One of the coolest things happened to me in November. I was inducted into my college’s athletic hall of fame. I played volleyball at the University of Central Oklahoma – a D-2 school in Edmond, just outside of OKC.
When I was 18, my parents drove me five hours south on I-35. I arrived on campus knowing really no one, only having briefly met my future teammates.
Playing college sports is awesome but I wouldn’t call it glamorous. You’re always on the road, in strange towns (West Texas, anyone?) and you spend a lot of “quality time” with teammates.
Just like every other family road trip, there are ups and downs. Fortunately, my UCO experience was definitely more highs than lows, thanks to a never-ending supply of patience shown to me by coaches and players.
As one of six athletes inducted in the Hall of Fame, I was asked to give a speech. It was by far the toughest speech I’ve written.
There was so much I wanted to say and so much I wanted to convey, and words seemed so inadequate. I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know where to stop. I only knew I wanted one to express one theme: gratitude.
I wanted the university, my coaches, teammates, mentor and friends to know that all these years later (Like five years. Okay, six.), I’m still grateful for the opportunity and for how they welcomed me to the family.
I hope you have a tribe that challenges you, fights for you and most importantly, accepts you, like mine did. I still can’t believe they picked me for the Hall of Fame and that my name will forever be in the school’s history books.
Here are my comments from the ceremony.
First, I want to recognize the current UCO volleyball team. They’re ranked ninth in the nation. Congratulations to these women – I know in a decade, one of them will be standing at this podium where I am tonight.
I am grateful and honored to be inducted into UCO’s Athletic Hall of Fame. I moved to Edmond when I was 18. I knew no one. And, I didn’t have a car.
But like every great team, I had a deep bench.
People who took care of me, put up with me, looked out for me and treated me like their own.
People like Summer Skinner, the first teammate I met, who let me sleep in her dorm the first week of college so I wouldn’t be alone.
Or my coach, Mark Herrin. He should be in the Hall of Fame for putting up with me. You can’t imagine what it was like to coach me when I was 18 – or at any age, for that matter.
Also, Mike Kirk, the sports information director who nominated me for the Hall of Fame. He saw potential in me and always tried to open doors of opportunity.
With my friend Mike Kirk
And, George Johnson, who gave me my first PR job at the state capitol when I was 19-years old. He is my “Oklahoma Dad” and still a mentor to me all these years later.
These four were strangers when I moved to Oklahoma. I will always remember their kindness, their generosity and their support.
There are four others with me tonight who comprise my deep bench. I’d like to take a moment to recognize them.
First, my parents.
I started playing sports when I was four. I was on an all-boys soccer team and my dad was the coach. In all my years of competing, I honestly can’t remember a game when my parents weren’t there.
My parents paid for a lot of volleyball camps. They put a lot of miles on their cars driving I-35 to watch me play here. Hundreds of games I played as a kid, in high school, through AAU and in college, and they were always there.
Thank you, mom and dad.
My best friend is here, along with her two kids. We met when we were 14, in line to shoot lay-ups at basketball practice.
Katie, you’ve always supported me and after 25 years, you’re more my sister than my friend. We share a name and a lot of secrets.
Finally, my hubby. We met after my playing days. I’m glad you’re getting to meet more of the team and bench who made me perfect for you.
I can’t believe I was lucky enough to go to school here and represent UCO across the country.
The opportunity made a positive and lasting impact on my life. And, I will forever be grateful.
Thank you, UCO, and thank you Mike Kirk, for nominating me and once again, opening a door on my behalf.