Tom Archdeacon: Sinclair athletes know how to say thanks
Posted: 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016
A few years ago, when John Boehner was still the Speaker of the House, he set up a special tour of the Capitol for the Sinclair Community College basketball team on one of its regular visits to Washington, D.C.
As he posed for a photo with the team, the 5-foot-8 Boehner looked up at all the players crowded around him and gushed: “Wow, all these guys are tall!”
He was right.
And on a day like Thanksgiving, the Sinclair players stand even taller.
While other college teams are off playing in holiday tournaments or have slipped home to spend time with their families, the Sinclair men’s team — which this year is being joined by the women’s team — once again will show it truly embraces the spirit of this special day.
The Tartan Pride is one team that knows how to say thanks.
Actually, all five of Sinclair’s athletic teams — thanks to the guidance of athletics director and men’s basketball coach Jeff Price, college president Dr. Steven Johnson and a collection of like-minded coaches of the other sports — are some of the most socially conscious and active college teams in the Miami Valley.
Today, the men’s and women’s hoops teams will help serve meals, bus tables and spend time talking to some of the nearly 7,000 expected guests at the Feast of Giving celebration at the Dayton Convention Center.
The 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. gathering — funded by corporate and individual donors and facilitated by hundreds of volunteers — is free and intended for anyone looking for a meal and a sense of community.
Tuesday evening, the Sinclair baseball team served Thanksgiving meals at the Boys and Girls Club of Dayton. And in recent weeks the Pride’s softball and volleyball teams have been active in area communal ventures, as well.
“We are a community college so we will be active in the community,” said Price. “I like to think that WE are the community’s team. It’s free to come watch us play. We have players from the area and we’re doing a pretty good job in the community, too.”
Sinclair isn’t a team that just shows up for a photo op and as soon as the TV cameras and newspaper reporters turn elsewhere, slips back out the door and heads home.
With the past years as evidence, Pride players arrive at the Convention Center before the doors open to help prepare for the crush of guests, then go about their work in a low-key, unassuming fashion and afterward stay a couple of hours extra to clean up.
Price admitted some of his players — mostly freshmen yet to understand the commitment that comes with wearing a Pride jersey — sometimes opine that they’d rather go home over the holiday.
The sophomores, Price said, “get it” because they’ve gone through it the year before.
“We’re upfront when we recruit these guys,” Price said. “This is what you buy into with our program. It’s about more than just winning games.
“You come to Sinclair for the three Cs: community, classroom and competition.”
And don’t be fooled. They’re pretty good at the latter.
With Tuesday night’s 95-77 victory at OSU-Lima, Sinclair is 6-0 and averaging 97.3 points per game. The Pride won the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference title last season and finished 28-3. All seven of its sophomores graduated and five went on to play basketball at four-year colleges.
The Sinclair women are 6-1 and the Pride’s baseball team went to the Junior College World Series last spring and finished third in the nation.
And yet, for all that success, Price said:
“We don’t bring you in here just to put up banners and get rings. It’s for a lot more than that.”
After growing up in Lewisburg, Price went to Marshall University in the early 1980s and remembers attending his first Nov. 14 memorial service at the school.
It was a remembrance of the Nov. 14, 1970 plane crash that killed 75 people, including 37 members of the Marshall football team, nine coaches and 25 boosters, as well as the flight crew.
“Freshman year when I stood there, I didn’t really get it,” Price said. “This was before (the movie) We Are Marshall with Matthew McConaughey.
“Back then it was just something that happened. It didn’t involve me. I was just so caught up with doing what I could do to be a part of the team then. But the more you’re exposed to something, the more you begin to understand and today November 14th is something very special to me.”
And he remembers all that when he deals with his young players now.
“Guys have to be exposed to experiences before they can get them,” he said. “They have to have their eyes opened to things they don’t even know are out there.”
He believes that’s especially important at the junior college level of athletics:
“As coaches here, our job is a little different than that of a Division I coach. It’s not just about win, win, win. At the junior college level, if you look at it with a single vision — that it’s only the results on the scoreboard — I believe you are in the wrong profession.”
He said that by the time he gets players, many are near the end of their careers and will not — as they think — one day go on and play professionally.
“Our job is to help instill some thought on what’s going to happen next,” he said. “ ‘How am I going to go on and be a productive young citizen?’
“You want to start building that foundation for civic responsibility in them.”
He does that in several ways. Each year his team takes a long trip to play a game or two and take in some unique experiences.
This past weekend the Sinclair men — and for the first time the women — visited Philadelphia, which they do every three years. Along with playing a pair of games, they did everything from tour the University of Pennsylvania campus and practice at the Palestra to visit Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center, see the Liberty Bell and several other sights and, of course, devour some cheesesteaks at Geno’s.
Last year they went to Washington, D.C., where stops usually include everything from the White House, the Capitol and U.S. Supreme Court to Arlington National Cemetery and the various war memorials. There was a scrimmage against the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and a 90-minute visit with soldiers in the amputee unit at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Md.
“It’s always about the pixie dust,” is how Price explains it. He said if enough of it is sprinkled, sooner or later, the magic takes hold.
That’s why he especially involves his players in a variety of communal experiences back here — from regularly visiting the Dayton VA Medical Center to taking part in the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon and even helping coach and mentor Oakwood youth league players.
As he explained:
“Somewhere along the line — maybe not until they have children of their own — they’ll think, ‘This is what we should be doing with our own kids.’ ”
An important day
As the Sinclair players have visited the Dayton VA in recent years, they’ve struck up a special friendship with Sgt. Charlie Krandall, who at 97 is the only World War II veteran still living at the VA.
A member of the 36th Army Infantry, Krandall ended up a prisoner of war for 21 months in Germany.
“He engaged our guys first when we came out there and now everyone is drawn to him,” Price said. “They all get quiet and just listen to his stories.
“We gave him a coach’s shirt and he likes to wear it when we come out. And we’ve had him over to campus for a game. He sat on our bench. Truthfully I don’t know how much we do for him, but he does a lot for our guys. He opens their eyes.”
That was the case at the recent Military Appreciation Day game on Veteran’s Day. At halftime, Colonel Rick Johns, the commander of the 88th Communications Group at Wright Patterson AFB, administered a special swearing-in ceremony at mid-court for eight recruits.
Price had his team stand at attention on the sidelines and then congratulate the eight afterward.
“I felt it was more important for our guys to see people voluntarily put their lives on the line to protect our country than to go down to the dressing room and listen to a speech by me,” he grinned. “It’s learning about real life.”
And that’s why today is important, too.
“Hopefully, they’ll get a sense of community,” Price said. “When they’re turned loose down there for five or six hours, they’re going to have some meaningful engagements with people.
“They see some people not as fortunate as them, someone who doesn’t have the privilege to go to college or have a scholarship.
“Often it becomes a one-on-one exchange and they start feeling good not only about helping other people, but they may even realize they are helping themselves. They are growing.”
John Boehner said it best:
“All these guys are tall.”