Jim O’Brien: Suzie still feels the Olympic spirit
Suzie still feels the Olympic spirit
By Jim O’Brien, Columnnist, Pittsburgh Business Times
Few Pittsburghers could appreciate the 2012 Summer Olympic Games as much as Suzie McConnell-Serio, the head coach of the women’s basketball team at Duquesne University.
McConnell-Serio was a member of the gold medal-winning women’s basketball team at the Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea in 1988 and the bronze medal-winning team in Barcelona, Spain in 1992. She won a gold medal in the 1991 World University Games.
“I remember living in the Olympic Village, meeting all the athletes from around the world, learning different cultures. I remember the competition, the awards ceremonies. You’ll never forget it,” she said.
“Every chance I got during an especially busy period for me (with recruiting, camps and practice for a pre-season tour of Canada), I watched the Olympic Games on TV with my family,” she said with a gleam in her blue eyes. “I love the Olympic Games. When I’m in my family room I can cheer and root for them, agonize for them and feel their excitement and their pain. I know what it feels like.
“I won gold and I won the bronze; I know the disappointment of not living up to expectations.”
There are many stories about athletes who overcame obstacles to succeed. Suzie’s story is a good one because she is 5-feet 4-inches, and was often told she was too small.
She has modeled herself after the many coaches she has had from grade school, high school, college, international teams, Olympic teams and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) teams.
She is in her sixth season as the head coach of a continually improving Duquesne team and, at 46, is still as spunky and determined to win as when she was the only girl on the 4th and 5th grade teams at Brookline’s Our Lady of Loreto Grade School.
Her coach then, Dan Kail, whom she still credits for her early development, predicted that someday she’d be playing for the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team.
Susie and her husband Pete Serio, who also grew up in Brookline, have four children: Peter (21), Jordan (17), Mandy (15) and Madison (14). Young Pete is in his fourth year of the pharmacy program at Duquesne, and the three girls are on the basketball team at Upper St. Clair High.
Suzie credits her parents, Tom and Sue, for her work ethic. “They always told me to stay busy,” she said. “They taught me how to treat people.”
Basketball is in the family DNA. Her brothers Tom and Tim have been coaches, and her sisters Kathy and Maureen played basketball, and Kathy is coaching in the WNBA. She has two other sisters, Patty and Eileen, and a brother Michael.
Tim, a successful coach at Chartiers Valley High, says of Suzie, “The one thing that sets her apart is her determination.”
When Suzie went to Penn State University (1985-88) she became the school’s first All-American in women’s basketball. She majored in elementary education.
After her first Olympic Games experience, she was invited by Fran Mannion to be the coach of the girls’ basketball team at Oakland Catholic. She took over the program in 1990-91 and won her first of three Class AAAA State Championships in 1993. In 13 years, McConnell-Serio averaged over 24 wins a season.
She blushed when asked how much money she was paid to coach at Oakland Catholic. “I was paid $4,000 a year,” she said. So Suzie has paid her dues. Sometimes you have to start for little compensation.
Her husband Pete made sacrifices, too. He had to give up his job as a physical education teacher and basketball coach when his wife, after a six-year layoff from playing basketball came back to star as a player and then a coach in the WNBA. In 2004, she was named WNBA Coach of the Year with the Minnesota Lynx.
“It’s easier now because the kids are more self-sufficient,” she said, “but I couldn’t have done this without Pete’s help. He held everything together for us. I was expecting our first child in 1990, and I had all four of my kids between 1991 and 1997, so we had a real juggling act. The kids have been great from the start.”
Pete Serio said, “Her kids have been the No. 1 priority in her life.”
Suzie still has the Olympic spirit. She is living proof that all things are possible if you have a positive attitude, truly believe in yourself, and are willing to work hard and make the personal sacrifices necessary to realize one’s aspirations.