Skerry’s rule for Towson players: Register to vote
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?”