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KPA06-SportsColumnist

Views from the Bottom of The Hill: Don’t let this be ‘one and done’

Kaden Gaylord

Last Wednesday, WKU athletes, students and alumni gathered in front of Diddle Arena to voice their support for the Black Lives Matter movement as some attendees spoke on their experiences being Black in America and what the movement means to them.

This was the second demonstration on campus after the announcement of the charges, or lack thereof, for the officers involved in the Breonna Taylor’s death. This was the first time athletes have been in the forefront to speak out on these issues since the football team didn’t practice after the shooting of Jacob Blake.

The media was there to capture the movement as well as the WKU Athletics Department. This was the first time the official WKU sports page run by the Athletics Department has acknowledged the social injustices that have been going on in the country.

This isn’t me being negative, but me just saying WKU Athletics need to do more, stand up for their student-athletes more and speak out on these issues.

“Since I’ve been here, this is probably the first time something like this has happened — this should go down in the history books,” junior defensive end Demarquez Trotter said at the march. “This was a historical event for the campus and hopefully will inspire more campuses to do something.”

When compared to other schools in the state, University of Louisville and University of Kentucky have vehemently backed their athletes trying to bring change especially to a state that has been stubborn and resistant to such change.

Those schools and teams knew there would be a lot of backlash when they made videos, marched or any form of supporting Black Lives Matter and speaking out on police brutality.

On Sept. 24, WKU graduate linebacker Eli Brown, who was a part of the demonstration on Wednesday, tweeted “For the amount of BLACK ATHLETES that attend WKU, it feels like nothing has been done to show that they care about equality [for real]. You can clearly tell this school cares more about the fans.”

He isn’t the only one who feels this way as other athletes from multiple sports retweeted his tweet and agreed. Black Americans make up a big part of WKU Athletics, and there’s no reason why they should feel like the school they chose to go to doesn’t care about them as much as they thought.

This isn’t about politics. Black Lives Matter isn’t about politics. It’s a human rights issue that has never gone away but has only reformed.

WKU Athletics did a good job highlighting what these athletes were able to do Wednesday night, but it’s not enough. Don’t let this be a one and done deal. This isn’t a one time photo opportunity to show that they care.

This is an issue that Black Americans have had to deal with for 400 years, and the people up top need to continuously use the big platforms available to back these students and their message, whether the community agrees with it or not.

Like WKU defensive end Juwan Jones said, “be the change you want to see.” Help these players, students, alumni and community members be the change.

Men’s basketball beat reporter & columnist Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected] Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.

View from the Bottom of the Hill: Miss gameday? Get vaccinated

Kaden Gaylord-Day, Sports columnist

Conference USA made the decision to cancel all spring sports on March 12, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That was almost 18 months ago.

We were lucky enough to find ways to put a product on the field while still prioritizing player and fan safety, but it was still a strange, stressful and uncomfortable year.

Stadiums that would normally rock and rumble with cheers after highlight reel plays were muted due to capacity limitations. We could no longer access players in the same way and had to conduct awkward interviews through Zoom, leading to all kinds of tech-related headaches. Fans would attend games in hopes of watching their favorite players only to find out on game day they would not be playing due to a positive COVID-19 test.

Nobody wants to go back to that. But a year later, masks are back after a brief summer hiatus and we find ourselves in the same precarious position even though there is an easy and accessible way to prevent a pandemic relapse from happening – Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson. Take your pick.

The point is, if we want life to start trending back towards normal, the first step is to get vaccinated. You probably didn’t want to be masked this semester and had already written off COVID-19 as a thing of the past, but the university recognizes the delta variant of the virus as a serious threat and is pushing masks and vaccines for a reason. WKU has even created a lottery where students can win prizes for taking their shots.

If all of that still isn’t enough to convince you, two big-time SEC schools led by two big-time SEC coaches are already leading the way back to normal by encouraging vaccinations among their programs.

Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin has announced that 100% of his football roster has received their shots, an impressive feat considering the Rebels play in a state that ranks near the bottom nationally in vaccination rates.

In an interview with ESPN, Alabama head coach Nick Saban revealed that all but one player on his team has received a vaccination — in the state that’s dead last in the United States for vaccination rates.

Remember what the atmosphere in Diddle Arena felt like when the Hilltoppers defeated Wisconsin back in 2018? Or when Lucky Jackson took a pass from Ty Storey 71 yards for a touchdown against Charlotte in 2019, causing the Houch to erupt? Or when the Lady Toppers hosted the NCAA tournament that same year and completely sold out the arena, allowing head coach Travis Hudson to experience the massive crowd he’s wanted to see his whole life?

We can ensure that special moments like these can happen this fall by making the responsible choice to get vaccinated. The quicker that happens, the sooner we can return to enjoying sports the way we’ve been dreaming of for the past year and a half.

Kaden Gaylord-Day can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @_KLG3.

View from the Bottom of the Hill: Appreciating success in women’s sports

Kaden Gaylord

At the beginning of the year, we knew there would be a lot of sports playing in the winter and spring this year due to COVID-19.

It was expected of the men’s basketball team to be “the” team, if there weren’t any others, that would go all the way to the NCAA Tournament.

We all know how painfully that ended, but it showed us how much the women’s sports have really carried WKU’s athletic department this year.

The two teams located at the bottom of the Hill have been putting on an absolute show this year. WKU softball picked up right where they left off last season.

After having eight games canceled and four postponed so far this season, you would think there would be a lot of inconsistent play, but the Hilltoppers currently sit at 15-4 with half of their losses coming against a ranked Mississippi State.

Offensively, six players bat over .300 with redshirt senior Paige Carter leading the pack with a .418 hitting percentage and a whopping 1.300 on base percentage. The deadly pitching rotation led by WKU softball legend senior Kelsey Aikey and redshirt junior Shelby Nunn has proven to be a force again, with all pitchers giving up three runs or less per game.

And of course the highlight of the season and biggest game in recent memory, with the Hilltoppers defeating the No. 7 ranked Kentucky Wildcats 2-1, WKU’s first top 10 win since 2014 against Tennessee.

Redshirt sophomore Kennedy Sullivan, being clutch again, and hitting an RBI single to win the game turned a lot of heads in the nation and brought some much needed excitement to the Hill.

WKU soccer has been climbing higher every season for the last couple years and their work is paying off. Their record of 6-1-2 is the best start to a season since 2008.

The victory against Louisville marked the first Power 5 win for the Lady Toppers since that 2008 season against Ole Miss.

Junior Amber Barnett has scored over half of the goals for the Lady Toppers this season and is tied for 30th in the country for goals per game. In the nine games, WKU’s defense has compiled three shutouts, with senior Avery Jacobsen and junior Chelsea Moore providing the most minutes on the team and anchoring the program.

The Lady Toppers are the only undefeated team left in Conference USA and can win the East Division Friday against Charlotte in the regular season finale.

Finally, WKU volleyball. I mean, need I say more? Travis Hudson is the greatest coach to ever come to the Hill and what his team is doing this year is nearly perfection in every form of the word.

The volleyball program is now 21-0 after winning their sixth conference championship since joining C-USA in 2014, meaning they’ve lost once when it mattered most.

The Lady Toppers also secured the program’s 21st straight season with 20 or more wins. Only three other schools can say they have an active streak of 20 or more seasons with 20 wins: Nebraska, Penn State, and Florida. That’s 12 national championships between them.

Senior Nadia Dieudonne ranks third in the country in assists per set with 11.95. Two players rank in the top 30 in hitting percentage with junior Lauren Matthews at 11th and junior Katie Isenbarger at 29th. As a team, WKU ranks fifth in the country in assists per game and second in the country in hitting percentage, only behind Kentucky.

I don’t have enough space to tell you all the accomplishments and success this team has sustained and what makes them even scarier is that they are all coming back next year.

WKU Athletics isn’t just about basketball and football anymore.

These women individually and as a team, have all put on a spectacular show in their seasons and have shown that they deserve the same amount of love and support that their male counterparts get. They have been the backbone of the success this university has received.

Men’s basketball beat reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected] Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.

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