April 28, 2011
Contributed by Brian Shegley, UD Pride
What is the definition of a champion? The definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary reads "one who shows marked superiority".
Most college sports teams and athletes are expected to meet high standards. Their success is normally measured by the number of team wins and personal performance measurements. At UD they are also expected to meet high academic standards. It's a HUGE time commitment comprised of hours attending class, studying, preparing papers and projects, tests, attending practice, weight training, sometimes physical therapy and rehab, and days (not hours) on the road for travel every week. In addition they still have laundry, meals, and a personal life if they can squeeze it in. The University only hopes that student athletes will also be role models to their fans during their time in Dayton. It takes a special kind of commitment to be a student-athlete and a role model while at UD.
The Flyer women's basketball team is very successful on the court, reaching the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. They play an exciting, fast-break style of basketball and spend a lot of time working on their skills. By all accounts they are very successful on the court and in the classroom. I expect them to be nationally ranked year after year in the near future. But, they set an even higher standard in the category of, "How many lives can we touch while we are here?"
The women's basketball team touches hearts one by one with individual attention to people at the Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities and many local schools each year such as Miami Valley Family Care Center. Even during the season they normally give three to five hours a month of their time helping people with situations that aren't quite as good as their own. So what do the players think of their time doing community service work?
"It has made me aware of the situations other people live in and made me feel so blessed to work with them," said Justine Raterman.
"We take a lot of pride in doing it and have a lot of fun doing it," said Casey Nance.
"I love it when the kids call me 'Miss Tonya',” said freshman Tonya Conley.
"I love going to day care" said Olivia Applewhite.
"I love engaging with the kids and not just speaking to them" said Kristin Daugherty.
"My favorite thing is working with the Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities" said Nance, Brittany Wilson, Aundrea Lindsey and others.
The team won the 2010 Erin Ritchey Memorial Volunteer Service award last April for their work with the Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities which was listed by many players as their favorite activity. This volunteer activity was started by Dan Christie (former UD men's bball player) and Dave Gleason of the Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities more than six years ago. UD Associate Head Coach Kyle Rechlicz took the initiative to pair up the Flyer women's hoops team with the Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities Services to start a fan club called FANtastic Flyers.
The team holds a preseason pep rally with, what has become a great fan group, The FANtastic Flyers. They are provided free admittance to the women's games and, on one night a year, they show up en masse for a clinic and scrimmage with the team after a game. This year's event was held on Jan. 15. There were 220 people in attendance that night that did a GREAT JOB cheering for the Flyers and then playing on the UD Arena floor with the women's team. On a different night the women's basketball team returned the favor and attended the basketball game of a team featuring players who belong to the FANtastic Flyers fan group.
Gleason simply gushed with enthusiasm when speaking about how the women's team has helped. He said that the team hasn't simply shown up at the Spirit Night pep rally and the postgame activities but the players "have genuinely connected with our people and have shown genuine compassion and care. They give them autographs but also make them feel important. Our parents are so happy with what the team does".
And there is more. The annual Math Day game was on Feb. 9. It was a great free event in front of 4,400 Dayton area kids and teachers from 42 schools! Activities started an hour before game time as the University of Dayton set up 19 math stations in the arena concourse with questions/problems for the students. If you weren't present you missed an enthusiastic display by these kids, even the opposing coaches were impressed. Because of their situations many of the kids in attendance might not have had the opportunity to attend a normal game. One young boy said "it is like they are our role models.”
Some of the schools participating in Math Day have been visited personally by the players. One school in particular remembered Justine Raterman and she had 75 kids who made up cheers and were personally cheering for her.
The Flyers weren't playing particularly well during the Math Day event but late in the game the crowd started chanting, "DEFENSE. DEFENSE. DEFENSE." "Which gave me shivers." said Aundrea Lindsay. The team took control of the game at the very end saying they didn't want to let down all of those kids who were cheering so hard for them.
The women's basketball team does more than host Math Day. They also work with schools each year in the Dayton area. They work on an ongoing basis with the Miami Valley Care Center visiting once or twice a week. They tutor the grade school kids while reading and playing games with the younger kids. "They are very, very nice. This has impacted the kids helping with homework and reading. If you only make a difference to one ..." said Susannah Johnson from the Miami Valley Care Center.
The players do a great job at the events but you aren't successful without someone behind the scenes toiling to coordinate everything. The great person doing that job is Amanda Fischer who spent four years as the basketball team manager and is now the Director of Basketball Operations. Fischer enjoys seeing the impact that their work has on the local kids and here is what she had to say about their visits to local schools.
"We try to get out to about eight to 10 schools a year. I am trying to increase that number this year. I think it is very important for the kids to get to know our players on a personal level. We have received great feedback from the teachers at the schools we have been to, so I want to try to reach out to as many as we can. So far we have been to Dayton Boys Prep, Dixie Elementary, Bell Haven, Dayton Leadership Academy and Gloria dei Montessori. We have done a mini clinic at all of the schools except for Gloria dei Montessori where we did a Q&A, largely based on academics and get-to-know-you questions from the students. After each clinic we do a 10-minute Q&A. The kids ask questions and our student-athletes talk about the importance of doing well in school."
As you would expect there are kids and adults the players have met who have also impacted them. Lauren has to be Kristen Daugherty's biggest fan and you see them high fiving before and after games. Diamond is a young student mentioned by Justine Raterman as someone in particular who has touched her heart. Jason and Theodore were mentioned by many of the players as two very special people they have met doing community service work.
Most of us allow our busy lives to simply limit by default the time and commitment to help others but here are student-athletes making a special commitment to finding time in their busy and physically demanding schedule to help improve the lives of others. They are champions of the heart. Every member of the UD Women’s Basketball Team is "one who shows marked superiority" in the generosity of the human spirit; truly remarkable women, every one of them.