When Faculty Are Sidelined-And Love It

Rod Searcey

Liz Hadly was new to Stanford and looking for a way to connect with the campus community.

“We stuck on women’s basketball because we have two daughters, and I felt like it was wonderful to go where there was so much enthusiastic response from the audience,” the associate professor of biological sciences says. “It was a really neat thing to go to a college sport where women were starring and people were cheering for them, and they were obviously really good at what they do. We got hooked.”

That was nine years ago, when Hadly’s younger daughter, Clara, was only 2 and either watched the scoreboard or slept through games. Today Clara and her older sister, 14-year-old Emma, are tuned to offensive strategies and Mom has become a certified fan. “I kind of get a little bit wild,” the specialist in ancient DNA says. “I scream and jump up and down, which I don’t do in the rest of my life. And I’ve learned a lot about the game—I’m interested in how they’re setting up, and I really love seeing assists.”

At the January 18 home game with Oregon, Hadly was on a personal mission. She left her seat in the upper balcony of Maples Pavilion during the first half and made her way down to the floor, where colleague Dmitri Petrov was watching the Cardinal women for the first time. He’d come at the encouragement of Pat Jones, another biological sciences professor and longtime fan who couldn’t make the game and had offered him her two season tickets. Hadly, crouching on the floor behind Petrov’s chair, was pointing out players and answering his questions.

“That guard—Cissy Pierce [’08]—is awesome,” Petrov said above the driving blare of the Band. “All the girls are amazing, and it’s a very disciplined, well-coached team.” A native of Moscow who plays the occasional pick-up game of basketball and roots for the New York Knicks, Petrov said he would definitely be back. “I’m impressed with the level of playing, and I feel I need to come, to follow it, and [get to] know the players.”

Whether they’re first-timers or veteran season-ticket holders, faculty fans of women’s basketball are drawn to Maples for a number of reasons. Some are former student-athletes themselves, and many have taught or advised varsity players.

“I have the utmost admiration for them, that they’re able to manage to be such good students,” says Jones, who played basketball, field hockey and tennis at Oberlin College, and most recently taught forward Eziamaka Okafor, ’06, and advised guard Krista Rappahahn, ’06. Jones and her husband, biological sciences professor emeritus Bob Schimke, have held season tickets for about a decade—“you get to see players mature over the course of four years, and it’s hard to think of skipping a year”—and they bought early tickets for the NCAA regionals that will be held on campus this spring. Jones says she and Schimke, ’54, MD ’58, have supported the women’s basketball program through its highs and lows. They particularly appreciate the team’s recognition of faculty members, who this year are featured in halftime presentations and invited to sit on the team bench during games. “If a player invited me, yeah, I’d do it,” Jones says, almost wistfully.

“I’ve probably enjoyed it more than the team,” head coach Tara VanDerveer says about the program, also designed to give faculty a glimpse of athletes’ “other” life on campus. “It’s been really fun to have faculty on the bench, and I get a chance to talk with them while the team’s warming up. They’re so enthusiastic and positive and encouraging to our team.”

History professor Clay Carson, for one, couldn’t stop smiling on November 29. Junior guard Candice Wiggins, whom he taught as a freshman, had invited him to join the team for the match against Santa Clara, and Carson had brought his “A” game. He jumped up to cheer each of Wiggins’s three-pointers, and he crowded in with the players for time-out huddles. “The wonderful thing was being in the locker room and listening to the coaches, and getting a sense of how players react off the court,” Carson says. “Not that I understood very much of it when they got technical about plays.”

The director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project remembers when he started to follow the women’s team in the 1980s, when there were fewer than 200 spectators in Maples for games. Then VanDerveer, hired as head coach in 1985, recruited Jennifer Azzi, ’90, and Sonja Henning, ’91. “And Stanford moved from being a doormat to actually being good,” Carson says. “From that point on, except when I’ve been out of town, I don’t think I’ve missed a game.”

Carson and his wife, Susan, already have their tickets for the Pac-10 tournament in early March and for the NCAA quarterfinals in Fresno, Calif. He’s also delaying a flight to a lecture engagement in France, “to make sure we can watch them play.”
Carson’s history colleague Al Camarillo, who played basketball in his freshman year at UCLA, says he’s learned a lot from the women’s game. “It’s not the high-flying, acrobatic stuff that the men do, but you really get an appreciation for the fundamentals of the game.”

Camarillo taught forward Vanessa Nygaard, ’97, (“she was a kick”) and guard Milena Flores, ’00, who gave a couple of lessons to his daughter, Lauren’s, team (“that was real sweet”). He and his wife, Susan, have been season-ticket holders since the program’s start. “Sports has always been a huge part of our connection to the University.”

Linguistics and philosophy professor Tom Wasow would second that, with a catch: “One of the things I love about Stanford is that you don’t always know who’s an athlete, and who’s not.” But Wasow does remember individual student-athletes by their grade point averages, noting that forward Kate Starbird, ’97, was a computer science major who maintained a nearly 4.0 GPA.

Asked about a favorite moment in Maples, Wasow doesn’t hesitate. “There was the time the Stanford women blew out Tennessee 90-72, about 10 years ago [1995]. I was a member of the Fast Break Club, and [Tennessee head coach] Pat Summitt talked to us after the game. She was so gracious, and gave full credit to the Stanford team. I thought what a classy person she was.”

Student services administrator Laura Selznick advised her first student-athlete—tennis player Marianne Werdel Witmeyer, ’89—in 1985. The year she had basketball guard Jamila Wideman, ’97, for an advisee, in 1993, was the year Selznick, MA ’75, bought season tickets for the women’s team.

“And once you start going, you can’t stop. It’s just a wonderful environment.” Freshman center Jayne Appel is her newest student-athlete advisee. “You’ve got to be kind of chill about it,” Selznick says of her interactions with players over the years. “It’s not about their fame and fortune.”

As a former collegiate tennis coach and former volunteer chaplain for the women’s professional soccer league, associate dean for religious life Joanne Sanders says it’s important for fans to support teams financially. After attending occasional games on a pass, Sanders and her partner, Kathy Armstrong, invested in season tickets for women’s basketball last year. This season, she’s cheered favorite players and also has whooped at halftime, when faculty members have been introduced to the crowd in Maples. “That’s so cool, and it contextualizes where we are, at an academic institution,” Sanders notes. “For the faculty person to see this dimension of the players’ lives up close is really great, and there’s such an appreciation that’s gained by understanding that piece of an athlete’s life.”