By Lynn Paris
The other night I participated in an event that I doubt happens anywhere but Texas A&M University. It was called Chalk Talk for Women. What I thought it would be when I signed up was a group of about 50 women who were interested enough in the finer points of football to attend a “briefing session” of sorts. I knew some of the Aggie players and coaches would be there, and I actually pictured us in a room with the coaches drawing on a blackboard and explaining the 3-4 defense and the western style offense I’d heard we’d be using this season. I even studied up on them in case they asked questions.
So imagine my surprise when my colleague and I approached the Zone Club at Kyle Field, along with dozens of women filing in from everywhere to get on a very long line to check in. And then, when we had finally received our goodie bags and name tags, imagine my shock at walking into the Club and seeing it packed with hundreds of women, from sweet young college girls to women in their seventies and eighties, all buzzing with excitement. There were somewhere between 600 and 800 women milling around, most eagerly shaking hands and posing for pictures with the members of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Football Team and the coaching staff before settling into their chairs at one of an endless sea of tables set for dinner.
Tim Cassidy, Associate Athletics Director-Football, acted as the event’s M.C. trying to keep things moving somewhat on schedule. After all, we had to get through four quarters of activities as noted on the program. During the first half, we were treated to a Q. and A. with four of the football players. And not just any players: all-star quarterback, Jerrod Johnson and all-star linebacker, Von Miller, took center stage. They were adorable, open and honest, fielding questions like the pros they have become, receiving the oohs and aahs from all the women that they have come to expect. And when Johnson left the stage after singing (at the request of his adoring fans) I was unimaginably excited to grab the opportunity to shake his hand. I know; it’s crazy. He’s a college kid and I’m old enough to be his grandmother. It’s just that athletes have always had a certain mystique for me, ever since I began following the NY Yankees as a twelve-year-old kid. Those guys were my heroes; they were older, wiser and brilliantly talented and I think I’ve always been twelve when it comes to elite athletes.
Anyway, there was also a very funny PowerPoint presentation by head coach Mike Sherman, who treated us to a stand-up comedy routine on what women need, like dozens of shoes and all the closet room in the house. He had it pretty well nailed. There was a silent auction and raffle winners (the event was a fundraiser for cancer research) as well as an inspiring short video. And of course, there was a delicious catered dinner, something I certainly hadn’t expected.
But the best parts of the evening were yet to come. After dinner we were instructed to go to one of three areas, depending on whether we were sitting at a maroon, white or Aggie-labeled table. Hundreds of women attempting to locate their team leader and follow along inside the vast corridors of Kyle Field was amusing. But it was also a rare experience. Certainly I had never seen the plaques covering the walls honoring past athletes, the trophy cases with all our sports teams’ Big 12 and SWC championships. There was a palpable feeling of walking on hallowed ground. And I knew nothing about the incredibly lavish facilities that collegiate athletes become accustomed to: the training rooms and film rooms and rooms for just about anything an athlete could need. By the time we got to the football team’s locker room later in the evening, I understood completely how recruiting works and why all this is necessary. I also understood why college athletes, at least the football and basketball players, are sometimes thought of as unduly privileged by other students not so blessed. It would be hard not to feel privileged in the midst of such luxury. It made me even more appreciative of all the service-related work so many of them get involved in; they balance their privilege with giving back and staying humble, a hallmark of Texas A&M.
I was on the white team, which meant that our group of approximately 200 or more women began in the “defense” film room. Our coach for the session was Tim DeRuyter, the defensive line coach. In case you don’t realize it, there’s also a linebacker coach as well as a corners and safeties coach for the defense. DeRuyter was pretty darn serious about explaining the 3-4 defense to us. When he began, I feared he might be condescending; after all, we were a group of women and I thought he would assume we didn’t know much about the intricacies of defense. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I grasped the first two-thirds of his talk, but he lost me when he started explaining who covered which gaps. Far from being condescending, DeRuyter paid us the ultimate compliment; he assumed we were highly knowledgeable football fans.
Offense was a different story. Our coach for the session was hilarious, but not very concerned with teaching us about offense. He did a fifteen-minute routine designed to get us laughing non-stop and he succeeded—a totally different approach but very enjoyable. But the most enjoyable part of the event was still to come, because the white team had yet to go to the practice field for our drills.
We were ushered into the McFerrin Football complex where a regulation indoor football field awaited us. It was huge, bigger than I imagined. At different stations scattered on the field stood coaches and players, ready to put us through our paces. And it was a blast. We had been advised to wear athletic shoes and now I knew why. About twenty of us gathered at each station where the coach in charge taught us the drill. We did running drills, zig-zags and tires and two ins-two outs . . . we passed and received, punched bags . . .the whole nine yards. Some of the women, particularly the over fifty crowd, tended to walk through some of the drills, but I felt my adrenaline begin to pump and my old competitive spirit rearing its head, so I attacked them all as though I was in my prime; I couldn’t help myself. It was so much fun, and all the coaches and assistants made everyone feel wonderful: “Good work . . . nice job” was the standard, and they said it with such sincerity you could almost imagine what it would feel like to get that from the coach; it was as if this were the real thing. When we finished, I felt a sense of accomplishment; I was sweaty and tired but exhilarated.
Then came the finale. After we gathered in the locker room, noting who hung their clothes where and what little sayings they had pinned to their lockers, we had the extraordinary experience of running out onto Kyle Field, under the uprights, exactly the way the football team does on Saturdays during football season. By now the lights were on, and the field was bathed in a glow . . . the scoreboards that surround the field announcing that it was July 27th, Chalk Talk for Women Night. It felt magical, and I could tell by the faces around me that everyone felt the same way. Cameras and phones were flashing like crazy; we all wanted pictures to remember this night. Coach Sherman talked to us again, announcing how much money had been raised for cancer and urging us all to come out and root hard for the Aggies, as if we needed any encouragement. The Yell leaders were there to lead us in some Aggie yells, and the night ended with everyone singing The Spirit of Aggieland and the Aggie Fight song.
It was an awesome experience, filled with Aggie Spirit. And I couldn’t help but wonder; what other school DOES that? Some, maybe, for their alumni . . . their major donors. But what other school does that for their fans? Their female fans? Let me know.