First of all I want to thank everyone who took the time to read my first piece with the wish dish. You never know how ones story can affect you and the Wish Dish has a ton of great stories that are inspiring and insightful.
Will Smith stars in a movie called Seven Pounds as the character Ben Thomas trying to save seven deserving strangers. If you haven’t seen this film be ready to get the tissues out because it’s very emotional. Woody Harrelson who some may know (or just me) from the classic movie White Men Can’t Jump as Billy Doyle plays the character Ezra Turner in the film. Ezra is a telemarketer who sells meat but is also blind. Ben calls Ezra at his job harassing him to see if he would break.
Check it out:
This scene was so moving to me because he demonstrated what patience truly is. Although his body language shows he was hurt from the harsh words, he still had a smile on his face and remained polite and calm.
This past year was a challenge for me, as my patience would really be tested. As I mentioned in my first piece with the Wish Dish, I had a dream of playing professional basketball. I had it all planned out, sign a contract, average this amount of points and hopefully sign a better deal the next year. However, that plan was not what God had for me but it took me awhile to realize that. Every time my agent would call my heart would stop just hoping something would come up. I questioned whether I’d play the game that has done so much for me. There were days I didn’t even want to watch basketball let alone go to the gym and workout.
Although I was going through this tough time, I knew I was prepared for it. In my basketball career I’ve endured many obstacles that have shaped me into the person I am today. For example, my freshman year of high school I had the idea that I would play Junior Varsity because I felt I was too good for the freshman team. I was humbled that year where I didn’t make the J.V. team and would end up playing freshman. Frustrated wasn’t even the word, especially since one my best friends would make the team over me. That experience was probably the best thing that could have happened to my career. After a year of playing with some of my closest friends to this day, I would improve my game and leadership qualities. The next summer I worked my butt off and ended up becoming a starter on the Varsity team and from there my high school career would take off.
With my basketball aspirations on hold, I had to figure out what my next move would be. I immediately turned to one a person who has been a big influence in my life on and off the court. My High School coach Chris Whelan is the Co-Owner of a company called Overtime Athletics. Overtime Athletics specializes in after school sport enrichment programs working with over 500 schools all over the country and summer camps as well. From starting this job full time, I knew it would limit my time from basketball but I needed a way to stay involved in the game.
Ever since high school I’ve done personal training with kids who would like to improve their game on a personal level. I’ve been fortunate to play at a high level so it is only right for me to pass along the knowledge I learned from the game. I trained about 6 kids throughout the year and it was a joy to see them work hard and get better. This summer I had the opportunity to run a basketball camp with OTA along with my older brother Walter and some old teammates of mine. We had so much fun working with a great group of kids that were eager to learn.
I think we often forget what’s important when we have our minds set on something we want. Looking back on my situation I thank God I didn’t play professionally my first year out because I would have missed out on so many great people I met and impacted this year.
Matthew 17:20 reads, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, Move from here to there, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” This bible verse has been instilled in me since I could remember and I’ve always stuck to it. Like Ezra I still had a smile on my face no matter the circumstance and trusted God and his plan for me. I was passed along an opportunity of continuing my basketball career as well as getting my masters at a university overseas. I immediately jumped on it thinking this would be a great opportunity not only to play again but also to further my education. Thanks to TeamGleas and owner Lindsey Gleason I would find my new home at the University of Essex in Colchester England. I am pursuing my masters in Marketing and Management in addition to continuing my playing career.
There are so many people I want to say thank you to but I know you guys don’t want to read that but all my family and friends know who you are. My purpose in sharing my story is to show people that you may not know at the time what will unfold but be aware because there are blessings to be found in every situation.
Wish Dish is awesome, thank you again for the opportunity to share. Stay Blessed people! #LetsGoChamp
To read Austin’s first story, Sky’s the Limit, click the link!
It hurts. Being in love hurts, right?
You told me once that I do not know what it is like to truly feel the pain of a broken heart if I had never been “in love” for that first time. The truth is, I have. It might not have been a first love in a traditional sense, when a human shares an intimate connection with another.
I had my first love when I was three years old. It would wake me up at 6 in the morning along with the neighbors. It would call me to the self-reflective depths of my basement, when the weather would not permit, though every now and then it would draw me out into the rain, to test if wet clothes, hair, socks and spongy shoes would hinder my dedication. Though I was free to come and go as I pleased, I was not a slave to this love.
There were no expectations, assumptions, or things to be taken personally. More importantly there were no definitions or labels placed upon the connection I shared. Only a fire in my soul, or as my pops called it “a heart of a tiger,” to put a basketball between my legs, around my back, cross it over, and through a hoop. Then hear that confidence-building, sweet and crisp sound of the nylon net swish.
Perhaps when we are that young, we are actually aware of the mystery behind what true love is. Our minds are not creating obstacles to block us from what we want to naturally do, we just do it, whatever “it” is, we are not afraid of it. It became my escape from the distractions of a broken family, unwanted schoolwork, and the regular pains of being a kid. My driveway with the basketball hoop mounted above the garage was my portal to the coveted holy land, the land of milk and honey for creation, “the zone.”
As I grew older, I gained knowledge of the fundamentals of basketball. I learned how to shoot lay-ups right and left handed, footwork and the correct jump shooting form; from two-handed to one-handed using the offhand to guide the ball to the hoop with backspin created by the flick of the wrist. The only caveat was that I wanted to shoot like my Dad, who shot using his right hand. I was left-handed; it was not my natural fluid motion.
I progressed through grade school gathering an identity like moss on a stone of being a “basketball player.” Then boom, it happened, a title was slapped on my back. A title turned a pure love into a near-egotistical obsession because if I was not a basketball player, then what was I? What was my place in the cafeteria; my role in school’s or life’s social society? I thought to myself, “Would I be worth being friends with or deserved any love from anyone without it?”
In the words of Simon and Garfunkel, “A love once new has now grown old.” In high school, I nearly hated basketball because it was no longer fun. No longer my escape from an unaware and abusive father, or the social anxiety I had grown into that led to an indifference to school. I could not tap into that spiritual connection, “the zone” anymore and I hated myself like there was something wrong with me. If I could not make an open shot or get by my defender… I was simply a stupid, a no good piece of shit.
I had forgotten why I naturally gravitated towards basketball, and I had forgotten how to love myself. I let other’s opinions about my game shape my self-perception and determine my worth. I needed validation from it, so there was no way I could leave it, it was all I knew, it was my first love. Even when it crushed my heart, unleashing an endless stream of tears in front of grown men as I was getting cut from the varsity team; I still believed that it was the savior to my dreams and problems. I believed it could take me out of that basement where hours were spent dribbling in the dark or blind folded around various objects and chairs.
High school passed and I was soon skipping college courses to go play at local basketball courts. Without the pressure of impressing a coach, teammates or my father it became fun again. In addition I was growing and becoming stronger. I could jump higher and move quicker, I felt a sense of power.
Although, I was unsure how to get to my destination, so I sought out some guidance from high school coaches and I myself started coaching. Over a few years I taught junior varsity girls, freshman boys, middle school boys, spent summers working camps and making connections with other coaches. I was sharing this intense passion and love for the game that I had, so that maybe the players I coached could be lifted higher as well. This was noble and good but it was not the same as playing on the court in flow of a game, in harmony with the ball and four other teammates.
A pivotal experience occurred at a basketball camp where I worked as a coach but spent the last few hours of each day playing in competitive pick-up games against the other camp coaches. The coaches who played mainly consisted of NCAA Division 2 and Division 3 players as well as some high school players who were most likely going to end up playing at some level of college basketball. Needless to say the competition was not lacking in the least.
At first this intimidated me but after my first three point shot went in during my first game, I was in the zone. After a couple of weeks at the camp, my confidence in my game had never been higher and I felt I could compete with anyone. I had elevated my game to a new level but it was not solely because of my skills. It was because I had grown an undeniable belief in them. Almost in perfecting timing as my confidence was ascending, a test from life brought me crashing as I got injured. A severe ankle sprain suffered from coming down on someone’s foot as I was extending myself too far to block someone’s shot. Even though I did block the shot, I was devastated.
Six months after the ankle injury and hardly looking at a basketball, I was depressed. The fire was still in me to chase my dream, but I was ignoring it. It hurt too much to let that love back into my life. It was too intense. Watching basketball commercials or highlights of my favorite players was like that breath-taking sting of seeing an ex happy and doing just fine without you. Restlessness would set in and tears would nearly be shed because deep down I knew I was only hurting myself by avoiding that fire within.
Eventually I reached my breaking point. I finally cried, letting that resistance go and began training for my dream again. It was out of half-love and half necessity because again, who am I without it? Am I worth anything? Will a girl finally want to date me if I am on a college basketball team?
Even though it was a burning fire within me, driving me, I could not let go of the anger at the world, my father, myself and or former coaches. There were hundreds of hours spent punishing myself and body for not being perfect. I would cuss myself out and run extra sprints or shoot for an extra hour for missing 2 out of 20 free throws when I had already been training for 3 hours. Giving myself a break was not an option for me.
After two years of internal rage at myself, my father, the varsity coach, or anyone who I believed doubted me, I completed my goal. I made the junior college team at Northern Virginia Community College, with a promise of playing time from the coach as well as a Division 2 scholarship, depending on my performance. Finally I was accepted and my skills validated but I still did not accept myself. I still was not good enough.
Over that summer before my first basketball season since sophomore year of high school, I was recovering from torn muscles in my left thigh. Doubts began to pour into my head whether my body could sustain a college basketball season as I was already dealing with a stress fracture in my lower back and deteriorating cartilage in my right knee. During my personal training sessions, it felt like I was fighting my body, pushing it to go farther but the results seemed to be diminished.
Not only was I reaching my limits physically but mentally as well. School started, and the pressure of balancing classes, work, financial issues, and practice was building like a molehill into a mountain. The more I thought about it, the more anxiety came flooding in and my brain wanted shut down. So much so that the first practice of the season I injured my most prone left ankle and at this point I said to myself “Enough!”
I decided to not play that season, and my dream of playing college basketball was nonexistent as my eligibility was going to end soon.I spent that winter quite depressed and questioning my decisions. Did I lose out on the chance to realize my dream doing the thing I loved the most? Regardless of the fact that I did the best that I could, with the knowledge I had at the time, the decision not to play would keep me up most nights.
In the spring, the nagging itch to play came back again. With the knowledge I had gained over the last couple of years of physical and basketball training, I was sure to become good enough to at least be taken seriously at an overseas tryout. Though a few months into it, my body said “NO!” again as I injured that same damned ankle two times in the span of 3 weeks. This time I had no choice but to listen to my body, so I did. I gave it up and learned to be at peace with no longer being a “basketball player” or a coach.
It was not that I did not love it anymore; rather I just could not do it. The mental or physical capacity and determination to put that toll on my body did not exist anymore. I could not give it my honest 110 percent.
Since then I have tried other endeavors but it too became too egoic, as it was a way to prove to everyone and ultimately myself that this broken down, abused, pissed off kid was worth something. Living like that is not worth it, taking things personally, and letting how well you shoot in training sessions, not even a game; determine whether you positively or negatively view yourself. Such thinking sabotages any attempt I have or had to be the best version of myself or share the love that we all desire.
My first love, basketball, reflected the relationship I shared with myself. Nothing was quite good enough, allowing my basketball performance or other’s opinions balance and weigh my worth as a person. I did not allow myself to feel love because I was not worthy of it. I had to be better, shoot better, and dribble better… I could not accept myself for where I was at, at any point. I was holding onto and squeezing basketball for something it could not fully provide, self-acceptance and love.
Life, passions, and love are not meant to have titles, be defined, or put in a box. It limits the spirit, our source of true creativity. We do not allow ourselves to change, grow, let go of something and have it flow naturally back into our lives. We hold onto those titles like they make up whom we are, when it is only make-up on a vanity desk. We ask, “Will others love me for what I truly look like?”
“Can I even love myself without it?” So we scratch and claw to defend them like animals guarding a fresh corpse from vultures, because who are we without them? If we did not have them, chaos and change would ensue, causing us to go to the self-reflective depths of our internal basements. Requiring self-induced moments of solitude; where one goes to get dirty, getting knee deep in the grimy, sticky mud of our past pain, and change the negative agreements we hold true in our mind about ourselves.
Initial moments of love are ones we tend to desperately hold onto while that love has already changed and moved on but we have not. Love is an ever-changing, uncontainable force as free as the wind and yet we tend to try to put in a bottle like it was lighting. Because conventional wisdom tells us that it does not strike twice. Instead it strikes differently each time and it is easy for us to fail to realize that each bolt across the sky is just as or more awesome, as each one teaches something new and necessary.
It is meant to break the bonds of anything that is not love, which is a painful process. By breaking those bond or us, it allows us to return to our true selves, having contentment, love and peace with whom and where we are in life. Therefore it cannot be defined otherwise something or someone else becomes our worth, our obsession, and our definition.
I am truly blessed to be in the position that I am in now and I owe it all to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Around this time two years ago, I was in my last semester of college and similar to mostly everyone else I was trying to figure out what my next chapter in life would be in regards to my professional career. Growing up in Norcross, GA all of my life I had a pretty straightforward life. I was very fortunate enough to be in a situation where both of my parents were active throughout my life and worked tirelessly to put my brother and I in a comfortable living situation.
Like any kid growing up, I played all types of sports (basketball, football, soccer, baseball, karate, etc.) to remain active and ultimately fall in love with one. That became basketball for me. I found the game of basketball at the tender age of five playing at a local Rec Center with my brother and many of our childhood friends. I could write a whole separate post on the ups and downs I went through playing basketball throughout middle school, high school, AAU, and two years in college; but let’s just say this sport (like any) taught me valuable life lessons and gave me lifetime relationships with former teammates & coaches that I will forever cherish.
As I mentioned, I did play two years of collegiate basketball at a Division II school called Georgia College & State University before obtaining my degree at The University of Georgia. People always ask me all the time on why the switch after two years.
I was not in a situation where I could truly thrive on & off the basketball court to make the type of impact God had for me. So, I prayed long and hard about the decision to no longer pursue my “hoop dreams” of playing professionally (NBA or overseas) and focus my attention 100% on getting my degree in business.
Throughout my educational years, it was always instilled in me to get good grades. Bringing home poor grades was unacceptable in my family since day one. My grandfather, father, and uncle would always come down on me if I ever slacked because without grades there was no basketball, period. Probably due to my bloodline, I had it made up in my mind since high school once I was accepted into a college; I would pursue some type of Business Management degree. I made this decision not only because of my leadership abilities, but also because of my curiosity of the business world in general. After connecting with some of the right people, I was blessed to be accepted into UGA where I pursued a degree in Business Management, concentration in Marketing at the great Terry College School of Business.
Terry and UGA for that matter provided me with outstanding resources and tools to put me in a successful position coming out of college. After a few internships, many networking events, and a lot of self-reflecting in those two years I knew for a fact that I wanted to work in sports on the business side. I could not pinpoint in which realm but I was eager and hungry to do whatever it took to start my career in sports. Could I have easily obtained a well-paying job within another industry? Sure. Nevertheless, I know in my heart I wouldn’t thoroughly enjoy what I do on a day-to-day basis like I would working in sports.
I ended up walking in May 2014 with my degree in Business Management and accepted a summer marketing internship with EvoShield. Then, decided to go back one last semester in the fall (had to get another football season in) to take a few more marketing classes & work an internship with the Collegiate Licensing Company (IMG). My official last semester of college that fall was the most focused I had ever been in my life. I had 5 months to figure out what I was going to be doing after college.
NETWORK. NETWORK. NETWORK. Pretty cliché but that I would say was probably the main reason I was lucky enough to get an offer to join the Atlanta Hawks organization. I knew I had to step out of my comfort zone and just meet & talk with any and everybody that I could that works in the field I was driven to get into. Whether it was meeting with different people for lunch/coffee, connecting with people on LinkedIn in the industry to ask for informational interviews, or signing up for networking events in Atlanta every month, I was on it. Religiously. I am an over thinker, to a fault I guess sometimes, so I thought like man who would not want to work in sports.
There are so many kids across the world that would do anything to break into this industry so I wondered how I could set myself apart from the pack. If it was easy everybody would do it, so that’s why I decided I was going to put my head down this last semester and give everything I had to try and get a job offer with a sports company.
After those 5 months, I was offered an Inside Sales position with the Atlanta Hawks to start in January 2015. Why sales? Well simply put that was the best way to get your start in the industry. I never had what I consider a sales background so I decided to give it a shot. I remember when I was interviewing something really resonated with me; one of the senior level sales reps for the Hawks described sales as a being a life skill that we all should pursue and develop. The position I was in actually put everyone in a year contract (yet another challenging, pressure situation that I fully embraced) so we had that amount of time to prove your “worth” to the organization. After what I consider a slow start, I soon developed a passion for the grind that it took to succeed in sales.
The fast pace, competitive environment kept me motivated every day when I woke up to go out and win each day (not to mention the Hawks were having their best season in franchise history). The race to accomplish weekly/monthly sales & hustle goals to be at the top of the board compared to your peers was what kept me going every day.
There is no secret code or mystery on why certain people thrive and others do not. And here I thought at first I wouldn’t really like sales or it wasn’t going to be for me, but I simply made up a mind that I was going to give this my all and I could live with the results after. With the great help of my managers and the outstanding training program the Hawks had in place, my colleagues and I were able to succeed daily.
In closing…after about 10 months in my Inside Sales role I was promoted to a full time position in the Service & Retention Department as a Membership Services Consultant. Three of my biggest keys that I always share to anybody and that can be applied to any aspect of your life are: having faith, being consistent in whatever you do, and possessing a resilient work ethic. In that time span, I can honestly say I never had any doubts about the position God put me in. Did I go through trials and tribulations to get to where I am now? Without question.
However, no matter how tough and tiring things got (and trust me there were plenty of long nights and early mornings) I just kept telling myself to stay the course and believing that it was going to all be worth it in the end and boy it was! To say I had my life all planned out from the beginning would be a joke because I honestly believe God has His own plan for all of our lives. I just do my best through prayer and faith to follow in that path.
1 in 4 college athletes suffer from depression. I am that one.
From a young age, I’ve always lived my life trying to please the people around me, trying to do the right thing, and trying to live that “perfect” life. I’ve always made good grades, I played 3 sports in high school, I went to church every Sunday, and I was on track to graduating college ahead of time. So it might be shocking to some people that I am that 1 athlete that suffers from depression.
You know the nervous feeling you get when you’re about to play in the big game, take the big test, or even make a big decision? What about the lump you get in your throat that makes you feel like you can’t breathe right before the tears start to fall. It’s the empty feeling or confusion that makes it so hard to deal with. It’s the sadness that overcomes you when you know you have to get out of the bed to just try to make it through a day that seems like it will never end.
It’s the feeling of loneliness when you’re sitting by yourself and your thoughts consume you. It’s even the feeling of anger that overtakes you and you don’t understand why it has to be you.
A feeling of hopelessness when you wonder why you even try because nothing good can come out of trying anymore. It’s the feeling of being afraid that you have to finally speak up and find the help that you desperately need.
The weight of embarrassment you carry when in the back of your mind you know that not everyone will understand what’s going on when you try your hardest to explain it to them.
Confusion because you don’t even know what’s wrong. It’s the feeling of the little white pills swirling around in the bottle as you decide if it’s really worth it. “What will my family do? What if my roommate finds me? How will my boyfriend feel? Will it be a cop out? Will I go straight to hell? Do I leave a note?”
All these feelings that make me that one college athlete that suffers from anxiety and depression.
I knew that something was wrong when it became a big deal to get out of the bed. This became difficult because I knew that if I got up and left the house, I would be faced with responsibilities that I didn’t think I could handle.
When I would finally muster up the courage to leave, the house I would get a nervous and sad feeling that would overtake me, but I had no idea why I was feeling that way. I would be around so many people, but feel so alone.
I would cry, but nothing was wrong. I had a constant nervous feeling, about what, I had no idea. It was hard to smile and even harder to laugh and I knew that something was really wrong. My days were full of classes, workouts, tutors, and homework; but the depression and anxiety always found a way to work itself into my day.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7
I tried to hide these terrible and confusing feelings from everyone that I could, but what was going on inside of me began to show up on the outside. I wasn’t myself anymore. I couldn’t eat. I struggled to sleep. My grades were slipping. I was missing class and suicidal thoughts started to fill my head.
I couldn’t figure out what I did to deserve what I was going through. I had gotten to the point to where I was just tired of being tired. I was praying and it seemed like God wasn’t even listening.
I tried to remind myself that everything was going to be okay and that I was going to come out of this difficult situation that I was in a bigger and better person than I was, but I didn’t really believe the things that I was telling myself. When I began to have suicidal thoughts I knew that someone needed to know that I was going through so I began to throw hints about what was going on to my boyfriend.
I was praying that he would have the answer to what would make me feel better through this tough time. He finally convinced me to open up to my parents about the things that I was really going through.
I wasn’t sure how I could explain to my parents that I was going through so much without them knowing that anything was going on. I didn’t want them to feel like they weren’t doing an amazing job as parents because they were doing everything and more to make sure that I was well taken care of even while I was in school.
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to have this conversation face to face with my parents so I decided that I would send a text message to my mom to give her an idea of what was really going on behind all the I’m doing great text messages that I was sending every day.
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8
I decided that I needed the help of a professional and soon after, I began seeing a physiologist who has been such a major part of my recovery.
I decided that I would take a break from basketball to focus on my personal and mental health and just getting better as a whole. I spent time at home surrounded by amazing people like my family, my boyfriend, and my best friend, Makayla.
It made a huge difference. I was surrounded by so many prayers, and a lot of love, and I began to notice a change in my happiness. This time at home was great, but also hard. I was no longer worrying about school, basketball, and everything else that came with college, but my main focus was on having to face what was really going on in my life.
I’ve had some very amazing people that have stuck by my side through everything that has been going on and I’m so thankful for that. My family has understood me on my good days and my not so good days.
My boyfriend has stuck it out through the good, the bad, and the real ugly. My roommate, Victoria, has been more of a blessing than she will ever know. And lastly my amazing friend, Makayla, has been there through everything and she has listened to even the smallest complaints from over 300 miles away. Through everything that has been going on, God has still been doing some amazing things in my life and I am nothing but blessed, for this journey I know that better days are coming.
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
Someday I will.
“Hey!! Don’t I know that guy in the Redfoo wig hollering like a maniac? WAIT!! Isn’t that Mitch? You know, the guy from Compliance?? What, wait a minute?!!”
“Yes’m that’s me!” I text back, or Tweet or reply on Facebook with a big grin whenever a friend from church or work, a former boss or friend from my hometown asks why they see my face plastered all over a TV screen or on a billboard as they are driving through Atlanta.
After 30 years in commercial banking, primarily as a senior regulatory compliance officer, I am often asked why I am a member of the rowdy disparate group of people known as the Kia 6th Man Section of the Atlanta Hawks. If you have been to an Atlanta Hawks home game or watched the Hawks on TV, there is a really good chance you have seen and heard the 6th Man Section.
It is my duty, privilege-JOY- to scream, dance, dress in wigs, costumes, paint my face and do anything asked of me to promote the spirit of the Hawks that brings energy and life to the crowds at every home game.
While it may seem like a simple task, when you get to be 55, standing and yelling for 3 hours straight is a chore. If the players are playing, our mandate is to be yelling. There have been many days after a game, my colleagues would be concerned that I might have come down with a cold, because I could hardly talk. My response has always been, “No, I just have the Hawks!”
Of course, the Hawks regularly have theme nights, and the Kia 6th Man Section always supports the cause. Whether its photo bombing an opposing team’s fan, dressing up as a Star Wars character or in 1970’s gear, we are there for our team.
There have been many times over the last 6 years that I would get a text message from my boss, a friend or family member…. “Mitch, I just saw you on TV.” At one point, an executive of the bank would just text “again”. One of my high school buddies from Albany, Georgia, Jimmy Joiner, was recently flying out of the Denver airport. I received a Facebook post from him, “Just walked off the plane, looked up and there was your face plastered all over the TV.”
And while all of this adds a lot of excitement to the game, it also leads to the same question, Mitch why are you participating in this?
In my profession, I deal with anti-money laundering, international sanctions, and consumer protection compliance. Many see my profession as the schoolmarms of a bank, enforcing strict adherence to arbitrary rules. I often have told my friends, that going to the game and being in the section is great for stress reduction. If you knew me, you know being loud comes very naturally to me.
Being crazy with a crew of college kids is a wonderful escape from the day’s reality too. When my physicians ask me if I get enough exercise, I always tell them that between October and March, sometimes through May, I get in 3 straight hours of aerobics and cardiovascular work outs 2 to 3 times a week.
Over the years, the Kia 6th Man Section has taken several road trips. On our first trip to Charlotte, Zaza Pachulia tweeted during warm-ups that he could hear us and couldn’t believe we had come. After many games, the players will take the time to stop by and thank us.
As any Hawks fan on Twitter knows, Big Al, Mike Muscala, BAZEMORE! and others always interact with the fans. As a side note, I wish Mike Scott would post Sock Saturday pictures again, I never know what to wear now.
It really blew me away this year, when I asked Mike Muscala if he would help me with my annual Kia 6th Man Tryouts, and he said yes! Every year everyone wanting to participate in the Kia 6th Man Section for the season must try out. You would think after screaming and jumping for more than 200 games, the powers that be would know I can yell! But Mike came, we had “Moose Goggles” prepared and now, if you watch a Hawks game on Fox Sports South, you will more than likely see a promo shot that night.
I attend Passion City Church in Buckhead. The Passion Conferences that are held annually are affiliated with the church, as Louie Giulio, Chris Tomlin, Christy Nockles and a host of others are our leaders. One of our big projects over the last several years is EndIt, a movement to end human trafficking. During the public awareness campaigns, you might have seen the large red x’s. Two years ago, Kyle bought everyone in the 6th Man Section an EndIt shirt and asked that we come down on the court. Having the players show their support really affirms our efforts.
All of these reasons are the obvious reasons one would expect being a part of a group like this; however, there is an even greater, overriding reason why I love the Kia 6th Man Section. Over the last 7 years, we have become part of a family. This family extends beyond the members of the section, too.
In December, I was standing in the section and a lady approached me, asking if I was Mitch Everett. All I could think of was that I had either offended someone with my antics or that she was one of the employees at my new place of work. When I cautiously acknowledged who I was, she stated she and her husband were Mike Muscala’ s parents and they wanted to thank the section for always supporting their son and cheering on the team even when they are losing. That blew me away!
And our family includes the other employees, too. Tigger has always been stationed behind Section 118. This year he was moved into our group. All of his fans certainly add to our nightly fun.
We used to have to be at the games 1 ½ hours before tip-off. That certainly gave us enough free time to get into trouble! To kill the time, I would check in on Foursquare in Section 118. Of course, I soon became the “Mayor”. One of the other members discovered this, and word got out that I was THE MAYOR! I Yelp now, and have been promoted to Duke!
For some unknown reason, we started yelling out various random people’s names as they passed by the 6th Man Section; Jerome Jurenovich, the Stinger, Bob Rathbun and Steve Holman, I’m sure we give them huge headaches.
I can’t remember now why we started yelling at Beth Carter. We just yell a lot! She was a statistician with the Hawks for the sports broadcasters and had to walk past us multiple times a game. We would scream “ELIZABETH!!!” Over the years we have watched her daughter grow up from a baby, to a Hawks dancer now!
My buddy Ryan Coller, a Senior Group Sales Consultant with the Hawks, used to send me emails all the time, wanting to sell me season tickets. I always thought to myself, dude, I’m not going to buy a ticket, I have the best gig in town! Then I finally met him at church in a small group. This year Ryan and his wife had their first child. And who knew, but Beth and her family go to the same church! In a city the size of Atlanta, the Hawks organization can certainly make it a smaller, happier place\
There are so many other people I could tell you about, Raymond in the Hawk’s Store, the Ladies at the Bar-B-Que restaurant (Melitta got married this year), Jim the camera man, and MOOOOOOOEEEEEE!
This is especially true for the fellow members of 6th Man Section. If you consider there are approximately 42 homes games a year, and some of us have been a member of the section for 6 years, and our time together for each game is about 4 hours, that’s over 1,000 hours we have invested in each other.
When we first started Jordan Valdes was 13, and the dude’s in college now! Daniel Norton and Jessica Rodriguez started in the section in 2010, were married in 2011 and had their beautiful daughter two years ago. We are growing our own future 6th Man Members now! Now even Johnny Smallwood’s engaged!
Tyler Cromey and his wife Lydia had a similar story. Last year, however Tyler fought and won a second bout with cancer. True to being a part of the family, Al filmed and posted a great video encouraging our friend.
We have had several families in the section, like Daniel Fu, and his son’s Joshua and Jacob. Stacee Wicks Treasure and her daughter and son were faithful members for years. These days the Riescher clan has taken over, with Russ (tambourine man) and his son’s Joe and Jake. Our resident twins Andrea and Angela bring their husbands and often their children.
It’s more than about cheering on a winning team; any bandwagon fan can do that. It’s more than simply showing up at a game, or meeting a player. The answer is simple – this is my Hawks Family and I care about my crew! We are #HawksBros !!!
How long will I participate? As long as the founder and manager of the Section, Drew Frank picks me and Steve Koonin allows me! #TrueToAtlanta. We are the Atlanta Hawks!
First of all, if you don’t know my story yet, I advise you to first watch the short documentary above. I want to give credit to my good friends Shauyan Saki and Joe Winkenwerder for taking the initiative to do this documentary during probably the busiest year of their college careers. They were both in their senior year at The University of Georgia, not only were they great producers, they’re my close friends and did a phenomenal job for a subject that I don’t really like to talk about.
I also want to give credit to The University of Georgia, an unbelievable academic institution. Furthermore, I want to give credit to the entire University of Georgia Academic Faculty, maybe more specifically to my professors and, of course, the UGA Athletic Training Staff. Finally, I want to give credit to my Dawg Coach Mark Fox and his amazing staff for giving an opportunity to a kid from Switzerland to live his dream and be part of an amazing basketball program.
I could write a book about what I have experienced and what I would like to say to the entire Wish Dish Community. However I will keep it short and like we say in Switzerland, quality over quantity.
Long story short, in May 2012, I graduated from Furtah Preparatory High School in Woodstock, GA. A few months later, you could find me in the Swiss Armed Forces on duty.
In Switzerland, military service is mandatory. I personally chose to do my military commitment after High School rather than after college because I just wanted to be done with it and move on to the next chapter of my life at The University of Georgia. During the 6th month of service, I got a call from my mother that my only cousin Zeljko Langura had comitted suicide. He was a soldier in the Serbian Military.
2 months later, on a very hot day, I was injured while I was on duty at an undisclosed location. (Due to security and confidential reasons I cannot disclose where).
I had so many injuries and so many terrible memories building up. I can’t even remember all of them on top of my head including but not limited to severe skull fractures, torn ACL, PCL, Meniscus, name it…
The doctors told me that I should call it a career…I told myself:
Shortly after my injury, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I would still be welcome on UGA’s Basketball Team or if I should stop my basketball dream and just be a regular student.
After talking to the UGA Basketball Staff and explaining my situation, they still honored their commitment and welcomed me to the team. However, what should have been the most exciting summer of my life (Yes, the summer before my freshman year of college) turned out to be my worst nightmare
I was supposed to start my first college basketball workouts right off the bat but instead I was out of shape, injured, limping around, not playing basketball, struggling with classes and getting lost through campus.
To make things worse, my injury story got out on national media. Everywhere on Twitter and Facebook people would send me nice messages of support.
Some national media outlets wanted to do a documentary on my story however I kindly refused simply because it had nothing to do with basketball. Although, my story is inspiring, soldiers never get the credit they deserve and I told Coach Fox our basketball team is bigger than a story.
During my freshman year, with the help of the UGA Athletic Trainers and God, I was working toward slowly coming back to basketball although a couple times I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel. I watched every practice on the sideline; I was wearing a suit and sitting on the bench at every home game, powerless.
During those tough times, I discovered the two most important words in my vocabulary today, persistence and resilience. Persistence is the quality that allows someone to continue doing something even though it is difficult and resilience is the ability to become strong after something bad happens.
I continued rehab for 14 straight months.
While my team was traveling and playing on the road, I would go into our practice gym in Stegman Coliseum with my friend Fariz (arguably one of the biggest UGA basketball fans). He would time me on sprints or rebound the ball for me. It didn’t feel the same but it didn’t matter anymore because I knew that both persistence and resilience were here to push me through.
I found joy in trying and I was content with my effort although I might not have been happy with the results. It was frustrating at times, thankfully one of my best friends who also grew up in Cherokee County and ironically happened to wear the same #20 as me but on the Football Team. His name is Quincy Mauger and he would tell me to keep going and that tough things never last and that there is always sunshine after the rain.
Thanks to Quincy and my teammate Nemi Djurisic who are like my brothers, pushed me the most throughout the process.
During my 2nd semester of my freshman year, I happened to meet a guy named Shauyan Saki, sports expert, who shared an international affairs class with me. With Shauyan we would talk about everything ranging from sports cars, sports to politics and business.
Shauyan and me had a lot in common and although he had a busy schedule building his business and covering sports around the area, he one day asked me if he should take in charge and tell the story the way it had to be told without having the usual big time media outlets involved.
Once I got back on campus for my sophomore year of college, I was fully healthy, but most importantly happier than ever. I started writing and here I am today. I hope you all enjoyed learning my story.