their experiences during the war, which were very dissociative. I mean, I knew that even as a child that there was sort of an emotionalist quality to their recapitulation of their war experiences.

And they would forget that there were children in the room, and they would forget that they were having an impact. It really became their way of sort of healing themselves together. And one of the things I tried to convey in my book is the impact that these stories had on Rachel; on Rachel being a survivor's child like myself.

BOGAEV: As a child, when you say they would forget that there was a child in the room...

SUCHER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: ... did you feel like an interloper or a shadow?

SUCHER: I felt very invisible. I felt that their experience in the war was much larger than my own life, and almost more important. I mean, they were also very funny, which is one of the things that I think hasn't really been depicted much about survivors, is that one of the ways they would talk about their experience was with levity.

It was a very dark humor, granted, but you know I found out actually since I've written the book that my grandfather, who was my mother's father, who died 10 days before the liberation, told funny stories throughout his time in Sachsenhausen (ph).

I mean, that was one of the ways that they sort of kept themselves buoyant. And when they would talk about the war, you know, they would talk about something funny that would happen, in the event of something horrible. And this was, like, my childhood.

And I didn't realize that it was any different until I would bring friends into my house who would be shocked, mortified, even nauseous -- that this was the kind of discussion that happened around the dinner table.

BOGAEV: What was one of your father's funnier stories?

SUCHER: Well, you know, my father, I think, stole a spoon from the commandant's larder in his last incarceration. He was very proud of the fact that he was healthy, and he really believed that it was his well-being which kept him alive during the war, which was very different than a lot of my other relations, who were very sick during the war and really attributed their survival to luck and chance.

And my father was in the slave labor factory where there was a former SS officer, and even what he says, a neuro-surgeon who was allowed to operate on another prisoner because they had a benevolent commandant. And both this doctor and this patient survived the war.

But he said he was gonna try to escape with the former SS officer, and he would talk about, like, they had spoons and they were gonna dig tunnels and then they stole these coats so they could run. And then, the SS officer took a friend and left my father behind.

And the way he would tell the story was sort of, you know, with these humorous anecdotes about the whole events of accruing all the implements and all the plans and sort of the irony of the fact that after all this work, he wasn't taken along.

So it's not a funny story per se, but it would be funny in its telling; in a very ironic way. I mean, I really would like to be clear about that. And that's something that I really tried to use in my own writing of the book, is a sense that, you know, the topic of the war and the tragedy of the war and the amount of suffering and killing and starvation and tragedy they endured, they had to find a way to survive, and I think that they cut through a lot of that pain through humor.

And I think that's very much a Jewish tradition, especially a Jewish literary tradition, and certainly something that I do in my life and in my writing.

BOGAEV: Your father traveled in the cattle cars from the Lodz (ph) ghetto...


BOGAEV: ... to Auschwitz with his...

SUCHER: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: ... mother, right -- and his sister and her three young children...


BOGAEV: ... at least as the story goes. What happened to them when they arrived?

SUCHER: My father came to Auschwitz, and one of the Thunder Commando (ph), which were the people that unloaded the trains and dealt with the bodies in the crematorium, was someone he had known from Lodz. And so he immediately called out my father's name and said: "do you see the stacks? The chimney with burning smoke? That's a crematorium. Tell your sister that she should leave her children and go with you, because if she's strong and healthy, she'll survive. You're going for a selection."

And my father then went to his sister and told her what he had been told, but she refused to leave her children and went with his mother and her children to the crematorium. And that was the last time my father ever saw his sister and his mother and her three children.

And that was a story that he told over and over and over again, for as long as I can remember. You now, it's not one of those stories that I remember suddenly being told when I was an adolescent, but something I'd heard from early childhood.

BOGAEV: When your father would tell that story over and over again, was there a moral at the end? Did he ever say: "she should have come with me; she should have left the children; you must always survive." Was there some moral for you as a child to cling to?

SUCHER: I think the moral is that there was a real feeling among the survivors that those who had survived were not the best people. And you know, this story of his sister choosing to go to the crematorium with her children was also cast in the knowledge that he adored his sister. I mean, he thought his sister was an angel on Earth.

You know, she was eight years older than him, which is exactly how much my own brother is older than me. And she worked in a corset factory and she gave all her money to her parents when they needed money; and she loved my father, who was kind of wayward and bratty and always skipping school to go to the movies himself.

And he just adored her. And I think that that -- the moral of that story was I think that my father felt -- a lot of survivors felt -- that those who had survived were not the best people. You know, that the best people were the ones who sacrificed themselves for other people. And I think that that really is the moral -- not that she shouldn't have gone, but that she was so good she could not let her children go.

BOGAEV: Cheryl Pearl Sucher is my guest. She's the daughter of Holocaust survivors and the author of new novel about a young woman growing up in the '60s in Brooklyn, whose parents were also Holocaust survivors. It's called The Rescue of Memory.

We're going to talk some more after a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

Back with writer Cheryl Pearl Sucher. Her new novel is The Rescue of Memory.

Your mother had a stroke just after you were born.

SUCHER: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: Did you ever feel guilty for her illness? Feel as if you brought it on?

SUCHER: Totally.


I mean, I think that that -- one of the reasons I write is I felt so guilty and so sad for my mother's illness, and it was such a defining element of my childhood. In fact, I had been trying to write a novel for many years and I, you know, started out writing a very magical, realistic adventure that starts off in, you know, the Ukraine and goes to Vienna then to Israel.

And I had a mentor at Wesleyan named Kit Reid (ph) who came down to visit me in New York. And I had written a collection of stories as a thesis as an undergraduate and hadn't really been able to sort of plunge into the novel. And she said to me: "you know, Cheryl, I think the reason you can't is you really have to write about your mother."

And I was terrified because my feelings about my mother in my life were very unresolved, and having a sick mother as a child, who was also a Holocaust survivor was a larger burden than I could even accommodate. And that really became sort of the motivation for my book, was to try to explore the character of my mother by inventing a character like her.

And in other drafts, in the beginning -- the nascent stages of the book -- it's all about trying to find the mother. And also that's one of the reasons the photographs become touch-tones; the home movies that Raphael takes -- is because they're the only concrete evidence that she has of her mother having been healthy. And that in her mind, she associates her birth with having been the beginning of the deterioration; the debilitation of her mother.

BOGAEV: And that's something that a child would never tell anyone. Even though the adults around you probably guessed this is how you felt, I'm sure you never talked about it with them.

SUCHER: No, I never talked about it. And one of the interesting things about having written this book is people who've known me for a very many years and know my family situation and know how difficult and painful it was for me to write this book, you know, they read the book and they said to me: "you know, Cheryl, we didn't know the half of it."

Because I think those feelings of shame and guilt, you know, because on one hand, as a child you want a healthy mother, you know, who can take you shopping and go to the movies with you. And yet you feel that that desire to have a different mother is so horrible because, you know, this is your mother and you love her -- when you wish she were someone else.

And I think that when I was a child, I really felt that we would be happy if my mother would be well. And I felt terribly guilty about having those feelings, and very angry simultaneously.

BOGAEV: In your novel, Rachel listens to reel-to-reel tapes that her mother recorded for her before her death...

SUCHER: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: ... in Yiddish. Did your mother do that? Or do you wish she had?

SUCHER: I wish she had. I mean, so much of this book that I wrote is a wish. The last part of the book, which is one of the first things I wrote, and I wrote it completely in one sitting, was -- came out of a real experience that I had and -- where my mother's caretaker said to me that, you know, your mother had always wished that she could do these things for you. And she couldn't. And my mother had never expressed it to me herself, and I had never believed or ever thought that she ever felt that way.

And I imagined that she would have written a letter like that, which would be able to sort of explain the unexplainable, which is I think one of my missions in the book is to try to understand what's not understandable, because I think being a child of survivors means there will always be secrets in your parents' past that you'll never know, and secret feelings that they can never tell you because they're too painful for them, as survivors, to experience.

BOGAEV: I'm talking with Cheryl Pearl Sucher. Her new novel about the daughter of Holocaust survivors is The Rescue of Memory.

You cared for your father when his health deteriorated ...

SUCHER: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: ... for four years, and you wrote about this in a magazine article. You write that in the end, he started to lose his mind and that his...

SUCHER: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: ... caregiver taped his rantings. What was on the tapes?

SUCHER: It was nonsense. I remember he had been let go from the hospital. He was suffering from a kidney disorder that the uremia was affecting his brain. And -- but when -- but they didn't really know what was the cause.

They really didn't know how to treat it. And he couldn't sleep and he didn't want to die. And he was screaming that he didn't want to die, and he was running around the house almost like he was seeing death, and he was fighting it off.

But these specific tapes which were given to me a year after he died, they're just these nonsensical ravings which I think that his caretaker believed I might understand. And the only recognizable word he said was my name.

So it was extremely chilling to have these tapes, and you know, I think that they signify to me how much he fought for his life until the very end. I mean, he really fought dying.

BOGAEV: What effect did it have on you? You said it was "chilling."

SUCHER: It was very chilling, and to just to conclude that, you know, in the process of writing this article where I talked about my life and the experience of growing up with survivors which I wrote consequent to finishing my novel, I discovered that my father had a wife and two children that were killed in the war. And I had never known this before, and neither had my brother. Nobody knew about it. My aunt told me about it, and I went home and asked my mother if it was true and it was true.

So in retrospect, I think that there is so much more depth to what he was suffering -- all the memories he was withholding. And that though even he was -- even though he was one of those survivors who talked, and there weren't many, he didn't talk about everything.

BOGAEV: Why did he and your mother and your aunt never tell you? How do you understand that?

SUCHER: I think that my father was someone who talked indirectly, like he would say, you know, "your mother thinks this way about you" or you know, "the secretary in my business thinks that you shouldn't do this" -- like he would never say anything directly.

And I think that it was just too painful for them; that part of the survival technique was its sense of dissociation. And I think that in order to go on; to continue; to reestablish themselves; to have families again -- I think they had to put that in the past. They were not people who wanted to be psychoanalyzed. They were not people who wanted to go back. They were people who wanted to go forward.

And I think that my father, in talking about his sister, which he talked about his sister all the time, I believe now was probably talking about his own wife and children.

BOGAEV: Does that mean that your father watched his wife go with his children to the crematorium?

SUCHER: I believe so. I believe so. So I believe the story that he told over and over to me was not just his sister and his mother, but his own wife and children. And when I found that out, it was chilling. I mean, as chilling as hearing the tapes, the nonsensical rantings and ravings, and only hearing my name.

I mean, I basically am named after not only his mother, but his lost child. And I think that the sadness that I felt, and I still do feel that, you know, what he had to go through was so horrible. And that he couldn't share it with us or get any comfort from us is very, very profound. And is, you know, impacting me and probably will impact me for the rest of my life.

BOGAEV: Cheryl Pearl Sucher's new novel is The Rescue of Memory. We'll continue our conversation in the second half of our show.

I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.

We're going to return to our interview with Cheryl Pearl Sucher, author of the new novel The Rescue of Memory. The story in the novel parallels her own life as the child of Holocaust survivors.

Rachel, in your novel, says that secretly she thought she was two people -- a child who lived during the day and also an old woman who lived at night in dreams.

SUCHER: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: As a child listening to these stories, is that how you divided yourself up too?

SUCHER: Yes, definitely. I mean, I think one of the reasons that I made Rachel a filmmaker is because that's a way of seeing outside yourself, you know, that's sort of a -- it's a dispassionate way of looking at the world and separating yourself from your own emotions.

I felt like, you know, I was this kid growing up in Brooklyn and Long Island, you know, with all these American privileges and being inundated with sitcom television. And then I had recurrent nightmares as a child, and a lot of those nightmares were about concentration camp.

And I remember when I was growing up, especially on Sunday morning, I'd think there was this black and white biography television series, and I remember once seeing something about the Jews going to concentration camp, and that image recurred to me over and over in dreams. I felt like I had this knowledge of the war, which I didn't know how I possessed.

And I think that's one of the things that haunted me always. And I didn't -- I was a kid, you know, wanting to play hopscotch; wanting to go to baseball games; and yet I was sort of drowned in all this horror and the history, not my own, which was my own -- which makes you feel very much like you're two different people.

BOGAEV: You suffered some physical disorders as a result of all of this trauma...

SUCHER: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: ... growing up. You had a severe stomach disorder. Was it an ulcer?

SUCHER: No, I had just had almost -- I had irritable bowel, which was -- is pretty much a common disease. It's an anxiety disease. But I suffered, you know, terrific, terrific pain as an adolescent and have done so at various points throughout my adulthood. And I think that what I realized, you know, through the writing of this book and through a lot of therapy is that in my family being sick was the way that you got attention.

I mean, my mother was sick and she was the center of attention. And my father himself was very sick, but my father hid it and ultimately, ironically died years before my mother. My mother's still alive. And I think that I -- I think and I know for a fact that what was really going on was I was swallowing my own emotions, and they were sort of somaticizing themselves into pain because I think I felt, within this household where there was such tragedy, that there wasn't really any room for my tragedies.

I mean, what are your tragedies growing up in Brooklyn? You don't get picked for the softball team; somebody yells at you because you don't have the right pair of shoes. And you know, they would always laugh at me. So I think that I suffered a little bit of that.

I was an overweight child, like Rachel; had a certain kind of social ostracism; and, you know, the way that they would counteract my feelings is, you know: why are you crying? You know, this is nothing to cry about; and laugh with them and they'll not tease you anymore.

So I think that the pain was, really, a result of my being unable to sort of express the scope of my own emotions, because I felt there was no room in that house. And I think that's a common phenomenon among children of survivors who also, like, you don't want to make your parents lives any worse. You don't want to trouble them any more because they are so troubled as it is.

Yet, you're so angry because you don't have a venue. You wish that you'd have a mother like, you know, Mrs. Cleaver, who seemed to have, like, nothing better to do but to sit all day and comfort her children. You know, that seemed like America.

BOGAEV: You just said you felt as if there was no room for you in the house. You also suffered from panic disorder.

SUCHER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: That seems to come from that root of claustrophobia.

BOGAEV: Yeah, I think so. I mean, that's something that I tried to describe and I don't know if that comes from the fact that they were very much hidden in their own lives. I mean, you now, survivors at least in my family's community of survivors, very much stayed within themselves.

I mean, in the work community, they would assimilate with, you know, Jews who were born in America and non-Jews. But I think that they felt only comfortable amongst each other because they could really understand each other's experiences.

And I just know, like, the physicality of my household growing up as the physicality of Rachel Walfish's (ph) household growing up in my book; you know, there are draperies everywhere. Like, you know, everything was very dark. All the furniture was very heavy. And it seemed like they were sort of closing them in to protect themselves against the world.

And as I was growing up -- as Rachel is in my book, when she's growing up -- you know, every time I tried to venture forth, take another step forward, there was a lot of fear about letting me go out into the world because their fear of assimilation and danger, death, destruction was this constant, ominous patina that was in the household.

But ironically, there was also a lot of humor. I mean, these survivors really knew how to party. You know, my father played cards. My father went to Vegas. They were really -- amongst each other, they could really celebrate. They loved humor. My father would take me to the Jewish theater. I'm probably like the only person of my age who remembers being taken to the Yiddish theater on Second Avenue.

He had a collection of Jewish comedians. He loved comedians. You know, there was the really rich life, and when I talk about how sad it was and how enclosed and claustrophobic, there was also a tremendous vivacity and strength and spirit and love of humor.

And I think that's one of the things I really tried to portray in the book was the complexity of their emotional lives; that they weren't just sitting and crying; and they weren't just suffering. But they were really fighting and struggling for life, which is the force which kept them alive, I believe, during the war.

BOGAEV: It's so ironic. So many survivors refuse to talk about the war, and their children...

SUCHER: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: ... suffered from their silence and they're very -- they're very clear about that. Your father, on the other hand, talked all the time about it. Of course, he didn't mention some key things about his life, but he did tell you stories over and over again. Was it just as damaging to hear about it over and over as it is to live in silence?

SUCHER: I think yes, by nature of the fact that he told me when I was too young. I mean, the irony of being -- of growing with survivor parents and a parent who talked as much as my father did -- he told me about the war when I was four or five. You know, before I really had the ability to sort of assimilate it in a way which didn't feel immediate.

You know, 'cause when you're told things when you're five years old, it feels like it's happening to you. You don't have this ability to separate from the story. And I had such a close relationship with my father because my mother was ill and my father felt like he had to make up for my mother's illness.

And he would take me on all these trips all the time. He was always taking me to New York City. And my brother was a lot older. He was eight years older, so he, you know, he seemed to be in his own life apart.

So I think that the damaging thing is, and I see this periodically, is that he didn't protect me from the emotional impact of the stories. I mean, I think that there are times and ways to tell these stories, and the people who are children of survivors who are yearning to hear those stories from parents who have been silent are older. And you know, they need it to inform them in terms of their own families that they're creating now; in terms of the upbringing of their own children.

And I think that it's important that survivors tell these stories, and I'm adamant, you know, telling people that they should give their testimonies to the Showa (ph) Foundation or to the Fortunoff Archives at the Yale University. I think the stories are so important, but I think you tell the stories at the right time that people hear it.

And I think that what my father's mistake was was that he didn't think about the impact that they were having on me and on my brother. But he had such a compulsion to tell the story, because that was his way of healing himself, 'cause he never told the stories out in the world. I mean, he did, but they were very heroic. They were very brave. They were filled with humor. But with us, they were filled with sadness and with loss, and I really believe that, you know, it's because when he looked at us, he saw everything that he'd lost.

And he had no outlet because my mother was ill after I was born. And I think that I became sort of his best friend. And you know, there was a lot of gifts imbued in that. My father was a very intelligent, wonderful man, but I think it did a lot of harm emotionally to me in my being not having the -- my own emotional room to breathe.

BOGAEV: When you say when he looked at you and your brother that he saw the children that he lost...

SUCHER: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: ... did that have -- when you look back, can you see how he was thinking that, as you would go off to school or go off to college or do whatever kids do?

SUCHER: Well, he was, you know, so protective. I mean, Jewish parents in general -- you know, I think that the stereotype is true -- are very overprotective. Survivors are doubly protective. But he would watch me and watch my brother and watch my cousins in a way that you knew that there was something else going on.

And it was -- you know, I knew it always. And you know, it was like one of those things that you don't know how you know, but you know it. And I think that that's how I felt it; is the way. Like, for example when I was 16, I went to Israel for the first time and my father was the only person who took me to Montreal, which is where we had to meet the meeting plane. Like, all the other kids came by themselves with backpacks.

And my father was always like doubly vigilant and careful and not letting me out of his sight. And I think that that was also one of the problems I had growing up, is that, you know, he gave me all the encouragement -- you know, get the education that you want; go where you want; do what you want -- but don't leave me; don't leave home.

So that was a huge tension that has existed in my life. And even though my father's no longer alive, it's still an issue for me.

BOGAEV: Cheryl Pearl Sucher, I really want to thank you so much for talking today on FRESH AIR.

SUCHER: I really appreciate that you've asked me to come.

BOGAEV: Cheryl Pearl Sucher's novel is The Rescue of Memory.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev
Guest: Cheryl Pearl Sucher
High: Author Cheryl Pearl Sucher is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Her debut novel, The Rescue of Memory, draws on her own experiences. It is about a young woman who must come to terms with the impact of the Holocaust on her parents and her aunt, who were victims of the camps.
Spec: Books; Authors; Family; History; Holocaust; World War II
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Rescue of Memory
Date: AUGUST 14, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081402NP.217
Head: Tara Vanderveer
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:40

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: The WNBA, or the Women's National Basketball Association, has debuted this summer to surprisingly large and enthusiastic crowds. All over the country, men, women, and children are flocking to the women's games, which feature male breakdancers instead of cheerleaders; and limbo and sack races during time outs.

Much of the league's popularity can be traced to the excitement generated by the women's gold medal victory at the Atlanta games last year. Tara Vanderveer was the coach of the Olympic team. She trained them over 10 months, in an unprecedented program fueled by $3 million from USA Basketball and the marketing clout of the NBA, which was then just considering launching the WNBA.

Her account of that year, written with Joan Ryan (ph), is "Shooting from the Outside: How a Coach and Her Olympic Team Transformed Women's Basketball."

I asked Tara Vanderveer if this team, like the men's dream team of the '96 Olympics, was overwhelmingly favored to win gold.

TARA VANDERVEER, OLYMPIC GOLD-WINNING BASKETBALL COACH, AND COACH OF STANDFORD UNIVERSITY'S WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM: Oh, not at all, and I think that that had been proven in the last Olympics in '92, getting the bronze and not getting a gold there. Also in the world championships -- we didn't win the world championships in '94, and we had lost the PanAm games.

So, we were in a lot different situation than men's dream team. Women at the time did not have the professional leagues that the men have with the NBA. Now, the women have the ABL and the WNBA, but last year we didn't have that. And it was, I think a situation where this was a really good program.

We brought the team together. We trained and we really worked to play team basketball, and not just showing up and kind of -- we had great players and I think we had great coaches, but in the past we hadn't been able to work together long enough to have a great team.

BOGAEV: You all traveled a lot during the year leading up to the Olympic games. You started on a three-month college challenge tour in the U.S. You went to China; to Lithuania; to Siberia. The Russian reporters, you write, kept asking you: where are your men?


BOGAEV: What did they mean by that?

VANDERVEER: When we were in Russia, and actually it was playing in Ekaterinburg (ph), they were just shocked that a team would come without, basically, a head coach being a man. They would say: where's your -- they had a name for it; I can't remember it right now -- but just kind of almost like "commander," you know -- where's the commander?

And I'm like: what is a commander? A head coach? I said, well, that's me. And then they're like, well, how can this be? You know, women like to be coached by men, and I said, well, you know, sometimes you should give it a try. Women do a really good job coaching women and/or coaching men, too.

But they were really surprised and I just think it's maybe cultural, you know, more than anything, but actually I was the only female head coach of any -- of the team -- oh, any of the basketball teams. So of the 24 teams, I was the only woman. And most of the teams actually had male assistants, too.

BOGAEV: You went to Washington, DC with the Olympic team and all along, internationally and in this country, the USA Basketball set up a lot of media and photo ops for your group. When you were in Washington, DC, you met with the Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They had a little surprise for the team.

VANDERVEER: Well, it was really exciting. We had almost an exclusive, private audience with the, as you said, the two chief justices, women chief justices, and I think it was Chief Justice O'Connor said, well, now coach, we have a surprise. And I was -- I couldn't even imagine what it was. And we went up, in fact, onto the third floor and they had a gym on the third floor.

And it was kind of funny because I've seen about every gym there is, and our team had been to almost every gym in the world, and this gym -- you couldn't shoot from the three point line on the baseline without ricocheting it off, banking it off the ceiling. And it was just cute that that was what they wanted to show us. And it was funny because we went out and the chief justices shot around a little bit with our team, and you know, they did a cheer with our whole team. It was really just a real special moment for our team.

I just felt a lot of support from them, and you know, they -- you know, they had a top on their court and it really kind of reinforced us. We wanted to be the best on our court, too.

BOGAEV: You often scrimmaged with men's teams during the year leading up to the Olympics. How did the women perform against the men?

VANDERVEER: We had some great scrimmages with -- especially a group up in Colorado Springs, but even in a lot of different places we went to, we scrimmaged against guys. And the team did really well. A lot of times, that was the only way we could challenge ourselves with, you know, playing against men that were bigger and quicker. We had some former players that played in the NBA. In fact, there were great three point shooters.

And the scrimmages were for the most part really, really positive. The only thing I ever worried about was that someone would get hurt. And in fact, someone did get hurt one time in a scrimmage that we were playing. But it -- you know, that was kind of the risk that we took.

BOGAEV: You know, women athletes seem to get it from all sides. You get accused of trying to be male wannabes, playing with the guys. Or that they're too feminine or not feminine enough. How did you find the women on at least the Olympic team balanced their identities as women and as athletes?

VANDERVEER: Well, the women on the Olympic team are very comfortable with who they are and kind of their -- you know, their own personal lives and what they do outside of basketball. But on the court, they understand that it's -- in order to be successful on the basketball court, you have to be very aggressive. You have to be very strong and physical. And those things sometimes aren't consistent with what maybe, you know, people think of women in our country. You know, just that, you know, you should be -- weigh 110 pounds and, you now, be very passive.

But the women on the team, I think, you know, really enjoy the sport so much and the acceptance of the sport has come such a long way that they're very comfortable with, again, their role as Olympians and their role as women athletes.

BOGAEV: One of your players, Lisa Lesley (ph), aspired to be a model. Was she trying to be model-thin while also playing basketball?

VANDERVEER: Well, I think that she's a thin -- has a thin build and she was going to do the modeling after the Olympics, but she understood that to be successful in the Olympics, she could not lose a lot of weight or lose her muscle tone and be successful. She would really get beaten up out on the basketball court. But once she did her modeling in the off-season, I think that, you know, maybe she had lost -- she lost a little weight, but her body type is -- she's very thin. And she's a really, very athletic and really quick and great player.

Her game is not a physical kind of beat-em-up style at all. So for her to be a model is really consistent with her also being a really successful basketball player.

BOGAEV: I'm curious. All women have to go -- undergo gender testing at the games. How did they actually do it?

VANDERVEER: Well, that wasn't something that I went to. I think they have the team go over to the Olympic village and they do a scrape of, like, the inside of your cheek. And from what I've read about it, and from what I know about it, I think it's pretty antiquated. But I don't know that they've dropped it. And I think it's -- it's kind of a sexist situation where, you know, they're not asking men to prove they're men, but you know, asking women to prove they're women.

BOGAEV: Women have been known to fail the sex test.

VANDERVEER: Well, that doesn't necessarily mean that, you know, it could be chromosonal and from what I understand, it's not -- it's not saying that someone is not a woman, but there are some variations in chromosonal testing that the test can't handle.

BOGAEV: So, the test is flawed.

VANDERVEER: From what I know about it, it could be.

BOGAEV: I'm speaking with Tara Vanderveer. She's the coach of Stanford University's women's basketball team. She led the U.S. women's Olympic team to a gold medal in Atlanta. Her new book with Joan Ryan about that experience is called Shooting From the Outside.

Let's take a break, and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Tara Vanderveer, coach of the women's basketball team at Stanford University. She coached the United States women's team in the 1996 Olympics, where they won the gold.

What do people do on the day of a gold medal competition? What did you and the team do? Was it like any other practice day?

VANDERVEER: You know, it really was except for I think everyone knew it was a gold medal day. And it was -- it was really exciting. I just was so -- we were so ready for the game. Our team had worked so hard and was so excited about it. And especially playing Brazil because we had lost to Brazil in the world championships back in Australia two years ago, and there were a lot of players on the team that had played in that tournament and had lost.

And it was just a perfect ending to, I think, a great year.

BOGAEV: At what point in the championship game were you sure you were going to get the gold?

VANDERVEER: Well, having played Brazil before and having been up 20 and had that lead erased in less than three minutes, quite honestly I didn't feel that we had it won until almost the last maybe minute and a half or two minutes of the game. They are an extremely explosive offensive team. You know, I know that it almost sometimes seems inconceivable that a team could come back when they're down that much, but I had seen them do it. And honestly, I didn't relax almost until probably 30 seconds left in the game.

BOGAEV: And was it one shot or one player who got you there?

VANDERVEER: In the gold medal game, it was really the best game that we had played in all, the whole year. And it was one of the best games I've ever seen played. We shot 70 percent in the first half. We were just incredibly intense defensively. And it was -- what was so great about it was that every single player contributed.

When we needed an inside play, we got it from Katrina McLean (ph) or Lisa Lesley. When we needed play off the bench, you know, we had Dawn Staley (ph) come off the bench and do a great job. We had outside shooting with Ruthie Bolton (ph) or Cheryl Swoops. We had great defense with Nicki MacRae (ph) and Ruthie Bolton. We had, you know, tremendous positive energy from Rebecca Lobo or again, you know, Jennifer Aisy (ph) coming in.

And every single player -- Carla McGee (ph), Katie Steading (ph) -- they all contributed and it was almost a culmination of all of the hard work all year and -- for more than just the one year -- playing on the team. You know, a lot of the players had played every summer for almost the last eight summers.

BOGAEV: Well now there are two professional leagues, maybe in part due to the excitement that you all generated at the Olympics. The American Basketball League, whose season started last fall and winter; and the Women's National Basketball Association, which just started up this summer -- is getting a lot of press. Do you think there's enough of a public for basketball to support both leagues?

VANDERVEER: Yes, I do. And I think that it's being proven with the WNBA -- the great crowds they're getting; the tremendous television coverage that they've had. And I think that that will just spill over this fall to the ABL and also to college and high school girls basketball. You know, I definitely think there's a big enough audience for both professional leagues and the development on every level for women's basketball at the college level and also at the high school level.

BOGAEV: The atmosphere at the women's games are so different than at the NBA. I'm thinking, maybe you could describe it for us. There's not a lot of beer drinking going on and there definitely aren't cheerleaders, in the classic sense of the word.

VANDERVEER: Well what I've noticed in watching the women's games is that there is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. There are real vocal crowds. There is -- there's a lot of excitement and some of it may be the novelty of it, but I also think it's a reflection of how hard the women are playing and the team basketball that's played. It's not to say that the game is, right now, playing to perfection.

There is some sloppy play and there's some turnovers and, you know, just like, you know, in any game, there are some games that are better than others. But what I've seen has been a -- just a tremendous enthusiasm generated by the players and also been kind of a reciprocal enthusiasm by the fans, and that gets the players playing harder. And it's really just a -- just a real excite -- kind of exciting time that's going on for women in basketball and women in sports.

BOGAEV: Would you like to, or aspire to coach a men's team?

VANDERVEER: You know, a lot of people have asked me about that. I enjoy coaching, period, whether it's men or women. I've not -- I've never been offered a position to coach men. There have been several players who have come up to me and said -- male players -- who have said "I'd really enjoy playing on your team, with the style that you play." And I don't feel that, you know, I don't feel that I have to make any change and I don't feel that you have to prove yourself by coaching men. I just -- I enjoy what I'm going and who I'm coaching.

And I wouldn't rule it out, but it's something that -- a lot of people feel that men won't listen to a woman; that they don't respect women; and that, you know, why -- why get into a situation where it's tough enough for a lot of the men's coaches to get the attention and the respect of male players -- you know, why give yourself a double headache and try to, you know, do the same thing?

But I really -- I want to enjoy coaching. I loved working with the Olympic team because I worked with very motivated, very dedicated athletes who were really focused on a team goal. And that sometimes seems to be missing in athletics now, is that there's a lot of selfishness or laziness, and I feel really fortunate to have experienced the best in coaching.

And I want to continue that kind of enjoyment. I enjoy working where I work right now, and have really enjoyed working with the Olympic team also.

BOGAEV: Tara Vanderveer, I want to thank you very much for talking with me on FRESH AIR.

VANDERVEER: OK, Barbara. I enjoyed it.

BOGAEV: Tara Vanderveer coaches the women's basketball team at Stanford University. Her book about the 1996 women's Olympic basketball team's bid for the gold is Shooting from the Outside.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: Tara Vanderveer
High: Tara Vanderveer coached the Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. Women's basketball team. The teams performance drew large crowds and secured the formation of two professional U.S. womens leagues: the WNBA and the ABL. Vanderveer has written a book about her own experience as a woman in sports. Its called Shooting from the Outside: How a Coach and her Olympic Team Transformed Womens Basketball. Vanderveer now coaches the Stanford University Women's basketball team.
Spec: Sports; Basketball; Olympics; Women
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Tara Vanderveer
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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