Lady Ravens basketball drawing inspiration from author Jon Gordon

GEORGETOWN – On the eve of the team’s 2017-18 season opener, the Sussex Tech Lady Ravens basketball program received an exciting surprise from the coaching staff.

Thursday afternoon at Sussex Tech High, the girls enjoyed a surprise Skype session with author and motivational speaker Jon Gordon.

Starting a couple years ago, in search of a boost in team chemistry and a way to bring the team closer together, Tech’s coaching staff began giving the team a reading assignment each year: Gordon’s The Hard Hat: 21 Ways to be a Good Teammate.

“When the coaches first introduced us to The Hard Hat it confirmed a lot of things for us, like how to be a good teammate and leave a place better than how you found it,” said senior guard Jayla Mullen. “It taught us a lot about how to establish a good atmosphere both on and off the court.”

“When we have late practice, we’re responsible for the girls from 3:15-5:45, so we try to find things in the classroom we can do with them aside from just watching game film,” said Tech’s varsity head coach Justin Davis. “So, we had this book, and we decided we were going to assign it that year [in 2015]. We found the book in the summer and coach James Gschwandtner kind of took over everything from there, which was big.”

The Sussex Tech Lady Ravens — both the JV and varsity squads — pose for a quick team photo following a Skype session with Jon Gordon Thursday afternoon (Sussex Post/Ben Heck).

Each girl on the team would read the book and write a brief analysis of what they took from it.

Every other Wednesday, during the extra time between school and late practice, the team spends time on an exercise pertaining to one of the principles from the book.

“I like doing things outside of basketball, like helping young kids with different things, and when coach Davis brought that book out I thought it was one of those good opportunities to teach them something outside of just basketball,” said varsity assistant coach and head JV coach James Gschwandtner.

“What they learn from the book, such as different principles and how to be a good teammate, is something they will be able to use no matter what career they end up going into,” he continued. “Whatever they pursue, these are going to be life applications they can use.”

The girls embraced the reading assignment almost immediately – much to coach Gschwandtner’s surprise.

“It was a gamble, because to expect anyone in high school to read a book outside of their usual requirements is a gamble,” coach Gschwandtner said. “So, we were a little nervous about it at first, but the first year they read it and I made them give me a paragraph about it and they did fantastic.”

The book, published in 2015, features:

• 21 lessons on how to be a great teammate.
• 21 exercises to help build a great team.
• a true story about George Boiardi, a former Cornell University lacrosse player who passed away in March 2004 during a lacrosse game after being hit in the chest with a ball.

“It serves a big purpose for us as a team, and coach James has been great as far as organizing everything,” said coach Davis. “I thought it would be successful, and they gravitated to it immediately. It’s been a lot of fun.”

“I love Jon Gordon and his books,” said senior guard/forward Aliyah Browning. “The Hard Hat is really important to me, and I know it’s really important to the culture of our team.”

Jon Gordon (right) Skypes with the Lady Ravens Thursday afternoon (Special to the Sussex Post/James Gschwandtner).

With a trio of seniors – Mullen, Browning and Lakendra Harpe – leading the way heading into the 2017-18 season, the coaching staff has noticed a huge difference between this year’s team and the 2015 team.

Two years after the “Hard Hat” program began at Sussex Tech, the group was ecstatic to finally have the opportunity to converse with Mr. Gordon himself.

Gordon, donning a Sussex Tech Lady Ravens t-shirt, chatted with both the junior varsity and varsity squads via Skype video call for nearly half an hour, sharing his wisdom, stories and tips with the girls.

How exactly did this face-to-face connection between the Lady Ravens and Mr. Gordon come together?

It all began back in August, when coach Gschwandtner made the decision to send Gordon an email.

He wasn’t expecting a response. At least not such a positive response a mere few hours later.

“I sent him an email – I don’t know what caused me to do it,” he said. “I saw what his book has done for our program, and I just felt like maybe he’d read it or maybe an assistant would read it. So, I sent it to him and within a few hours he sent me a response saying he had read the letter and thought it was an amazing story. He gave me his number and said he’d love to talk to the team.”

The tricky part? Keeping it a secret from the girls for the next few months.

“For us, it was a complete surprise,” Browning said. “The fact they were able to surprise us like this – because they’re not very good at keeping secrets – is actually pretty crazy.”

When the entire team gathered in the computer lab Thursday, Nov. 30, coach Gschwandtner suggested the team make an attempt to Skype with Jon Gordon.

Thinking it was a long-shot that he’d actually answer their call, the girls didn’t think anything of it.

Little did they know that he’d not only answer the Skype call and speak with the team for 30 minutes, but he’d even be sporting one of their signature Lady Ravens t-shirts.

“I had no idea that they had planned it, so I didn’t think he was going to answer (the Skype call),” said Harpe. “I thought ‘we’re just a team from Delaware, he’s not going to answer.’ So, it was really shocking and really cool that they set this all up.”

Gordon, a graduate of Cornell University, is a well-renown motivational speaker for sports teams across the country and often offers his motivational-speaking services to professional sports teams.

It isn’t typical of Gordon to speak with high school teams in Sussex County, Delaware. But their story was just too good for him to pass up.

When the Lady Ravens asked him which team he last spoke with on a motivational-level, his answer: the Los Angeles Dodgers ahead of Game 7 of the World Series against the Houston Astros Wednesday, Nov. 1.

He has spoken with teams from the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA).

He was even present on the sidelines when the Clemson University football program won its last National Championship.

“For me, it was just a great experience to finally connect those dots and see, hear and learn from him,” Browning said of the experience. “We still have so much to learn as a team and a program.”

The team hopes to use what they’ve learned from The Hard Hat and Gordon’s personalized speech when they take the court for the first time of the season tonight (Dec. 1) against Dover High. Tip-off is set for 6:45 p.m.

For more information on Jon Gordon, his books or his speaking services, you can check out jongordon.com.

Sports Editor Ben Heck can be reached at bheck@newszap.com.

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