Monday, February 22, 2010

VCU Qatar Women's Basketball

Because one of our good friends (English professor Jesse) is the coach of the women's basketball team at VCU Qatar, and because Brett needed some service hours for work, he volunteered to be the assistant coach for the team this season. Now this is a team made up mostly of Arabic girls who have NEVER had a P.E. class in school - EVER. There are a couple of players who played on the ASD team in high school, but other than that, these girls are all novices at the sport and competing at all. To say the least, they are brave pioneers in their own right.
Last year's season was quite difficult, from what Jesse has told us. He would hold a practice and maybe one or two students would show up. Sometimes no one was there. He finally asked his wife (Felicity, who is a graphic arts student at VCUQ) to suit up and infuse a little energy, skill, and camaraderie by joining the team. Felicity would be the first person to say she is no basketball expert, but her British education prepared her far better than the Arabic education had prepared these ladies.
Well, Jesse's idea worked, and soon more players were showing up to practices. They even started gaining some team spirit. The first official cheer that they made up went like this: "V-C-U! Do you see us?!" Now with that small beginning of a team, there wasn't much support from students and staff. Jesse had to beg faculty members to attend the games and cheer. He even bribed some adventurous professors to paint their faces yellow and black and yell like heathens. (I wonder what he had to pay them off with.) Even with Coach Jesse's great ideas and enthusiasm, the team failed to win one game last year. They were even beaten badly by both large high schools - Qatar Academy and The American School of Doha (that game ended with a 2-68 score).

This season was a different story. From the very beginning, the team had a different personality. They felt a little more confident with two experienced players helping out. They also had a more competitive edge and wanted to win. With the program running "smoothly" Felicity was delighted to take her place in the stands instead of playing.

You should have seen their joy-filled, disbelieving faces the first time the team won (against Texas A&M mind you). They won another game two weeks later against Carnegie Mellon. Abbey and I attended the last regular season game (against Northwestern). Brett, Abbey, and I all got some nice swag before the game at the first ever pep rally (shirts, buttons, stickers, and a messenger bag that Abbey proudly wore around the compound for a week). Before our eyes these quiet, reserved Arabic students turned into wild fans. Two ENERGETIC girls from Egypt (yes, they were wearing their hijabs) made themselves the unofficial cheerleaders and led the crowd with drums and dances I never thought I would see performed in public in the Middle East. The ending score brought our team up short but we clearly had won the loud crowd award. Because our fans were so loud, some of the over 40 Northwestern faculty proceeded to embarrass themselves by trying to enthuse their people and banter with our very outspoken cheerleaders.

By the time the playoffs started, the word was out that VCUQ's crowd was a first class operation. Other schools tried to gather support, but nothing compared to our school's enthusiasm. VCUQ made it to the final four. I know that sounds impressive, but there were only eight teams competing. Our girls ended up with a fourth place finish, but they felt like they had been awarded the first place trophy because of the great season of milestones they had.

So what were Brett's contributions you ask? Well, he compiled a very professional looking playbook for the players and the coaches. It was hardly used at all, but the players started noticing all the work and time that these two coaches were investing, and they noticed the energy and time their fan base was cranking out. At the final game I told Jesse that he had started building his basketball dynasty at VCUQ. He just laughed and shrugged off all the heart and effort he had put into this program. He was quick to mention that Brett was the new variable in this year. So Brett and I like to think he had something to do with this season's small successes, even if it was just being the lucky charm. I am just so proud of these courageous women who stepped into this groundbreaking program and gave it their all. Go Lady Rams!


Amy said...

That's so inspiring! I remember when my Dad was called as the YM's b'ball coach years ago. My dad neither enjoys nor really understands sports (I think they were desperate). But, he took the calling seriously and recruited two of our varsity basketball playing Priests to serve as assistant coaches. My Dad made sure everyone had equal playing time, and bought pizza after every game. Wouldn't you know, our team took the championship! It was so fun cheering for "our" team. Hooray for Dads!

Kristy said...

How neat! Go Lady Rams!

terahreu said...

Awe, after you told me about this I just had to get a look. I am so glad you blogged about this. They should make a movie of these women. It inspires me to do something I know nothing about. Why the heck not?

Marinda said...

I love it. I'm excited just reading about it. Sounds like the perfect story line for a movie!

Amber said...

What a great story!
"but the players started noticing all the work and time that these two coaches were investing"....

sometimes, that is all it takes to light a fire! Simply feeling that what they are doing is worth something to someone else so much that they will put in their time and energy! Way to get a fireball rolling!