Women's basketball: Willmar’s Lippert making her mark at Concordia
MOORHEAD — Ron Lippert first thought he was losing his shooting touch during an amateur state basketball tournament in the late 1990s.
“I felt like I was pushing the ball and not shooting the ball,” Lippert said.
At the time, he attributed the missed shots to being out of shape. It turned out to be the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.
“My earliest symptoms, unbeknownst to me … I lost my touch on my jump shot,” said Ron, whose daughter, Alexandra Lippert, plays women’s basketball for Concordia.
“It’s hard to see him struggle with things, and especially things he used to do easily,” said Alex, who is a senior.
Ron was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s in 1999. He was 38 years old.
“It’s a chronic, progressive, degenerative, neurological disease,” said Ron, now 53 years old. “Four words you don’t want by themselves let alone in combination.”
Despite the challenges Parkinson’s presents, Ron has been to nearly all of Alex’s college games, home and away. Ron was there last week to watch Alex make history.
She reached 1,000 career points in a 68-40 home win against Macalester.
The 6-foot-4 center is the first player in program history to attain 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 200 blocks in a career.
“When she is on the floor, she alters things for other teams,” Concordia head coach Jessica Rahman said.
Ron was on the baseline at Memorial Auditorium with a camera in hand. Alex hit a turnaround shot in the post to reach 1,000 points. After the game, Ron wore a spinning lamp shade on his head that had 1,000 painted on the side, using Concordia colors, to celebrate the milestone.
“He’s a huge inspiration for me because I know how hard he’s worked,” Alex said of her dad. “He’s been with me every step of my basketball career.”
Ron and wife, Scooter, drive 2½ hours one way from Willmar to Moorhead to watch Alex play her home games.
Scooter said Ron usually takes naps on the ride to and from games.
“It’s kind of a Catch 22 because when he goes to the games he gets excited and nervous,” Scooter said. “The games really wear him out, but he would not want to be anywhere else. … He loves watching her play. He loves watching the team play.”
Ron takes 16 pills a day for his Parkinson’s. The disease affects the way he walks. During games, he usually mills around the gym because he can’t sit too long. He likes to shoot pictures and videos of the games, although some days he’s too shaky to do either. Ron makes photo collages and memory tapes.
“He’s really taught the kids about persistence and celebrating the things that you can do and not lamenting about the things that you can’t,” Scooter said. “He has an incredibly positive attitude and I think that has helped all of us deal with it. He has really handled it with grace.”
Alex is the oldest of three kids. Katie, her sister, is a sophomore at Concordia. Luke, her brother, is a junior in high school.
Alex bonded with her father through basketball at an early age. Some of her first memories are watching her day play city league basketball.
There are pictures of Alex when she is around 2 years old wearing Ron’s basketball shoes. When Alex was learning to walk, there is a picture of her leaning against a wall with a stuffed basketball.
Ron only wished he didn’t get Parkinson’s at such a young age. In most cases, the disease doesn’t occur until after the age of 50. One thing Ron wanted to do was play hoops with all of his three kids as they were growing up.
“I envisioned playing 1-on-1 in the driveway,” Ron said. “It was just what I was looking forward to. And I never got that far because the progression had gone too far by the time they were old enough to play 1-on-1.”
Ron played basketball at St. John’s for two seasons after two at Ridgewater College in Willmar. He choked up with emotion when asked how difficult it was to not be able to play hoops with his kids.
“That was tough,” he said.
Ron said being able to watch Alex succeed in college has been another way the two have been able to connect through the game.
“It’s something we can share,” Ron said. “It’s not the way I had hoped, but I never anticipated my kids playing college basketball so it’s a tradeoff and it’s been a big bonus for me.”
Alex said she talks to her dad before and after most basketball games. She looks to him for advice. One part of the game Ron likes to emphasize to his daughter is rebounding.
“He always says ‘You can pass too much. You can shoot too much. You can dribble too much, but you can never rebound too much,’” Alex said with a smile. “He always wants me crashing the boards.”
Ron — who was a full-time employee at Willmar Poultry Company for 20 years now works 10 hours a month — has also enjoyed watching Alex develop into a strong player with the help of the present and past players in the Cobbers program.
“She’s had great teammates and played on some great squads,” Ron said. “She’s part of something bigger than herself. Her best friends are basketball friends. They have good, close unity and I like to see that.”