An open letter to St. Bonaventure women’s basketball:
I’ve been thinking about writing this for some time. It’s a tricky proposition, you see. I’m not just a sportswriter in this instance. I’m an alum, and not just of Bona’s old St. Bona’s, but of the women’s basketball program. I never played (with the exception of being an excellent rebounder during shooting drills) but I was a manager. For four years. I saw the inside of a college basketball program, of a women’s college program to be more precise. I knew all the good laundromats in the old Atlantic 10 and could run most scoreboards in gyms across the Northeast. Some of my favorite college memories, heck some of my favorite life memories, involve my time with the women’s basketball team.
As a sportswriter who covers women’s basketball in Western New York, my charge is to be fair. I don’t root for teams to succeed or fail. Frankly, I root for myself. If that sounds self-centered to you, I understand. But trust me, over the years I’ve learned if I don’t cheer for myself, no one else will. I root for a good story. And the Bonnies are a good story.
But there’s something else going on for me. I thought about my decade’s worth of writing about women’s basketball. I thought about the last time a women’s basketball team went to the NCAA tournament from Western New York — Canisius in 2005. I can’t count the number of emails I got from readers who didn’t like women’s basketball and who told me, vehemently and frequently, about their dislike not only of women’s basketball but of the fact that women’s basketball stories appeared in their morning sports section. Readers would quote the attendance at games, which often hovered around the 250 mark, and rip my coverage.
To be honest, years of that attitude beat me up pretty bad. It’s demoralizing when your passion isn’t just misunderstood but ignored and ridiculed. I wondered if what I did mattered, if I was making any contribution to the world. Then, St. Bonaventure started to get good. They won games.They played for each other. They didn’t care if there were 40 people in the gym, 400 or 4,000. They had a passion for basketball. They were fun to watch. And I started to feel engaged again. I started to remember that being true to myself had nothing to do with how many people celebrated with me, only that I did my best with my passion every day.
The success of the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team doesn’t shock me, but the reaction of the public, well, that has me surprised. Casual sports fans in Western New York know that the team is doing well this year. Their national ranking made news on the local NPR station. The fact that I log onto Facebook and see post after post about the Bona women’s basketball team? I never thought that would happen in my lifetime.
Part of me would like to think I had something small to do with that. I’d like to think that those years of writing good stories about women’s basketball when no one seemed to cared did something to help change the culture for these student-athletes. Maybe my work had no impact. Or maybe being true to myself, following my passion for good storytelling and women’s sports, made something a little easier for someone else.
Whatever happens this weekend at the A-10 Tournament, the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team is a good story. One that I look forward to telling, not because I’m an alum, but because I’ve learned to root for myself and play to the best of my ability, every night, regardless of who is watching.
With much gratitude,