The late 90s represented the pinnacle of basketball fever at Valparaiso University.
The Drew family cemented their legacy by coupling Valpo Athletics’ hallmark moment — “The Shot” — with three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Women’s basketball enjoyed a 72-42 record from fall 1996 through spring 2000. The campus was engulfed in school spirit and enthusiasm as Valparaiso University penetrated its brown and gold pin on the college hoops map. All was well in Northwest Indiana.
The pandemonium and nostalgia of March Madness in 1998 resonate deeply with Crusader faithful. But while one of college basketball’s most famous father-son duos took the world by storm, a young woman quietly spent her afternoons inside the Athletics-Recreation Center preparing to compete at a world-class level.
For Patty Cisneros ’00, the path to glory was paved with hardship. One of 10 children, Patty began her post-secondary studies at Indiana University in fall 1996. The three-sport athlete’s life took a dramatic turn after she was involved in an automobile accident. She transferred to Valparaiso University shortly after the devastating crash to earn her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with a reading endorsement. Facing extraordinary obstacles at 18, Patty found wheelchair basketball to be most therapeutic.
“When I moved back to Northwest Indiana, I joined a women’s team through the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Express. From there, I learned of all of the possibilities of sports available to those with a disability, and of the Paralympics quickly thereafter,” Patty said.
The Paralympics occur parallel to the Olympic Games, and Patty’s first taste of the international competition came in Sydney, Australia, during the 2000 Summer Games. Her team registered a fifth-place finish in the Land Down Under.
Learning from her experience in Sydney, Patty returned to the prime-time stage in Athens in 2004 with a sharpened focus. There, Patty and the United States women’s wheelchair basketball team defeated Australia in the Gold Medal game, and Patty became the first Valpo grad to don either an Olympic or Paralympic medal.
For an encore, she was captain of the American team that defended its title at the 2008 Beijing Games after besting Germany in the Gold Medal game.
Patty is quick to praise Bill Steinbrecher, Valpo’s former director of athletics for his contributions and commitment to her success.
“Bill Steinbrecher did everything he could to help me — whether it was getting a chair, scheduling times in the weight room, or sharing my story with the media,” Patty said.
A fellow member of the Valpo Athletics Hall of Fame, Steinbrecher speaks of Patty like a proud father would of his daughter.
“I recognized how self-sufficient Patty became following the accident. I admired her spirit and desire to get back into sports competition. I was so happy for her and her family on the day she graduated from Valparaiso University. She made the University proud, and she’s a young woman I’ll never forget,” Steinbrecher said.
Patty also remembers Homer Drew providing shooting tips during open gym on the court that would eventually bear his name. Basketball created an indelible bond between Patty and the staff at Valpo.
Much has changed for Patty since hearing the Star-Spangled Banner atop the podium in Beijing six years ago. She is set to begin year five as a fourth-grade teacher in the Denver Public School system and is married with a two-year-old daughter.
“Winning gold medals, I thought, was the most incredible experience of my life, but really it was my daughter,” Patty said with a wide smile.
Bryce Drew will always have “The Shot,” but Patty Cisneros owns gold.