Sk­erry’s rule for Tow­son play­ers: Reg­is­ter to vote

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jonas Shaf­fer

On Wed­nes­day, af­ter study hall, Mike Morsell was at Tow­son’s ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing with some Tigers men’s bas­ket­ball team­mates and coaches. A crowd of dozens was cheer­ing him on. He was laugh­ing and high-fiv­ing strangers, though that, more than any­thing, was out of sur­prise.

All he’d done was jot down some per­sonal in­for­ma­tion, go to a booth, ex­er­cise a con­sti­tu­tional right and an­swer in the af­fir­ma­tive when an of­fi­cial asked him af­ter­ward whether he’d voted. “And then ev­ery­body went crazy and started cel­e­brat­ing,” he re­called Thurs­day.

Morsell, a ju­nior guard, is an All-Colo­nial Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion se­lec­tion for a Tow­son team picked to fin­ish sec­ond in the league this sea­son. That was unim­por­tant. The roar of the crowd did not dis­crim­i­nate: All first-time vot­ers at the polling place were feted as if they’d just made the Fi­nal Four. Pat Sk­erry

Stand­ing in line Wed­nes­day was Tigers coach Pat Sk­erry. Months ear­lier, Sk­erry’s wife, Kris­ten, had asked whether his play­ers were reg­is­tered to vote. His un­cer­tainty un­set­tled him. It was an im­por­tant elec­tion.

Since Sk­erry’s ar­rival in 2011, mem­ber­ship on Tow­son’s team has meant fol­low­ing a few rules: Go to class. Stay out of trou­ble. Get back on tran­si­tion defense. But as pre­sea­son be­gan this fall, Sk­erry told his 13 play­ers that the pro­gram had a new re­quire­ment: They had to reg­is­ter to vote. There were polls more im­por­tant than the

As­so­ci­ated Press Top 25.

“Any­one that par­tic­i­pates in this elec­tion will re­mem­ber this one 10, 30, 40 years” from now, Sk­erry said. “That’s why I felt good the other day. We don’t have enough. I wish we had 1,000 guys on the team.”

Sk­erry and Tow­son have been care­ful not to politi­cize his reg­is­tra­tion man­date; he called vot­ing a “re­quire­ment with­out con­se­quence” (un­like, say, ball-screen cov­er­age, he joked). Nei­ther Sk­erry nor Morsell, the only Tigers player made avail­able for this ar­ti­cle, dis­closed a pres­i­den­tial pref­er­ence.

So in Septem­ber, when Sk­erry ap­proached Ant­waine Smith, Tow­son’s as­sis­tant ath­letic di­rec­tor in charge of com­mu­nity ser­vice and out­reach ini­tia­tives, it was not his con­cern which way his play­ers leaned po­lit­i­cally, only that they par­tic­i­pated. Smith’s job: “Re­mov­ing all the mid­dle­men,” the for­mer Poly foot­ball star said, “and any ex­cuses.”

Through the school’s part­ner­ship with Tur­boVote, a non­profit, non­par­ti­san ini­tia­tive that pro­vides on­line reg­is­tra­tion ser­vices for stu­dents, the Tigers’ nine out-of-state res­i­dents were able to se­cure ab­sen­tee bal­lots. Their four Mary­lan­ders could reg­is­ter to vote at Tow­son. All were en­cour­aged to re­view Tur­boVote’s lit­er­a­ture on the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion’s can­di­dates and is­sues, and all re­ceived up­dates on rel­e­vant dates and dead­lines.

“You learn about it in class — ‘It’s your civic duty,’ and that sort of thing — but to make it real and make it ac­ces­si­ble, that was re­ally the goal of this whole project,” Smith said.

Sk­erry’s get-out-the-vote push has been a suc­cess — his en­tire team was reg­is­tered to vote by early Oc­to­ber — per­haps in part be­cause it isn’t his first. The son of a city coun­cil­man and the grand­son of a mayor in Med­ford, Mass., Sk­erry re­called, not with­out some dis­taste, the glad­hand­ing es­sen­tial to lo­cal pol­i­tics. There were walks in the town pa­rade, door-to-door can­vass­ing, lo­cal me­dia in­vad­ing his fam­ily’s home on Elec­tion Day.

When he left Med­ford to play in col­lege at Tufts, Sk­erry nat­u­rally chose a science for his ma­jor: psy­chol­ogy.

“It’s like those ones — I don’t push my old­est to play cer­tain sports,” he said. “With the pol­i­tics, I have prob­a­bly more of an ad­verse re­ac­tion to that.”

This year’s pres­i­den­tial race like­wise has not ush­ered an Era of Good Feel­ings into SECU Arena. Tow­son’s locker room talk is largely un­changed. When ar­gu­ments about the rel­a­tive merits of Kevin Du­rant and Rus­sell West­brook or pizza and wings are in­ter­rupted by pol­i­tics, the dis­course, Morsell said, mainly con­sists of jokes about the var­i­ous can­di­dates’ qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

Last month, as Sk­erry drove to Ar­ling­ton, Va., for Colo­nial Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion me­dia day with se­niors Ar­naud Wil­liam Adala Moto and John Davis, the de­bates came up. Sk­erry had watched ev­ery minute of all three. He doesn’t re­mem­ber watch­ing one be­fore this year. In that re­gard, he thinks he is not un­usual.

“It was kind of en­light­en­ing to have them talk about some of the stuff that they ba­si­cally didn’t like about each can­di­date,” he said, and so he called his wife. “I said, ‘It’s kind of cool. They’re ac­tu­ally more in tune than I would’ve ex­pected.’ I thought that was good, you know?”

This could be a his­toric elec­tion for the de­mo­graphic Sk­erry has sought to em­power. Mil­len­nial and Gen­er­a­tion X el­i­gi­ble vot­ers are ex­pected to out­num­ber baby boomers and pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions for the first time in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter. But turnout, as al­ways, is key.

Just 38 per­cent of “young adults” — in­di­vid­u­als rang­ing from ages 18 to 24 — cast a bal­lot in the 2012 elec­tion, U.S. Cen­sus Bureau data shows, far off the 49.5 per­cent rate among 25- to 44-year-olds. Morsell ac­knowl­edged that es­pe­cially in solidly blue Mary­land, it is easy to feel “that your vote doesn’t re­ally mat­ter.” But he fol­lows the news just the same; so­cial me­dia makes it hard not to, he ex­plained.

Ath­lete or not, the path to po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion is straight­for­ward. Donn Worgs, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at Tow­son, said it of­ten starts with civic en­gage­ment. Stu­dents who, for a project in one of his classes, help oth­ers reg­is­ter to vote, work on a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign or vol­un­teer as an elec­tion judge feel not only more con­nected to the demo­cratic process, he said, but also Tow­son coach Pat Sk­erry said he watched ev­ery minute of all three pres­i­den­tial de­bates this year. more cu­ri­ous about why oth­ers re­main apo­lit­i­cal.

“Weal­ways­think about democ­racy as hav­ing rights to do this or rights to do that,” Worgs said. “But the whole sys­tem doesn’t re­ally work if peo­ple don’t take on the sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity of ac­tu­ally self-gov­ern­ing.”

Not that they should lose their sense of hu­mor in the process. When Sk­erry’s group of Mary­land vot­ers was leav­ing the polls Wed­nes­day, he saw one player, asked whom he had voted for, an­swer Don­ald Trump. To which a team­mate cracked: “That’s just ’cause you watched the TV show [‘The Ap­pren­tice’].”

It has been Sk­erry’s mis­sion as coach to pro­duce win­ning teams with mind­ful stu­dent-ath­letes. In July, the Tigers hosted a Bal­ti­more County po­lice of­fi­cer for a ques­tio­nand-an­swer ses­sion on vi­o­lence in the area and across the coun­try. Tonight, they will see their first votes in an elec­tion counted. On Satur­day, their sea­son be­gins at Ge­orge Ma­son.

It likely will end some­time in March, by which point the 45th U.S. pres­i­dent, who­ever he or she is, will have taken of­fice. Sk­erry and Morsell can’t say whether they’ll be happy with the way this sea­son, or this elec­tion, will fin­ish. They do know now that they’ll have con­trib­uted to both in some way.

“I didn’t look it as we’re be­ing forced to vote, be­cause at some point, we’re go­ing to have to do it,” Morsell said. “So why not do it now?”

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN 2015

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