OK, here’s a confession: I have a Nicole Ohlde bobblehead on my desk. A big one.

In the beginning of this century, when dinasaurs walked the earth, my sister Jan and I would drive a lot of miles and spend the grocery money on gasoline and chewing gum so we could attend women’s basketball games at Kansas State Unversity. We stood in an unbelievable line to watch Nichole, Laurie Koehn and Kendra Wecker absolutely dominate the floor. It was said then that the women’s home games were bringing in more ticketholders than the Men’s games.

They were that good.

Then quietly, sometime this summer, a small family with a 3-month-old, red-haired baby moved in to Newton. The dad, coach Drew Johnson, had a strong coaching history behind him. Assistant coach Nicole Ohlde-Johnson had had an amazing career — and let’s just say that her reputation preceeded her. Both of them say that the town of Newton and the Bethel College staff have been “very kind, very helpful and very nice.” The baby didn’t have much to say.

Both Drew and Nicole say they have a steady, talented team this year and Nichole added they “are getting some great recruits who are headed here next year.”

Then, when those new gals and players from the present team have figured out what Johnson and Ohlde want from them and how they want it cooked, it could be a dream team.

Nicole has been a standout player at every stage, from Clay Center to K-State, where she helped the 'Cats go to three NCAA tournaments, including one close game in the Sweet 16. Next stops were seven seasons in the WNBA and nine years of professional play in Europe. Whew. How do you get a resume like that?

I think you must be born loving to play, and are outside practicing every day unless it rains. Grow up to 6 foot, 4 inches, if you can, and if you can’t, there’s still plenty of action for you. You really need to get yourself to a lot of women’s basketball games at the high school and college level to see how it’s done and pick up some moves. Here in North Newton, we have an excellent four-year college with a great team to watch.

I wanted to meet Nicole’s mother, Marlene, and find out how she supported Nicole, and what it took otherwise to get her into the game.  Marlene Ohlde has a slim build and short, curly neat hair, and was bouncing the Ohlde’s baby, to his delight. She says that Nicole started playing, “at a very young age. As soon as she learned to bounce a ball, she would watch what happened at the basketball games she saw, and tried to emulate what the players were doing."

“My husband and I weren’t much interested in sports at first," Marlene said. "But we watched and listened to what coaches and other people were saying — that she had a special gift and could be a really good player some day.”

“Otherwise,” Marlene remembered, “Ahe would stay busy with other sports. She would play cut throat games with her two brothers and father at home. She was a really fast runner and won ribbons in high hurdles, high jump, and relays. She wasn’t a tomboy but she wouldn’t beg for dresses and fancy things either. It would be more like new basketballs or better athletic shoes. She needed money more for things like basketball clinics, things like that.”

We asked Marlene what situations in the games made her really nervous. She picked out the answers right away. “Oh, it was awful when it was at the end of the game, and it was clear that Nicole was responsible for the points that would win that game, like free throws or fast break lay-ups. I don’t want to talk about that any more! It makes me nervous,” she said, and laughed, flashing her 500 watt smile, and we laughed with her.

So, what advice would Marlene give to parents raising girls who absolutely love basketball?

“Basketball clinics and other programs like MAYB cost quite a lot, but without them, it is tough for kids to advance to higher levels. I’ll be frank with you: This stuff costs a lot. But they need someone to work with them, and mom and dad aren’t the ones to do that. Go along with them to games and clinics. Encourage them. But don’t push them. It won’t work. Get them allmof the training they need, even if it pinches your pocketbook."

And if a young girl decides at any point that basketball isn’t really for her, she still will have had some solid sports training, and the chance to find out what it means to be on a team.

Marlene also told me, “Even though I started out motherhood as somebody who didn’t care much for sports, I’d do it all again. Those were good days. Fun days”, and she flashed that 500 watt smile once again.

— Diana Fern Graber is a Newton resident and columnist. She writes about the intersting people she meets.