Kicking and Screaming
Dave Russell, Stephanie’s father, dragged his daughter “kicking and screaming” to her first women’s basketball game on a cold day in January. Dave had season tickets for MSU hockey, and at the bottom of the tickets they had free tickets to women's basketball games. Stephanie was wearing a bit thin on her mom, Terri, so Dave decided to take her to a game. Stephanie was a homebody and didn’t want to go.
Too bad. She was going.
It was then-women’s basketball head coach Joanne P. McCallie’s first season.
Back then, women’s basketball had a small fanbase, barely pulling in 1,000 people for games.
“When I first got to MSU there were very few fans,” said McCallie, who currently coaches at Duke. “It was easy to get to know people personally. (Stephanie) was always there ready to go. She was just infectious.”
The Russells found their seats when Julie Pagel, then a sophomore forward, noticed Stephanie in the crowd and invited her to join the players on the court in their stretching. Every stretch before the game after that came with a high-five from Stephanie.
“She's still the same smiling face,” said Pagel, who is now Pagel Dombroski and the Director of Basketball Operations and Technology for MSU. “She's right behind our bench and no matter what happens, no matter what goes on in the game she still loves us.”
The first game did it for Stephanie. She was hooked.
“She had so much fun,” Terri said. “She wanted to go the next day and we couldn't get her to understand that there's not a game every day.”
But she’d be there every game. She’d be the fan the team could always count on. On the whiteboard calendar in her room, she marks when each home game is.
“When I was a player we didn't have 9,000 fans here,” Pagel Dombroski said. “It was our parents and a couple season ticket holders who were diehards and then we started getting better. We just built this into a top ten attendance program and through the whole time Steph has been there. No matter what we go through she's always there, smiling and having the best day ever.”