The Dedication of WNBA Fans
Through rain, sleet, snow, state lines…
By Ben York / @bjyork
True fans will do just about anything to support their team. And while some of our actions can, admittedly, blur the line between sanity and insanity, the vast majority of us do these things simply because of the sheer joy it brings when team success is attained.
We often hear about the commitment of fans in the NFL, NBA, or MLB but it’s no different in the WNBA. Even though it has become popular for critics to say that no one watches or cares about the league – the people I’m going to tell you about all beg to differ.
I’m not sure there’s a better way to put it – the following women exemplify what true fandom is about. They support their team no matter what, travel incredible distances to see them play, and appreciate all the players do to inspire young women everywhere. They’ll cheer on the team when they are playing well and do the exact same thing if they’re struggling. They are unfamiliar with the term, “bandwagon fan.”
Although the common link is the thousands of miles they travel every year to see their team’s play, each story is unique and worthy of praise. While reading, ask yourself if you would do the same thing. Would you put in the time, money, and resources into seeing your favorite team play? Would you do the same if the team was having an off year? Would the return on investment be worthwhile enough?
These women certainly believe it is; and it has changed their lives for the better.
Rhonda Lawson, Corpus Christi, TX
In 2008, Rhonda became the first female Highway Patrol Field Captain for the Texas Department of Public Safety and still continues that role today. Lawson began as a half-season ticket holder with the San Antonio Spurs for a few years largely due to how much she loves the game of basketball. From time to time, she’d get asked by Spurs representatives if she would be interested in purchasing San Antonio Silver Stars tickets but never really had much interest.
After a while, the representative said that if Rhonda bought season tickets to the Silver Stars she would have an opportunity to meet all-star Sophia Young. She immediately thought of a friend of hers who has a daughter that plays competitively and is being recruited for the 2014 class. So, she bought one season ticket for the 2009 season and was excited to attend the games with friends and family.
To her delight, she was hooked on the Silver Stars and the WNBA after just one game. “I love it!” Lawson said on the phone to the ticket representative after her first game. “It’s exciting and the women have so much skill!”
Here’s the catch – Lawson drives 145 miles each way to attend Silver Stars games.
“WNBA games are so much more personable than other events,” Lawson said. “You feel like you’re a part of the team. There’s a whole different environment involved in going to women’s sporting events and I wish I had been able to experience the WNBA during its inception. Once you go, you’re hooked.”
Not surprisingly, Lawson upgraded her 2010 season tickets to two courtside seats.
When Lawson isn’t able to attend a game, she gives her tickets to a friend or someone who wants to give their daughters exposure to talented female role models.
“I’m in a male-dominated field,” Lawson said. “When I started in 1996, I had just one female role model. I want to support and mentor females in the Highway Patrol and that same feeling carries over with my access to the Silver Stars and the WNBA.”
Anytime you drive 145 miles each way to a sporting event, there are bound to be some good stories from the road. In one episode, Lawson was driving a 1996 Jeep Cherokee that overheated about 60 miles short of San Antonio. Being so close, she wanted nothing more than to go to the game and have a good time. So, she pulled over, let the car cool down, and barely made it to San Antonio in time for the game.
When the game was over, she called AAA and sat in the passenger seat of a tow truck as her car was towed all the way back to Corpus Christi.
Now, that’s dedication.
Amy Lugibihl, New York/Chicago
Playing basketball in high school and college, Amy Lugibihl originally hailed from a small farming community in Ohio. She first became a fan of women’s professional basketball while working in Chicago in the late 1990’s and following the women’s ABL. Shortly after the Chicago Condors ceased operations, she moved to New York to work for a client.
During that time, she overheard a co-worker ordering New York Liberty season tickets and decided to do the same. She fell in love with the way women’s basketball is played and the Liberty was the closest team to her home.
This was in 1999 and has been a season ticket holder ever since.
Even after moving back to Chicago in 2003, Amy still maintains her season tickets to the Liberty. Sure, it would be more convenient to switch teams or go to Chicago Sky games, but Amy’s team is New York and that’s not about to change.
What makes Amy so unique is her desire to see the Liberty anywhere – she’s already booked flights to New York to see home games and planned road trips to other cities the Liberty play on the road. You name the city and she’s been there to see the Liberty play – Indiana, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, etc. If the Liberty plays, you can count on Amy Lugibihl being in the stands.
“The players just seem so accessible and they get that little kids, girls, look up to them,” Amy said. “But beyond that, they’re genuine, they’re human. They get it.”
Kaye Kolbe, Minnesota/Green Bay
Kaye has traveled to all 16 WNBA cities and has owned season tickets to the former Detroit Shock and now to the Minnesota Lynx. She began as a fan in 1998 and ever since then, hasn’t been able to get enough.
“The year the league started, we gobbled up every article, everything we could find on the league and the players,” Kolbe said. “We loved the New York Liberty and Teresa Weatherspoon. We loved Phoenix with coach Cheryl Miller and Michelle Timms. We even added all the sports packages to our cable to get more channels with the WNBA.”
They saw a few games annually that were televised and stayed up to date with all the latest WNBA happenings. Kaye lived in Wisconsin at the time (and still does) and were hundreds of miles away from seeing a live game. They were ecstatic when they decided to fly to a few different states to see the games in person several times over a couple years.
Then, in 2000, Kolbe flew to Oregon to see the now defunct Portland Fire followed by a series of road trips back and forth to Seattle for five games…in two cities…in a week.
Car trips were then added in 2002 seeing games in Indiana, Cleveland, and Detroit. They would await the WNBA schedule each year so they could plan road trips to new cities to see new players and old favorites.
“Each year, we eagerly awaited the schedule,” Kolbe said. “We’d pour over each teams’ dates to come up with a trip that would include the most games with the most diverse opponents in the shortest period. That’s how we’d determine our summer vacation plan.”
After seeing Deanna Nolan play, she decided to become a season ticket holder to the Detroit Shock – the closest WNBA team near her home at the time. A 9 hour drive (on a good day) one way, she relished the opportunity to see the Shock during their memorable championship run in 2008.
Now, while still living in Green Bay, she decided to become a Minnesota Lynx season ticket holder after the Detroit Shock moved to Tulsa. She still makes long road trips every once in a while to different states. And even though going to Lynx home games are a shorter drive in comparison, it’s still over four hours each way to see them play.
Kaye wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The WNBA has enriched our lives in many ways,” Kolbe said. “Not just with the players’ heart and love of the game but with the travel that following them has inspired. We’ve gotten to see the World Trade Center before and after 9/11. We’ve celebrated Independence Day in our nation’s capital, seen the splendor of the American West in Sedona, AZ, experienced true Americana in Seattle at Pike’s Market, taken in NASA and experienced the Galveston shoreline in Texas, had Al’s Hot Beef and an Italian Ice in Chicago’s Little Italy, stopped at roadside fruit stands in Michigan and side of the road coffee trailers in Washington state, and even explored museums from the Smithsonian, to the Met, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
It’s been somewhat of a cathartic experience for Kaye being able to travel to see the players. She even received a phone call from Katie Smith while she was a member of the Detroit Shock thanking her for being a season ticket holder and letting her know how much the team appreciated her.
In spite of all the traveling, her most memorable moment came sitting at home while watching the 1999 WNBA Finals when Teresa Weatherspoon hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to beat the Houston Comets in Game 2.
“I was watching on TV and thinking, ‘it’s gonna make it, it’s gonna make it’ and it went in!’ Kaye recalled. “I went from the couch, to being on my knees, to standing on the couch, to jumping up and down!”
Sure, it gets expensive with all the driving and traveling. But the joy and happiness Kaye gets from the WNBA?