In a former life I was a high school girls basketball coach. I was a pretty good one, too — especially during years when I had really good players. Andy Landers even took my calls. So did Pat Summitt. Actually, Pat still does, but that’s another story for another day.
In 1986 I was asked to put together an all-star team from the metro Atlanta area. We were to travel to Europe in a cultural exchange program and play against club teams in Belgium and France and Germany. It was going to be a pretty big deal for the girls involved. Coca-Cola was one of our sponsors and so was AT&T. My job was to recruit the players and coach them up and someone else would take care of the travel details.
Sweet deal if you can get it.
I put together my team and as spring approached we were getting all excited about an opportunity to travel together, play some ball and see a part of the world that few of the young ladies had ever seen. Who am I kidding? None of the players had ever seen that part of the world, and neither had I. In fact, most of the team members had never even flown on an airplane.
But then in April, right around tax time, our summer adventure began to unravel. “The best laid plans of mice and men‚” and all that ...
On April 15, a United States task force struck a blow for freedom and liberty by attacking targets in Tripoli — as in “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli ... ” ... that Tripoli — and other locations in Libya. The air strike, code-named “Operation El Dorado Canyon,” was in retaliation for the bombing of a West Berlin discotheque in which two American soldiers lost their lives.
If you don’t know what a discotheque is, rent “Saturday Night Fever.” If you don’t know what West Berlin was, thank Ronald Reagan — and get a better history teacher.
The attack on Libya was a big deal. It was in all the papers. The air strike reportedly killed 45 Libyan soldiers and 15 civilians. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was not among the casualties, even though his palace was one of the targets. He was tipped off and hid in a bunker. His 15-month-old daughter was killed, however.
A number of countries around the world condemned the attacks and the United Nations passed a resolution against our actions — but Ronald Reagan looked right into the television camera that night and said to Gaddafi — “I will not hesitate to do it again.”
As I said, it was a big deal. The United Kingdom, as you might expect, supported us and allowed our returning planes to land at Royal Air Force bases — which caused a bit of a rift between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. France, as you might expect, did not support us. They said our planes had to bypass France in route to their targets — leading late night comedic genius Johnny Carson to suggest that Americans do the same on their next European vacation.
Which brings us back to my basketball team and our European tour. Gaddafi — encouraged by the response of the UN — and Jimmy Carter — vowed to exact revenge on America and Americans and all of a sudden a lot of U.S. citizens became very nervous about traveling abroad. And a lot of the parents of the Atlanta All-Stars got very nervous about their daughters traipsing about the Continent in the spiffy red, white and blue travel outfits AT&T had so generously provided. In short, team members began dropping out like flies.
After due consideration, our plans were changed and our European tour was canceled. Our team was forced, instead, to endure two long weeks touring the Hawaiian Islands and playing against teams like Kamehameha and Punaho and Pearl City. I know. It was a tough job, but somebody just had to do it.
Those events unfolded a quarter-century ago and memories of that summer have been long buried in the recesses of my mind. But the turmoil in Libya this week brought the events of that turbulent spring and summer to the surface. As this column was filed Gaddafi appeared to be on his last legs as his regime was crumbling around him. But he also vowed not to go down without a fight and his henchmen were, true to form, terrorizing his opponents.
I can only pray that the volatile situations in that country and others are resolved soon, with as little loss of innocent life as possible, and that somehow the people of the world can find a way to get along. I’d still like to travel to Europe one day.
I wonder how many of the Atlanta All-Stars still got game.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and
author. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.