Show Allegheny women’s basketball team some love on Valentine’s Day

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Outside the Box

by Cheryl Hatch, Copyright 2015

I was sitting in the stands for the Allegheny women’s basketball game against DePauw last Friday night. I sat in my usual spot, across the court from the Gators’ bench. I looked around. Something was off.

I was swimming in a sea of DePauw colors. Men’s players surrounded me. To my  right, a boisterous section of fans in black-and-gold were chanting before the game began.

The DePauw cheering section eclipsed the scant Gators in attendance.

And DePauw is in Indiana.

The women played against a top-notch team while their opponent’s fans screamed and clapped. The Gators took a beating and headed to the locker room as the stands filled for the men’s game.

Men from the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity stood in a row, each with a single letter painted on a bare chest: G-A-T-O-R-S. Throughout the game, the painted FIJIs and other students in the section stomped their feet, shouted organized chants and rallied the crowd and team.

There was more of everything at the men’s game. More fans. More noise. More energy. More support.

At halftime, a women basketball player escorted me to center court. I joined a number of my colleagues who received recognition from a student athlete on the team during Faculty Appreciation Night. I was giddy and proud to accept the certificate of appreciation and the student’s hand-written note tucked into the back of the frame.

The next day, I attended the women’s game against Wittenberg and the men’s against Wabash. There was better attendance for the women’s game; however, the fans at the men’s game packed the stands and rocked the house.

I’ll admit it. I was ticked when I left the Wise Center. Why doesn’t the women’s team get the same level of support as the men’s?

I asked a woman player about the DePauw game. Sure, she noticed the stands with the out-of-town fans.

It’s embarrassing, she said. To be the home team and have more fans for the opposing team.

I was a college athlete. I understand the power of cheering fans.

I rowed crew at Oregon State. Rowing is not exactly a spectator sport. Fans can line the dock or the riverbanks near the finish line. I remember once my boyfriend came to a home regatta. He joined the people shouting encouragement as they leaned over the bridge on the Willamette River.

Those raised voices—and knowing my boyfriend was among them—meant the world to me. When my will was flagging near the finish, the coxswain’s command and the shout of the crowd inspired me, pushed me. The cheers uplifted all of us and helped us move the boat.

Cheers and fans make a difference. And all Allegheny athletes deserve the support.

College athletes put in long hours, in and out of season. The women’s basketball team dedicates six days a week to the sport. Four practices a week for three to four and a half hours. Home games take at least three hours each. Traveling times for away games take anywhere from four to seven hours round-trip. Add time for lifting and training. Reviewing game films. Spending extra time with a coach or practicing shots. They can spend at least 30 hours—or more—each week on the game.

They also put in the time in the classroom and in study to meet the demands of their rigorous academic programs.

Allegheny athletic director Portia Hoeg played college ball at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. As an athlete and administrator, she understands the power of the crowd.

“I think it means everything to an athlete,” she said, of seeing peers and family in the stands. “It gives a boost of confidence and excitement to play your best.”

Hoeg didn’t have an explanation why the fan base is bigger at the men’s games.

I learned rumor has it that some students party during the women’s game and show up spirited for the men’s game.

This Saturday, the men and women’s teams play at home again. I’m on a mission. I want to see the crowds pack the house from both teams.

Men of FIJI, I invite you to show up and cheer for the women as loudly as you cheered for the men last Friday. To the rowdy crowd that chanted for the men on Saturday, bring your energy and enthusiasm early to the court and roar for the women’s team, too.

Like I said, I’m on mission.

The women tip-off against Ohio Wesleyan at 1 p.m.; the men’s start is 3 p.m.

For the women, it’s Senior Day, when they will recognize the players who are finishing their basketball careers at Allegheny.

It’s also Valentine’s Day on Saturday.

Bring a date to the game. For community members, it’s five dollars for an adult. Three dollars if you’re 55 or older. For a non-Allegheny student, it’s two dollars. Free for children six and under. The concession stand offers popcorn and snacks. It’s a bargain and a lot of fun.

Let’s all show the women’s basketball team some love on Valentine’s Day.

Note: this column ran in The Meadville Tribune on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Keep playing your game no matter what anyone says

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From my weekly column Outside the Box, in The Meadville Tribune

Two Sundays ago, I watched the Allegheny women’s soccer team win the NCAC Division III championship at Robertson Field. I’d given my camera to a student who was covering the event and watched her dash down the field to photograph the hugging mob of players and spectators.

A few minutes later, I turned and noticed one player with her legs and arms wrapped around a man, hugging him tightly as he spoke in her ear. I lifted the only camera I had, my iPhone 4s, and recorded the moment—two frames.

I approached the young woman, wearing the No. 20 jersey, and asked her name. Brianna Layman. The man? Her father, Jeff Layman. Ever the curious journalist seeking—perhaps sensing—a story, I asked her about the moment I’d photographed.

“He was giving me a kiss and telling me how proud he was of me and how far I’d come,” Layman said.

How far you’d come?

In fifth grade, Layman explained, she had a coach when she was younger who told her soccer wasn’t her game.

“He just didn’t think I had any talent in soccer but soccer was what I wanted to do, so I kept playing.”

Before she left to see other family members and gather more hugs, I asked for her phone number. I might want to follow up with more questions.

I couldn’t get her story out of my head. As I pursued the story, I interviewed the team captain, Michelle Holcomb, a senior. She, too, had a coach who didn’t believe in her abilities on the pitch.

“You’re just not cut out to play competitive soccer,” Holcomb said, reciting her coach’s words. “Every one of us on this field has a story like that.”

I thought of my own parallel experiences with people in positions of authority or influence who had cast doubt or dumped buckets of cold-water negativity on my dreams and aspirations.

I imagine we’ve all encountered people who have offered us unsolicited, often uncharitable, advice. They seek to define us, shape us with their limiting words and narrow vision. They tell us what we can’t do. They tell us how we’re lacking in some way, missing the mark, falling short.

Too tall. Too short. Too young. Too old. Too soon. Too late.

Women don’t do that. Or worse, women can’t do that. Boys don’t do that. You don’t have the right training. You don’t come from the right family. You don’t have enough money. You’re not creative enough. You’re not smart enough.

When I was nearing college graduation, I was looking for an internship. I found a great opportunity: a Pulliam Fellowship. There were 10 positions each at two different papers, one in Phoenix, Ariz., one in Indianapolis, Ind. Paid summer fellowships with mentoring on a major metropolitan paper. I wanted one.

I showed my adviser the fellowship application. He told me I’d never get it. He told me I didn’t have the experience or the pedigree for such a lofty program. He told me that fellowship was for students who’d already had internships at USA Today, The New York Times or The Washington Post.

I applied. I earned one of the 10 spots at The Arizona Republic.

When I arrived, I learned I’d received the top, coveted spot on the state desk. I was naïve; I didn’t understand the implications. My fellow fellows wanted to know how someone like me—with no prior impressive internships—got the spot.

I asked my editor.

I had first choice, he said. I read your résumé. You speak multiple languages. You scuba dive. You fly planes. You’re an athlete. I knew I could send you anywhere and you’d come back with a story.

My editor didn’t look at what I didn’t have; he looked at what I did have. He read between the lines—and yes, thought outside the box. He saw my potential and gave me the opportunity and confidence to stretch as a young journalist, to grow, to channel my curiosity and chase stories wherever they led.

A good journalist is curious. A good journalist is persistent. A good journalist rarely takes no for an answer.

And champions, like Layman and Holcomb, refuse to let anyone tell them what they can and can’t do.

As a college athlete, I remember well our final day at the Pac-10 Rowing Championships. We were eight rowers lying on our backs in circle, heads facing in, the bare soles of our feet pointed out. With closed eyes, we listened as our coxswain described our race and we visualized every stroke—visualized crossing the finish line first.

The coach of the team we’d soon meet in the finals approached. He mentioned how nice it was for us to be at the competition then hinted that we were wasting our time since his team was favored to win.

Psychologically super uncool. Not to mention discourteous and unsportsmanlike. And intended to get under our skin and unhinge us.

It made me want to beat his team.

In crew, when a team wins a race, each member of the losing team literally gives the winner the shirt off her back.

I still have the shirt from the woman rowing three-seat on that favored-to-win crew team.

I wouldn’t have had half the fun or achieved much of what I’ve done in my life if I’d listened to others when they tried to define me, deny me, dissuade me.

It’s my life. I’ll live it. You live your life. And be blessed living it. It’s yours to define.

Take a cue from the fifth-grade Brianna Layman. Keep playing your game, no matter what anyone says.

And take inspiration from the college sophomore and NCAC champion Brianna Layman.

“Succeeding feels so much better when you prove people wrong.”

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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