Student-athletes bring out their creative sides

Lee Anna Osei raps during her Introduction to Theatre class
Screen shot Courtesy Joey Held
Lee Anna Osei raps during her Introduction to Theatre class
Lee Anna Osei raps in THA101 // Screen shot Courtesy Joey Held

On the football field, Jordan Futch intimidates opponents with his hard hits.

But when it came time to take center stage at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, Futch shied away from showing off his hidden talent.

“I sing really good,” he said. “But only in the shower.”

Instead, he and six teammates – Allen Hurns, Stephen Morris, Shane McDermott, Tyrone Cornileus, Storm Johnson and Billy Sanders – simulated two-minute practice and game situations for their classmates.

Morris, an early enrollee who will serve as one of the team’s backup quarterbacks, came up with the idea.

In a 5-on-2 drill, he brought the offense into a huddle and called plays such as 85, 4, NASCAR.

“We figured it was the easiest thing,” Futch said. “We wanted to show people behind the scenes how it really goes and how we get in the huddle and things like that.”

Five years ago professor Patricia Dolan thought up the idea to hold a “Golden Extra Credit” in her Introduction to Theatre (THA101) course to close out the semester.

Students’ talents range from singing to dancing, but a performance doesn’t hold any actual grade value. According to Dolan, “It’s worth its weight in gold.”

“It’s just a way to bring a kind of energy into what it is to perform in front of another person, an audience,” Dolan said. “Everyone in my class has multiple talents. You never know who’s in the room either. Sometimes in this little discovery I find a hidden piano talent or a singer.”

Over the years she’s seen a football player, unbeknownst to teammates and coaches, sing opera. Another, Curtis Porter, played the piano.

“When students see them actually get up here and perform, sometimes out of their element, the audience understands and enjoys watching the athlete showing another side of them,” Dolan said. “The next time they watch those particular players they’re going to remember a small little moment here.”

Porter took the course as an early enrollee last spring. New to both the university and his teammates, he embraced the opportunity.

“I needed a few more points in class to pass and I wanted to show others another talent God has blessed me with,” Porter said.

So, the gentle giant – all 6-1, 315 pounds of him that tackles the opposing football team on a weekly basis – performed Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart and Soul.”

Since the eighth grade Porter has played the piano. His “true love,” however, lies with his rare bass back home in Charlotte.

“I’m proud of it and I take pride in it,” he said. “It was great because it shows others that we might be big, but we have other talents other than being big and athletic, and I think people should look at us different too.”

Although teammates like Mike James didn’t know about this talent until the day Porter went in front of the class, they were impressed.

“The team was just shocked that I play a instrument,” Porter said. “The team is always willing to show a different and open side because we are all very talented.”

In the same class, women’s basketball player Shenise Johnson read some of her poetry.

Dolan recalls Johnson reciting them with tears in her eyes.

“Afterwards she came up to me and said, ‘Thank you, Patricia. I needed to get this out of the way,’” Dolan said. “It was just so pure and wonderful.”

Johnson’s coach, Katie Meier, isn’t surprised.

While she hasn’t sat down to read her player’s poems, Meier is aware of her creative side. She sees parallels between Johnson’s poetry writing and gracefulness on the court.

“Of all the players I’ve ever coached, she’s very perceptive and she lets a lot in. When you have all that in, she needs an outlet to get it out and it makes her poetic on the basketball court,” Meier said. “Her vision on the court is really creative and it comes out in basketball and she’s got an amazing amount of poise and depth to her.”

Meanwhile, men’s basketball players Cyrus McGowan and Donnavan Kirk stuck to playing “Dribble Horse,” which is a game of H-O-R-S-E centered on dribbling.

Jorge Mulet, the brave soul who picked up a loose ball during their game, tried his best to imitate their moves.

A few minutes later he would go onto impress his classmates, both athletes and non-athletes, with his salsa dancing.

But when Mulet first signed up for the course, it was at an earlier time and there weren’t any student-athletes in it.

After having made the switch, he thinks the dynamic benefits everyone.

“I’ve enjoyed this class more even though it’s a bigger class because the athletes give it another side,” Mulet said. “In their own way they’re playing to theater through sport.”

Others, like Zeke DeVoss of the baseball team, feel as though there are mixed feelings from students.

“Some of them are really nice about it and some of them don’t like us because they think that we don’t put the effort in the classroom,” he said. “They don’t realize that we’re up early in the morning at workouts and late at night for practice. But there’s a good mix.”

Men’s basketball head coach Frank Haith also enjoys the fact that his student-athletes interact with their classmates. He believes that it helps them become better acclimated with the college environment and experience.

“I encourage that. The students are such an important role in terms of what we do,” Haith said. “I think that it’s great that their peers see them in a different light, see them just being normal people.”

One of his basketball players, Durand Scott, rapped in front of his 100 classmates.

Even though student-athletes are accustomed to playing in front of crowd, Scott’s participation came as a shock to Haith.

“He’s the shy guy right now. The freshmen aren’t quite apt to display their talents just yet,” Haith said. “Durand isn’t quiet, quiet. He’s a vocal leader on the basketball court, but in those settings I haven’t seen his personality come out quite as much as I have with the others.”

When Lee Anna Osei sat on a chair in the middle of the stage and began to rap Eve’s “Love is Blind,” she said that nerves began to kick in.

At first, Osei had her doubts about being able to perform in front of the class. She and a best friend signed up, only to cross their names out.

“After I had seen the first performances I actually e-mailed her [Dolan] right after and asked if I could still go even if I didn’t sign my name,” Osei said. “I could, and then I was like, ‘Alright, I’m about to do this.’”

Unlike McGowan and Kirk who stayed with their forte, Osei decided to try something more vulnerable rather than stick with her initial plan.

“It was going to be some basketball skit with some tricks, so basically kind of boring,” she said. “If you’re a dancer, why dance? I was a bit nervous when I first started out, but once I got into the groove and everything during the second verse I kind of got into it and I was more comfortable by the time I finished.”

David Wyman, assistant athletic director of academic services, said that it’s rare for student-athletes to participate in school plays because of scheduling and availability.

Although only one or two pursue theater as part of their curriculum, NFL running back and former Miami Hurricane Najeh Davenport majored in theater.

Since THA101 is a morning course, student-athletes can take it after practice and conditioning. And as a humanities course, it’s a prerequisite for all majors.

“A lot of them are performers and they like performing and it gives them a survey into drama and theatre, so I think they might enjoy that,” Wyman said. “Theater is more sensational because it takes a certain skill to take part in that class.”

Dolan, whose all-time favorite performance involved four baseball players recreating a baseball instructional video and imitating head coach Jim Morris, hopes that both student-athletes and regular students alike get something out of the course.

“This is a United Nations in here and that’s the beauty for me as a professor, that a class like this about a subject I love, I can take in and learn from them too,” Dolan said. “It’s all about people. This is just People 101.”

Like many of his classmates, Futch wasn’t too familiar with theater until he took the course and learned about its elements, such as set design and music.

Now, as the semester comes to a close, both he and Osei said they wouldn’t mind pursuing acting in the future, especially at the Ring.

“I just wanted to widen up my horizons and see other things,” said Futch, who is a business marketing and management major. “Maybe after football I might do what Dwayne Johnson did and follow his path.”