GINNY DOYLE had nerves of steel from the free-throw line, where she once set an NCAA record by downing 66 consecutive shots – then humbled a male sportscaster who’d doubted her by going 20-for-20 in a head-to-head challenge.
But Doyle, an Archbishop Ryan High School hoops star in the 1980s, seemed jittery – although excited – as she waited Friday to board a hot-air balloon in Virginia, adding an “#anxiety” hashtag to a tweet of her standing beside the balloon’s basket.
“Getting ready to go up!” Doyle, 44, wrote for a photo of the balloon being unraveled.
Then Doyle’s Twitter account went silent. No photos of the view from above. No landing.
On Saturday, the University of Richmond confirmed that Doyle, its women’s basketball associate head coach, and Natalie Lewis, director of operations for the team, died after the balloon struck a power line and caught fire about 8 p.m. Friday near Doswell, Va.
The Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, recognized the tragedy yesterday with a moment of silence and by painting Doyle’s and Lewis’ initials behind home plate. But the grieving process has only begun.
“There’s not a person in this business that doesn’t see Ginny as just a light,” Joanne Boyle, now the women’s basketball coach at the University of Virginia, said of Doyle, who was on her Richmond staff from 2002 to 2005. “She was just a light for other people, and when you talk about this business and the genuineness and caring about the kids and what’s best for the student-athletes, she epitomized that.”
The balloon pilot, Daniel T. Kirk, who had 20 years of flying experience and was affectionately known as “Capt. Kirk,” was also killed. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
“She was a very kind, warm person. She was able to forge strong relationships through the recruiting process, and it didn’t end there,” said Richmond men’s basketball coach Chris Mooney, who attended Ryan at the same time as Doyle and later became friends with her at Richmond. “She was a close confidante with most of the players.”
Doyle, a Northeast Philly native, graduated from Ryan in 1987. As a senior at Richmond in 1992, she set an NCAA record – for men and women – by making 66 consecutive free throws.
CBS sportscaster Billy Packer, an 81.9 percent free-throw shooter at Wake Forest, scoffed at the record, saying women use a smaller basketball. So Doyle torched him in a duel at the Robins Center, dropping 20 shots in a row with men’s-sized basketballs. Only two touched the rim. Packer missed eight of 20 attempts in front of a noisy crowd of 1,200.
The headline in the Daily News: BILLY TAKES A BEATING. But instead of rubbing it in, Doyle focused on the $ 5,000 that an anonymous donor had agreed to donate to the Richmond women’s program because she’d won.
“He strikes me as a really nice person,” she said, “and it meant a lot that he would come here to do this.”
Mooney said that quote was classic Ginny.
“That story is pretty legendary in the Richmond area. She beat him soundly, but she didn’t make herself out to be a huge deal because of it,” Mooney said. “She was proud she made all 20, but she treated it very lightly.”
Lauren Thomer, a 1999 Ryan grad and assistant coach for Yale University’s women’s basketball team, said she met Doyle on the recruiting trail and they connected immediately, as Philly natives and country-music lovers. Both are in the Ryan Ragdolls Hall of Fame.
“Her positive spirit, humble perspective and genuine love for people and our game stood out as just a few of her amazing qualities,” Thomer said. “She will be tremendously missed. My deepest condolences to her family and friends and may her legacy live on through all those lives she touched.”
– Associated Press contributed
to this report.
On Twitter: @wbender99