Lesa loved being part of an NCAA Division I basketball team, even if her role was marginal. Her career goal was to become a writer and even though all paths were leading that direction she decided to focus on working in an athletics department with the hope that her dedication to support and promote the sports she loved would be recognized and appreciated. With soccer and cross country seasons complete, her attention was solely focused on women’s basketball, her specialty.
The first month was fairly smooth, Mark would sometimes offer guidance and Brian was more than happy to share what he knew about game operations. Lesa enjoyed the support but also knew Mark and Brian were still working football games, which meant they probably couldn’t hold her hand for very long.
That was okay because working women’s basketball wasn’t intimidating. There weren’t fans in attendance, the only member of the media who worked the game was a first-year writer at the student newspaper, and parents didn’t know who she was or that she was the one who wrote the game program – which meant no begging for undeserved attention.
The hardest thing about working women’s basketball was pretending like it mattered. It did matter to Lesa, the game, the players, and providing the media detail about who won – that was all very important. But Lesa had to go through the motions for everything else.
She had to write a game program and make 1,500 copies, even though 28 people were in the stands.
She had to tape the floor for photographers, even though there weren’t photographers at the games and if the news crew showed up they didn’t even notice the tape.
She had to bring phones to the game, for press row and game operations, even though the phones never rang and there wasn’t a need for a press row.
She had to run stats to press row during every media timeout and make halftime copies and post-game copies of stats. If she thought about the amount of paper wasted on women’s basketball it made her feel sorry for trees.
She had to dress up for games and wear a business-professional outfit that was either a skirt or pants suit, heels and makeup. Lesa didn’t mind dressing up. She loved finding a nice suit and she knew the importance of looking important. But wearing heels for a four hour walk-fest twice a week, on the off chance that someone would realize she was important, did not counter the abuse her feet endured.
She also had to do a post-game press conference – reserve a room, order food, pay the food delivery person, and escort Kim to the room – even though there wasn’t press.
Lastly, she did the one thing that made a difference. Hours after the players were gone, the coaching staff was done looking at stat sheets and changed back into shorts and t-shirts, Lesa would write a press release and disseminate it to the media. That, of all that she did, was the one thing the media used. Waking up and checking to see how much of her press release the newspapers picked up was her success barometer. If they used her release word-for-word, well, there was nothing better.
Lesa’s natural inclination was to stop doing excess, to find a way to do things efficiently. Instead of hiring someone to specifically answer the phone, if it rang, she handled the phone. She had one of the stat runners come early and make game program copies and the other stay late to pay the food delivery person and both of them could stay and eat after the game, giving Kim the impression there was media at her presser. Once the runners, who were students, realized they were getting free food in addition to getting paid, and they could pretend like media and have Kim treat them like professional writers, there was no trouble staffing games. Lesa could start her press release during the game instead of waiting until deadline to throw something together and her feet were less likely to be swollen by having people other than her do the walking.
In no time at all, Lesa and her crew were a well-oiled machine. With a Thanksgiving tournament around the corner, she had to create a game program that was sent to the printer and create game-day inserts that included up-to-date stats and overall records. Knowing that in advance was key and Lesa was happy with her ability to juggle another ball. What Lesa didn’t account for were three major things: a Thanksgiving tournament happened during a college student’s Thanksgiving break; the tournament had a ranked opponent in the lineup; coach Kim unleashing her craziness.
The most obvious fact that the tournament occurred during Thanksgiving break, being that it was a Thanksgiving tournament, was a major hurdle to overcome because, despite being a commuter school, students went home. It wasn’t surprising that student’s didn’t value free post-game food more than a home cooked meal with their family. Nothing about students not wanting to work a women’s basketball during a break from school was surprising. But it proved to be impossible for Lesa to keep her well-oil machine intact for the first tournament she worked.
Luckily, her game-day staff committed to work the entire season, but none of them were willing to do anything outside of their perceived job responsibilities. She asked the shot clock operator if he could answer the phone if it rang and he promptly responded “I work the clock, honey. Not the phones.” With that type of response, Lesa couldn’t risk ticking anyone off and having to find a replacement mid-season.
None of Lesa’s co-workers were willing to help out; if they were working a sport they had a game and if they weren’t working a sport, they too wanted to be with family. Lesa’s only solution was to prepare to walk a lot – four games in two days, 32 media timeouts, four halftimes, four post-game trips to the empty press conference.
Having a ranked opponent participate in the tournament proved to be a hard lesson for Lesa. It was one of those ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ scenarios that someone who did know could have shared, but they didn’t. She knew it was a bigger deal than the other games, but she also knew realistically, her team didn’t have a chance. They would have a chance to learn, but probably not win.
According to coach Kim, having a ranked opponent naturally meant the media would come to the game, fill press row and clamor to meet with her and her players after they won the game.
Before the season kicked off, Lesa determined the best course of action to have anyone attend the team’s preseason media day was to coordinate with the men’s team. By scheduling the women’s event to begin 30 minutes before the men’s event ended, there was a slight chance someone would stick around or veer over and ask coach Kim what she thought about her team’s chances for the season. Or get some B-roll for the year, in case a big score seemed worthy enough to show on the news of a slow sports night.
After a fully planned event with a timeline geared for success, only athletics department staff and the one student newspaper reporter stayed for the women’s media day. That outraged Kim and the next day she called Lesa and demanded she invite the Sentinel sports editor meet her for lunch.
“I don’t understand the media in this town. Why aren’t they asking me questions? We have a good shot this year, we’re gonna be really good.”
“I’m not sure, Kim. I imagine it’s a space issue,” Lesa tried to explain sensibly but then said under her breath, “Or demand.”
Fortunately, Kim did not hear that comment as it could have added flame to an already lit fire of rage. Lesa didn’t understand Kim’s confusion. The more she went on about “fairness” and “equality” and the team’s chances “are gonna be good” the more it made her wonder if Kim even read the newspaper.
The newspaper served 1.8 million residents. The majority of their readers wanted news about football, not basketball. With football news, most of them wanted to read about Florida, a lot of them wanted to read about Florida State, a good chunk wanted news about Miami and then, if and only if football season was complete, there was a pro basketball team that might get some coverage. The men’s basketball team at the school Kim and Lesa worked wasn’t even guaranteed a pre-game story, unless they played Florida, Florida State or Miami.
Coach Kim’s strategy, if she had one other than begging to be treated fairly, was to get the sports editor out to lunch and convince him to commit to a post-game write-up of every home game. She couldn’t understand that what she was asking was the equivalent of him asking her to play every game without a shooting guard. He would have to staff every game in order to have something written about it and that just wasn’t going to happen. The two made it through the lunch and he did tell her, point blank, that he wished her all the luck this season but would not commit to her request.
Now that a ranked opponent was coming to town, Kim considered it another opportunity to prove to the newspaper that they should cover her team. She called Lesa up and told her she needed to get the Editor-in-Chief on campus so she could prove to her that she needed her sports department to write about her team. If Lesa was to learn one thing in this role it likely would be persistence is not the path to success, at least when it involves others.
Lesa dreaded setting this up, knowing it was another hit on her reputation, despite having nothing more to do with it than being the middle man. She was knee-deep in preparation for the tournament and the hours it would take to coordinate the meeting wasn’t in the hours available to get everything done. Regardless, she made the call, set up the visit and drove across campus to introduce the two.
Lesa introduced herself, thanked her for coming on campus and headed down the hall towards the women’s basketball suite. As they approached, coach Kim walked out of her office as if she was unaware the meeting was to take place. She was wearing sneakers, an ill-fitting pair of khakis and a t-shirt, prepared for neither practice or a visitor. Lesa, jaw-dropped and instantly embarrassed, introduced the two in the hallway and carried on, hoping Kim would get what she wanted but knowing she wouldn’t.
Kim now had an 0-2 count with the local media and decided it was best not to strike out. Instead, she landed all of her hits on Lesa, as if she was to blame for lack of media coverage. Not having support from Kim or her co-workers, not having game-day staff and expecting to walk 11 miles in heels over two days, the Thanksgiving tournament was stacking up to be a long, painful weekend. On top of that, the extra time spent coordinating a pointless meeting meant Lesa would have to work on Thanksgiving day in order to complete all of her pre-game tasks.
The first day of the tournament, Lesa learned what having a ranked opponent meant. It meant, for the first time, a member of the media – the Associated Press – would attend the game. Lesa had hoped the student newspaper wouldn’t send a reporter so she could cut down on the number of media timeout runs, but that didn’t happen. On top of that, with a ranked opponent on the court, the phone rang regularly for score updates. Lesa was answering the phone and running stats, hoping the two wouldn’t happen at the same time and praying she wouldn’t be needed to fix the stat program, printer or copy machine, like normal.
With AP covering the game, the post-game press conference was actually needed and without help, Lesa found out the hard way that she can run in heels. When all was done she walked out to her car, parked close to the back entrance so she could carry the computers, printer, phones and game programs in easily. Able to leave the equipment in the gym for Day 2, she put her bag in the back seat, opened the driver’s door and threw herself into the seat. She began crying as she took off her shoes and noticed she had walked through her pantyhose, holes in the toes and feet swollen like tootsie rolls. She took a deep breath, wiped her pathetic tears and noticed a parking ticket on the windshield, the climatic end to her first tournament day.
Lesa knew the next day would be more of the same so she gave up on the importance of looking important, still wearing a suit but squeezing her feet into flats rather than heels. In pain and dealing with more of the same, coach Kim’s first comment to her was “Where do you think you are, Lesa? You’re a little dressed down, aintcha?”
Lesa never really knew how to respond to coach Crazy, so her best response was to nod and put her head down. She never understood why Kim would shake every staffer’s hand, thanking them profusely for their help but then walk past Lesa like she didn’t see her. She told herself she didn’t need thanked for ‘just doing her job’ but Kim would go out of her way to make sure she saw her thank everyone, but her, for doing their job.
On the second day, Kim’s team took on the ranked opponent so a few members of the athletics staff showed up to watch the bludgeoning. Rhett was in the stands, sitting two rows back, close to the exit with her coat on. Lesa walked past her at least six times until finally she heard Rhett call her over.
“Smile,” she said.
“What,” Lesa asked.
“You should smile. A smile hides disgust and disappointment and people are far more likely to remember someone who smiles. You deserve to be remembered.”
“Thank you, Rhett. I’m just in a lot of pain and struggling to get through the game. I’ll give it a shot,” Lesa said, smiling.
As she walked through the door she wondered what she actually looked like, knowing she wasn’t frowning, growling or expressing any emotion other than pain and suffering. Do I have the resting bitch face I’ve been hearing about?
Lesa managed to smile with each painful task she completed for the remainder of the tournament. Kim’s team lost by 60 points and when it came time for the press conference she threw a temper tantrum, not wanting to do her job and talk to the media. Lesa waited patiently, smiling. Partly on Rhett’s advice and partly in hopes that Kim would see her and know she was enjoying her third strike with the media.