Ever since Ray Anderson was hired as Arizona State’s Vice President of Athletics and Athletic Director, he has made his mark in creating a culture of success. Whether it be through hiring Olympic-caliber coaches or supporting renovation efforts concerning athletic facilities, Anderson has not been shy in any move he has made.
So when Anderson had the opportunity to provide a unique opportunity to his senior student-athletes, he took it. He and his wife, Buffie, partnered with Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, ASU associate vice president for cultural affairs, and the school Martin Luther King Day committee to welcome the ‘Black Angels over Tuskegee’ production to Tempe.
The idea to bring the play to ASU stemmed from Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan bringing the production up from New York City.
“When Buffie heard about that, she said to me, ‘Well why don’t we bring them to ASU to share with our student-athletes’ and that’s what started it,” Anderson said. “It’s just a great story about leadership and sacrifice, and motivation, and passion, and brotherhood and all the qualities that you really admire.”
Anderson welcomed his senior student-athletes to watch the play based on the African-American airmen in World War II, and the production was also held for another day open to the military.
He felt that rather than give athletes a tangible gift, a performance that holds deeper meanings would bode well for students about to enter the real world.
“There are qualities of leadership and teamwork and sacrifice and loyalty that go across the board,” Anderson said. “Those are qualities to be successful in life, and certainly also in their athletic endeavours and their academic endeavors, they need to have, so to see it demonstrated in art and performance, particularly reflecting real-life stories I just thought would be a real opportunity to be inspired, motivated and to learn.”
It was that opportunity – and the free admission – that caught the attention of ASU volleyball player Macey Gardner.
“You know being a senior, you always have to answer that question (of what’s coming) next, and you don’t want to,” Gardner said. “You kind of just want to stay at Sun Devil Athletics, and you want to play your sport, but I know this play is going to mean well and kind of demonstrate that picture of what it means for people who are going into another transition of life.”
While several Sun Devil teams – such as men’s basketball and gymnastics – were away competing, the 485-seat Galvin Playhouse was littered with several athletes and coaches alike. Anyone who was able to watch the play came in with hopes of learning more about American history and culture.
“These kids are all literally about to enter the real world, and to experience great culture like this right here on campus in such a great event, an amazing play that everybody is looking forward to seeing.” ASU hockey head coach Greg Power said. “I think it’s a good bridge to what they’re going to go into with life.”
Also a part of the crowd was Walt Richardson, a musician but more importantly, the son of a former Tuskegee Airman, was also in attendance. He was emotional watching the production that hit home as his late father, Walt, was an Air Force mechanic.
“It’s a story of the story of America,” Richardson said. “We all play a part in that, and if they (ASU’s student athletes) come away with is a bigger picture than what we could ever get out of a history book going through 12 years of high school and even a lot of the years of college, that the story is so broad that you have to go out and do a lot of research on your own, and these kinds of things help expand our knowledge about what we are today and how we got here.”
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org