Holiday schedule provides Mad Ants chance to bond
Just like first-responders, Chinese restaurant staff and hospital employees, professional athletes are used to working on holidays. Those are prime schedule dates for sports teams so it’s part of the deal, something as athletes they are trained to accept.
“We’ve all played in college so we’re kind of used to it in a way,” said Mr. Mad Ant Ron Howard. “It’s just part of the job.”
But that doesn’t mean it makes working away from home any easier so the Mad Ants do what they can to help. After a morning practice, the team provides players and their families a buffet at Fort Wayne County Club for Thanksgiving. There’s a home game Friday so it wouldn’t be possible to go home anyway.
“The holidays are about being together, sharing and being thankful,” General Manager Brian Levy said. “If we’re not showing them that we are grateful and thankful for them, then we’re not the employers we want to be. If we could let them go home for the holidays, we would, and sometimes the schedule works out that way. We just make sure that they know they are appreciated.”
And the players say they appreciate the team’s efforts.
“They do a good job of trying to bring out a family atmosphere,” CJ Fair said. “They try to bring people together.”
Interestingly, the players have a better perspective on the holidays after playing overseas. Some countries don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, some leagues limit the amount of import players so there’s also some potential loneliness and it’s just hard to be away from home. Social media can only be so effective when you know the rest of the family is gathering.
“The past few seasons I’ve been blessed to have my wife with me, but last year she was finishing up her masters so I was without her,” said DeQuan Jones who played last year in France. “You kind of do the best you can with what you’ve got. During Christmas, I’d dress up and go out by myself and be as festive as I could.”
Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey has been coaching for nine years after playing at Cleveland State so he understands the situations the holidays can be for players. He tries to give them extra time off during the holidays, if the schedule permits, but usually that has to happen before the special dates. This year the Mad Ants are in Toronto on Dec. 23 before coming home to play Dec. 26.
“Every once in a while you wonder what it would be like to have a job that was Monday-through-Friday and 9-to-5, but there are other benefits,” Gansey said. “These guys have been doing it since college so they are all used to it. I think they understand it, and it’s great that the Pacers and the Mad Ants have money to allow us to take these guys out.”