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Getting With The Program(s)

Dec. 27, 2009

by Jon Cooper, Contributing Editor

ATLANTA – Every team likes to claim they are a family.

Georgia Tech women’s basketball coach MaChelle Joseph does more than talk about it.

Through P.R.I.D.E. (Providing Resources and Intangibles that Develop Excellence) Joseph has established a three-part program — The Big Sister Program, P.I.P.S. (Player Improvement Program through Support), and Buzzing Through The Community — to strengthen camaraderie between teammates and the staff as well as create solid citizens that make as big a difference off the court as they do on.

“Coach Joseph is very big on family,” said special assistant LaChina Robinson. “It’s important to her that we establish that family feel and and support base for the freshmen as soon as they get to campus.

“Obviously it’s a difficult transition when you think about a 17-year-old kid or an 18-year-old kid going off to college. There’s so much that they don’t know and so much that they have to learn that we want to put some structure in place so that they have the support that they need. That was what coach Joseph wanted to do.”

The Big Sister Program matches upperclassmen with incoming freshmen, to offer a shoulder to lean on, an ear to talk to, as well as little things like a ride to class or a partner to hang out or go to dinner with.

“[Adjusting to college] is a lot, but we have so much assistance and so much help that surrounds us. They make that transition as easy as possible for us,” said freshman point guard Sharena Taylor, whose big sisters are sophomore center LaQuananisha Adams and junior guard Alex Montgomery. “We take that very seriously here. They’re like big sisters. They mentor us and take us under their wing. They’re big sticklers on grades as well as things that are happening on and off the court.”

The bonds that are formed allow the freshmen to relax away from the court, which allows them to be more intense and focused on it.

Junior guard Deja Foster believes that the trust formed in her bond with sophomore forward Chelsea Regins, her little sister from last year, helped Regins turn up her game.

“Last year, as a freshman, she didn’t really know where she fit in on this team,” said Foster. “I was like, ‘You are so special. You have a gift and I think you should be loud and go hard all the time.’ I try to make sure she resembles me. She’s an emblem of me.”

P.I.P.S. forges similar one-on-one relationships between freshmen and members of the staff, who are available 24/7.

“The PI.P.S.program is fun, really, for everyone involved because it can be a little bit competitive,” said Robinson, who is P.I.P. for Adams and Regins. “It’s my job to make them the best player and student and person that I can. So I meet with them, I find out the needs that they have that I can be of assistance with, I push them in terms of academic achievements, I celebrate with them with on-court situations. Just someone that you know is keeping a very close eye on every area of what that athlete is involved in.”

The team’s ability to act as role models doesn’t end on campus and with each other. Through Buzzing Through the Community, which Joseph began in 2005, the Jackets players get out and talk to young girls and help them find a prudent right path.

“We’re associated with a program called ‘Go, Girl, Go,'” said Robinson. “It’s a girl-serving organization here in Atlanta that we try to get girls active in sports. When young girls are willing to get involved in sports, they’re less likely to become pregnant and things of that nature as teenagers.

“Our kids take their experiences through the Big Sister Little Sister Program and the P.I.P.S. Program and they cultivate relationships with these young women. They’ve got little sisters here but also have little sisters in the community that look up to them, that they can then turn and be role models for. Then also, with PIP, we can set the example for them as to how to mentor young women in the community.”

Robinson, who played at Wake Forest, relishes the opportunity to give back.

“I say I’m the luckiest person in the world because I feel like I have the most rewarding job ever,” she said. “I get so much value in watching these young women come in, go through some ups, go through some downs and at the end of the day they leave as better people than how they came. They’re able to understand contributions to the community, they understand the importance of relationships and support through the P.I.P.S. Program and Big Sister and Little Sister.”

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