During the First Four tournament games Wednesday, March 15, University of Dayton Magazine student writer Bridget Lally met with a sports reporter in the media room at UD Arena to learn more about what motivates journalists.
Jonas Pope IV grew up watching and playing sports. And then …
“My 10th-grade English teacher told me I’m a good writer and that I should go into journalism,” said Pope, a beat writer for The Herald-Sun. “I knew I didn’t want to cover news, but sports instead.”
Deadlines are stressful, but he enjoys the perks of being able to get paid to watch sports — something he says he would be doing regardless of his career.
In the profession for 10 years now, Pope says that one of the most meaningful aspects of the job is the chance to build relationships with other people.
“Whether it is a student-athlete, parent or coach, I appreciate getting to know them as people,” Pope said. “I like that I can run into the athletic director in the hallway and talk, man-to-man. Nothing about sports, just a general conversation. Relationships are important.”
Since Pope has been covering the North Carolina Central University basketball team, he has built strong relationships with the team and gets emotional knowing that for the seniors, Wednesday’s game was it.
“Central had seven seniors, and now tonight, this is it,” Pope said. “I see the human element of it. I can see it on their faces. It makes me sad to think and talk about it.”
NCCU lost to UC Davis 67-63 on March 15.
There are 488.5 miles between Durham, North Carolina, and Dayton. For many band members from North Carolina Central University, these were their first miles ever traveled by plane.
Band director Thurman Hollins led the 28-student band to UD Arena Wednesday, March 15, where NCCU played University of California Davis in the First Four. But, getting there was only part of the fun.
“I’m into the student experience when it comes to our brand program,” Hollins said. “Playing music is always fun, but so is getting the opportunity to travel, meet other people and see different cultures.”
Most students in the band are from North Carolina, but when asked what they think of Dayton, snow and food were the first two words that came to mind.
When the windchill dropped below freezing, band members said a burger from the Oregon Express in downtown Dayton was there to warm their stomachs in preparation for the performance.
“This is my first time at the NCAA Tournament,” said Mariah McClendon, a sophomore band member. “I have really enjoyed seeing other bands, other teams and everyone coming together for basketball.”
Watch a small clip of the NCCU band playing right here.
Though the floors of UD Arena were vibrating from the shouts brought on by legions of fans during the second day of the First Four Wednesday night, each basketball team had a little extra encouragement coming straight from the sidelines — from their spirited cheerleaders.
For the University of California Davis cheerleading team, their job was made sweeter after their basketball team beat North Carolina Central, 67-63.
“It’s so exciting because this is our first time in the March Madness tournament,” said Alexis Julien, a UC Davis cheerleader. “It’s just so cool to win our first finals ever and then make it here.”
For the UC Davis cheerleading team, cheering is a chance to be a part of the game’s action.
“You get to interact with the game more, really be there with the players and the crowd,” said another UC Davis cheerleader, Anna Verdiguel.
Squad-mate Tatiana Ferla felt the same excitement in the middle of the USC vs. Providence game Wednesday night.
“We love the crowd at home, but it’s so cool to have fans from everywhere,” Ferla said. “You see Providence and Dayton supporters as well as fans from USC, which is great.”
Amidst the cameras and media surrounding March Madness, these NCAA cheerleaders don’t quit when it comes to cheering their players on.
“We really push ourselves,” Ferla said. “We remember that it’s all about this amazing experience.”
During the strenuous schedule of March Madness, it’s not just the players that bond during hours of traveling – the teams’ athletic staff members do as well.
Libby Garcia, Heather Bell and Lauren Rados all work for University of Southern California basketball, either as an academic adviser, equipment handler or recruiter.
“The best thing about working for USC basketball is the relationships,” Bell said. “We get along really well with each other.”
All three women have found friendship together in a mostly male-run program. After leaving California at 11 a.m. Monday, March 13, Garcia, Bell and Rados had a few days to enjoy one another’s company on their cross-country road trip and time at UD Arena.
“Even though we’re usually on different schedules,” Rados said, “the tournament is great because we get lots of girl time.”
Despite their excitement of experiencing the First Four together, the three staffers feel the stress that comes with planning such a high-stakes game.
“Scheduling is definitely tricky,” Garcia said. “We come to this tournament and have to plan for the ifs, ands or buts. You don’t know what is going to happen.”
Though the future is unknown, these three USC staffers can thank the tournament for bringing them closer together.
Resilience. This 10-letter word means a lot to people, but to the five seniors on the mighty 16-seed UC Davis, it tells their story.
Before their First Four game at UD Arena, head coach Jim Les told the team that this game was their fight. He believed it wasn’t their time to go home. So, they laced their sneakers for battle.
The game was tight. The bands were loud and the cheerleaders yelled with fervor. Every point was countered with another and it wasn’t until the last five seconds that UC Davis knew they would be making school history.
“We all have roles on the team and mine is defense, pick up the tempo on defense and use my athleticism and continue on the defensive end. When I do my job, we’re all top-notch players,” said senior Lawrence White.
With the 67-63 win over North Carolina Central, UC Davis advances to the round of 64 for the first time in program history to play Kansas, a No. 1 seed. One would think that this match up would be intimidating for a first-time NCAA tournament team, but the Aggies, again, show resilience.
“I don’t fear anybody, but I respect everybody and I feel like the way we play defense we can make any game a game. And, if we play the way we’ve been playing the past few weeks, then we can definitely do that,” said junior Chima Moneke.
Les beamed with pride throughout the press conference as he listened to his players’ confident reactions:
“It’s special — I’ve said this, our guys grew up as little hoopers dreaming about playing and having this opportunity. And it’s so special to be here. And we’re just going to continue to fight to keep this story going.”
When winning basketball teams advance in the NCAA March Madness tournament, the teams’ athletic merchandise travels cross country, too.
UD Arena volunteers at the March Madness apparel table make sure as many fans as possible leave the games with NCAA gear. Such volunteers throughout the First Four make the event possible.
“Shirts sell out fast at the beginning of the game,” merchandise volunteer Tracy Johnson said. “In the past five minutes, three stacks of shirts have disappeared.”
A West Carrollton resident, Johnson has volunteered at UD Arena for the NCAA First Four games for around nine years. She has some experience since she used to help sell athletic apparel for her son’s baseball team.
“All teams in the tournament get shirts,” Johnson said. “We also sell UD shirts, which always sell out.”
On Tuesday, March 14, the volunteers started with roughly 10,000 shirts, and by the end of the night had about 4,000 remaining.
“By the end of the night people will buy shirts of teams they haven’t even heard of, just to have some souvenir from the tournament,” Johnson said.
Last night, the volunteers sold March Madness beach towels for the first time — on a night when the wind chill dipped to 7.
“I saw one guy walking out of here last night wrapping it around his bare legs,” said another volunteer. “He was wearing shorts.”
The NCAA First Four in Dayton has a way of bringing people together — including seven people crammed into one car that made its way to Dayton from Kansas.
Katie Hammbrschmidst, sister of Wake Forest assistant coach Brett Ballard, spent the first half of the Wake Forest vs. Kansas State basketball game March 14 at UD Arena holding her 1-year-old daughter, Hadley, who slept contentedly on her mother’s shoulder.
“We drove nine hours all the way from Kansas,” Hammbrschmidst said. “My husband and I, our four children and their grandmother in one car. It was a bit crammed, but the kids were great.”
Hammbrschmidst and her family are originally from Kansas, and her brother previously worked for University of Kansas basketball.
“We traveled a lot when he was there because there were so many tournament games,” Hammbrschmidst said.
Though Ballard has made the move to Wake Forest, she still enjoys cheering on her brother and his team.
“It’s so awesome that he made the tournament,” she said. “We’re here to cheer him on, and Dayton has been great so far.”
She’s among the fans who go the distance to get to Dayton.
On Tuesday, March 14, press row at UD Arena filled as the First Four commenced.
Communication and media professionals traveled from across the country to warm courtside seats. Even though female professionals were present, they were scarce.
Erin Meyer, assistant director of athletic communications at Wake Forest, shared her experiences about what it is like to be a woman in athletics.
“Most of the time [being female] doesn’t really seem to make a difference,” Meyer said. “But, there have been times when people outside of sports have asked me, ‘Are you a cheerleader, dancer or what do you do with the team?’”
Meyer is the primary media contact for various sports teams at Wake Forest and the secondary contact for men’s and women’s basketball. She grew up in a basketball family and always knew sports was the place for her.
As a St. Louis native, Meyer sees the NCAA First Four as an opportunity to come back home to her Midwest roots and connect to more female media professionals.
Traveling for Wake Forest sporting events is a perk, she said, and has allowed Meyer to meet many females who are in her same position.
Her advice to women working in athletics: “See yourself as an equal, and you will be treated as one.”
I have attended college basketball games before, but I have never taken part in behind-the-scenes activities — until I attended NCAA First Four open team practice Monday, March 13, at UD Arena as a student writer for University of Dayton Magazine or UDQuickly.
I am a dancer. I know art events, and the day’s practice session felt like a dress rehearsal. Exploring the rooms and hallways felt like exploring backstage. Journalists and photojournalists from all over the country were busy at their laptops writing stories and jotting down notes or capturing the best shots from the basketball players on the court. I looked down and realized that these national reporters were wearing the same press credentials around their necks that I had dangling around mine.
I have never been a basketball person. Did the second- and sixth-grade boys sitting behind me have better basketball predictions? Without a doubt. But, through my reporter’s eye, I got to see the game as few do. I saw what it takes to put on such an event, from the woman whose job it is to sweep the floor after each practice session to the man dressed in black who guards the media refreshment area to a student whose task it is to refill water pitchers for press conferences.
I witnessed basketball as a high-production event and less as a sport. A basketball bounced way too close to my head, and I’ll never get used to the extremely loud buzzer, but I’m happy to have been an insider in an athlete’s world.
In Dayton, Ohio, the fragrance of March is in the air, and some residents in Oakwood can feel it too.
Just up the hill from the University of Dayton campus is Oakwood, population 9,000, including Shannon Tucker. “I went to Ohio State and there was just something in the air on football game days,” she said. “You just feel it. And here, we get it up in Oakwood, too.”
As a mother of two boys living not far from UD Arena, Tucker chaperoned her sons and their friends to the open practice Monday, March 13. The basketball-loving group of six can be split in equal parts of second- and sixth-graders, also known as, the “littles and the middles.”
With candy-covered lips and hot dogs and nachos in hands, the boys discussed their predictions for the tournament. Will UD be playing Duke in the final round, or will Arizona be winning it all?
This was the group’s first trip to the practice session, but not the Tuckers’ first trip to the First Four. With the “little” not quite old enough to stay up past bedtime, Tucker takes her older son as her “date” to the games. This year, they will occupy two of the 13,000 arena seats for the fourth year in a row. UD Arena has opened March Madness since 2001.
Families can follow the fragrance to the final First Four open practice sessions Tuesday, March 14, from noon to 3 p.m at UD Arena. Sessions are free and open to the public. The opening game will begin March 14 at 6:40 p.m.