NORMAN, Okla. -- The University of Oklahoma women's basketball team is one of four finalists for the second annual RUSSELL ATHLETIC "Together We R" Team Award, the Women's Basketball Coaches Associated (WBCA) announced Monday.
In its second year, the "Together We R" Team Award honors programs that have strived to succeed in the face of adversity, overcoming extraordinary circumstances such as an unforeseen team crisis, barrier or unfortunate situation that caused extra stress. The team must exemplify strong commitment to core values of togetherness, courage, unparalleled work ethic and heart, and must personify the "Together We R" belief that teams are stronger than individuals.
Women's basketball teams from Cal State Fullerton, Ocean Country College and Purdue University are the other finalists. The finalists -- selected by a committee of WBCA past presidents -- have each submitted a video telling their story. The videos are posted on the WBCA's YouTube channel.
"Like" the Sooners' Video
Sooners Playing for their Rock
Even before they knew how much it would mean, the Sooners were tasked with generating six-word memoirs that would define their season. Head coach Sherri Coale asked that they be written on a ladder she had purchased at an auction to support the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.
"I thought it would be a fun thing for our team to do in the offseason. Maybe if they wrote those six-word `athletic' memoirs of themselves on the ladder and put the ladder in the gym, it might be a visual symbol of what they were trying to accomplish."
One week later, in April 2012, the team became aware that assistant coach Jan Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not ones to let an opportunity to be special slip away, the Sooners knew exactly what to do with the ladder.
Each member of the team wrote an individual six-word memoir as instructed. Yet, on the front of each step, they added a collaborative message:
PLAYING FOR OUR ROCK, COACH ROSS.
"It was one of the most touching things of my life," Ross said. "We had been so busy trying to figure things out and where do we go next? We forgot all about it.
"Just out of the blue we kind of remembered and just needed to get away. Just wanted to see what they had written. I had no idea they were going to do something like that, so it was very special."
"It swept her off her feet," OU junior guard Morgan Hook said. "She told us she came down there and had no idea that's what we were doing. She read all of the individual ones and then looked at the steps and saw what it said. Pretty sure it brought tears to her eyes. She knows what she means to us, but just to see it written on there really hit her hard."
The Sooners, no strangers to adversity having lost four players to injuries since the preseason, have used the six words as their slogan for the season and are motivated daily by their coach's battle.
"All the people who helped me and supported me and sent cards and letters - it's too many to name," Ross said. "Cancer is a fight and you've got to battle it every day. Every day I would hear from someone new. They don't let you rest; they wouldn't let me be satisfied. It made it an unfair fight."