They were stories usually not told at a memorial service. But without them on Friday, it wouldn’t have been a celebration for former Washington women’s basketball player Melissa Erickson.
So the tales overflowed like the alcoholic beverages she enjoyed, according to former UW coach June Daugherty when talking about her program’s two-drink maximum for players over 21.
“For me, a drink is eight ounces,” Daugherty shared as Erickson’s former teammates and family laughed at knowing Erickson’s measuring was different.
Erickson died June 5 after a seven-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was 34.
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Erickson was 27 when she was diagnosed with ALS in 2006. Most people who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 70 and don’t live as long.
Erickson herself planned the entire event, which included a musical interlude — Adele’s “Hometown Glory,” sung by Jessica Swenson.
“The game is over, what’s important to me is the friendships,” Daugherty recalled Erickson saying when the coach found Erickson joking with Arizona players after a tough loss for Washington.
In a packed lower section of seating inside Alaska Airlines Arena across from where the Dawg Pack would sit, other teammates, friends, family members and Huskies fans knew exactly what Erickson meant.
“This is not chance, the people gathered in this room today are the result of Melissa’s hard work,” Anne Teel, Erickson’s former teammate, told the crowd during a somber moment. “Her focused attention and her boundless gift of connection. Each and every one of you mirrors the victory of her spirit. Everyone is here because she sought out friendships. She committed herself to them and she nourished them through humor, her empathy and her kindness.”
Erickson’s biggest passion was basketball. Even as the disease took over her body, she made sure she was able to watch games on TV. Teammates took her to UW games, Storm games, and on road trips to see matchups in Portland until she became unable to do so about a year ago.
During Erickson’s playing career from 1998-2001, she played in 92 games. She tore her anterior cruciate ligament her senior season but still stayed as supportive as possible as the team won the Pac-10 Championship and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight.
Erickson designed the conference-title ring on a restaurant napkin in Los Angeles. The top view mirrors the lower-bowl seating of the arena known as Hec Ed when she played there, a purple jewel inset as the Huskies’ court.
Daugherty wore hers on her pinkie Friday, describing the way that team came together in support of Erickson is why it’s her favorite team in her two-decade coaching career.
“That’s what sports are about, life” Teel said.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.