With snow falling steadily outside Allen Fieldhouse, it seemed unlikely Kansas University's women's basketball team would draw much of a crowd.
Yet last Saturday night's announced attendance for the Iowa State game was 4,295 - the largest gathering to witness a KU women's contest this season, or almost twice as many fans as the Jayhawks have been averaging this season.
What was the lure? Were they giving tickets away? Did Iowa State bring busloads of followers?
None of the above. The carrot was National Girls and Women in Sports Day, a celebration of female sports pioneers and participants. At halftime, about 50 former KU female letter winners were recognized.
Missing, however, was one of the most noteworthy pioneers of college women's athletics.
Marian Washington was nowhere to be seen. As usual.
In fact, Washington hasn't attended a single game in Allen Fieldhouse since she announced her retirement on Feb. 28, 2004, or about a month after she took a leave of absence for unspecified health reasons.
To tell the truth, I figured if Washington was ever going to show her face in Allen Fieldhouse again it would be for last season's home finale when Crystal Kemp and Erica Hallman, two of her last recruits, bowed out. But no : she wasn't there.
So Washington's streak is intact. She hasn't been in the stands for a KU women's game during the 2 1â2 seasons Bonnie Henrickson has been the Jayhawks' coach.
What's more - and this may surprise you - Washington and Henrickson never have met. Soon after Henrickson took over, KU athletic director Lew Perkins tried to arrange a luncheon meeting between the two, but it "never came to fruition," Henrickson said.
"I would like to meet her," Henrickson added, "because I have great respect for what she did."
Washington won 560 games during her 31 seasons as the Jayhawks' coach. Her teams went to 11 NCAA Tournaments and to a couple of Sweet 16s. She is in the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame and the National Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
Washington, now 60, has always maintained a low profile. She has an unlisted telephone number. Even those who have the number know she screens her calls.
At the same time, she is inherently media-shy and, noted a long-time acquaintance, "She just doesn't like to make public appearances."
Washington came out of her shell last summer when she was tapped for the state shrine, saying "I feel this is where it all began for me. I loved Kansas and believed in the possibilities of the program."
If Washington feels she shouldn't show up for women's basketball games in Allen Fieldhouse because she doesn't want to detract from Henrickson's program, her reasoning is skewed. Icons aren't distractions.
I believe that, when Washington finally does reappear in Allen Fieldhouse, she will be overwhelmed by the warmth and geniality she deserves.
Then again, given her passion for privacy, that may be what she fears most.