The first significant event of November for the Towson men's basketball team won't be its season-opener against George Mason on Nov. 12. No, four days earlier those players will have participated as a group in something bigger: The presidential election.
Towson coach Pat Skerry, with the help and ambition of associate athletic director Antwaine Smith, is having every member of the team register to vote. Tiger players from as close as Baltimore -- where Towson is based -- to faraway states such as Missouri, Florida and Georgia will be casting a vote. Given none of the guys will be able to easily make it to the polls on that election Tuesday, all of Skerry's players are filling out absentee ballots in the coming weeks.
"I'm not a big political guy, or on a soapbox, but with this I think it's important this year, more than any other, for them to cast their vote for whomever they want," Skerry said. "I think we (coaches) all get knocked for, and I'm no different, of being somewhat narrow-minded about our team and all that stuff."
Skerry hopes this sparks many of Towson's other teams to do the same, and he'd like to see other men's basketball programs take on some communal civic pride as well.
The idea actually started with Skerry's wife, who recently put the bug in his ear when he was tossing around new methods to bring his team together in non-conventional ways. Skerry has been proactive in non-basketball discussions with his team this offseason. In the midst of so much national controversy and tragedy with the loss of life for police officers and victims of police shootings, Skerry brought in members of the Baltimore County Police and the Towson University Police to speak with Towson's players about how to properly interact with police.
"I think we have a weakness in terms of: do your guys take enough of an active interest, are they leaders, and we've certainly been guilty at times at not getting them involved enough," Skerry said of his program and players' activities in the greater Baltimore community.
Antwaine Smith will be providing players with information, bullet points, issues the candidates differ on, etc. Skerry said he doesn't care which candidate -- even if that candidate is not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton -- the players vote for. He just wants them to vote, and he thinks it's something they'll be glad they participated in. It will be the first time doing so for every member of the team.
"They have to vote, but they can vote for whomever they want to," Skerry said. "We got good guys, and I don't know, I think maybe they'll look back later on and say, 'I'm glad coach had us do that.'"
Most coaches aren't prone to discussing political issues, but times are changing in this regard. We had many coaches willingly speak to us (granted, it was off the record) in great detail about their pointed thoughts on police brutality and mistreatment of African Americans, why they're voting for Clinton or Trump in this year's election, and why the NCAA should not be afraid to take the NCAA Tournament out of North Carolina over a controversial bill that many believe is discriminatory.
Skerry, who has averaged 19 wins per season over the past four years, wants his players to better combine their athletic experience in college with an active social one. He's imploring them to expand their thoughts and philosophies. You know, the kind of things that are endemic to the American college experience.