by Doug Ireland
It’s crossover season, the crazy stretch from early February through mid-March when the climax of basketball season blends with the beginning of spring sports.
This happens at every high school and college, but it’s especially acute in smaller communities and smaller colleges, where there’s not a huge fan base. The faces filing into the gym are many of the same faces settling into seats at the ballpark.
The most painful conflict for those folks comes when there’s a pretty day with home spring sports, but also basketball games, sometimes going off at the same time.
When asked how to choose, during the 30 years I worked at Northwestern State, I’d say there were only a few basketball games left and those were coming down the stretch in the conference race. I sure couldn’t argue against a sunny, early spring day in the stands at the ball game, nor would I try. But those teams had months left in their seasons, so if NSU’s basketball teams were in contention, I did put the soft sell on spending the day at Prather Coliseum.
The mobile and enthusiastic Demon fan really could do all of it on a super Saturday. If baseball and softball were at home, and basketball was playing at the same time, it wasn’t difficult to catch all of that and the occasional tennis match, too. The athletic complex at Northwestern is very compact. It might take five minutes to walk from basketball to baseball – three minutes to cross the street to softball, or get to the tennis courts.
I’ve been “retired” – at least, from the job I loved at NSU – since May 2019. When I was working, I didn’t have the luxury of trying to catch more than one sport. I was where I needed to be. Now, I can meander. And I will this month and in early March.
But as much as I love baseball and softball, and enjoy tennis, given a conflict, I’ll be spending most of my time in Prather Coliseum.
Starting Feb. 11, the Northwestern basketball teams have four home playing dates – Feb. 11, 16, 18 and March 4. And that’s all, folks.
Baseball and softball have over two dozen home appearances. Tennis has much of its home action left in March, The one-a-year home track meet is can’t miss on April 15, long after basketball is done. You can find all the schedule (and ticket) info at NSUdemons.com.
None of these events happen without a crew blending full-time athletic department staff with part-time ushers, public address announcers, scoreboard operators, ticket personnel and concession stand workers, dedicated to assure the fan experience is all it should be.
Some of these folks are faces we get to know – after you see somebody at the ticket booth, or directing fans to their seats, a few times, there’s more than recognition. These fine folks strike up a conversation and make you feel welcome.
The full-time staffers set the tone, and often must balance 2-3 sports in a given day. Whether teams are at home or on the road, for example, the athletic media relations crew of Jason Pugh, Brad Welborn, Jonathan Zenk and Ronnette Pellegrin are coordinating stats for home events, constant social media coverage home or road (whether or not they’re actually on the road), live stats and streaming video and audio, and rapidly updating NSUDemons.com within an hour or so post game.
There’s eight athletic trainers handling the needs of all the teams, and in early March, their workload expands with the start of spring football. The workday for trainers and the strength and conditioning staff often starts before dawn and can last well past dark-30.
It’s the time of year when the mantra is “sleep is overrated; showers give you power.” There may be a lot of energy drinks consumed. There is next to no “down time.” And that’s fine, because these people are passionate about what they do.
That’s because they do realize at the core, it’s all about providing opportunities for student-athletes – to compete, to compete in front of the home crowd, and to have a rewarding experience on their way to earning a degree. Over 80 percent, trending upward, of NSU student-athletes graduate. Nearly 400 compete. Over 300 of those earn degrees. Year after year. That’s more than cool. That’s what it’s really all about.
In the meantime, we get to watch the games. With basketball winding down, there’s the surprisingly good Demons and new coach Corey Gipson, very much in contention to with the Southland Conference. Halfway through the league’s 18-game schedule, they stood one game back, sitting in second.
The Lady Demons, winless until their last game in the miserable Covid season of 2020-21, are now very competitive in the Southland, with a 5-4 mark entering the second half of the conference season.
Added value: the Demons have the incredible one-armed freshman, Hansel Enmanuel. If you don’t know his story, just Google the name and you will want to catch him in action. He’s beginning to get settled in. Just seeing him compete is special and inspiring. When he makes a play, you can’t help but be amazed.
You can catch all the games on ESPN Plus, but there’s nothing like being there. Four more chances. Worth every minute.