Cecelia Jones spent her sixth birthday doing what she loves most: Watching Michigan State women's basketball courtside. The tickets were a gift of surprise from her parents.
Pamela Jones, mother to Cecelia and Director of Alumni Engagement here at MSU, said the family has always been a collective fan of women's athletics, but now that they have a daughter in Cecelia, they pay way more attention.
Part of this is because Merchant makes a point to create an atmosphere unlike any other at the Breslin Center. It's family friendly, with inclusive activities for all ages. Prior to tip-off, the Spartan starting lineup hands out green and white merchandise to children – some nights children are selected from the crowd to come onto the court and other nights the merchandise is simply thrown into the stands.
"I think on the women's side, we've always done a great job of making it more of a family affair," Merchant said. "From ticket pricing, to the atmosphere, there's more of a connection and we're a little more approachable. I think that, when you look at it collectively, we have to do a good job from a university standpoint ... to make them want to come back, because that's our market.For (Cecelia) to have her birthday (at the Breslin), that just says a lot about our ability to put a smile on someone's face."
Pamela said the last indoor sporting event her family attended was a basketball game two years ago. They chose to wait when the restrictions started to lift, for safety reasons, and now that Cecelia has officially received her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, they can return to the stands at the Breslin. Cecelia's been begging for this day for a long time, Pamela said.
Cecelia actually plans on starting basketball in January. As a kindergartener, she's only got so many options of where to start, and she's going to play in a beginner basketball program through Meridian Township.
"She watched warm-ups (before the Notre Dame game) ... and she said, 'Mama, that's so cool. I can't wait until I get to play basketball," Pamela said.
Pamela played sports in her youth too. She said the camaraderie and leadership skills playing a sport brings young girls is empowering and being close to the university, an alumni of it's grounds and a member of its current staff gives them amazing access to resources for Cecelia to succeed the way she wants too.
Pamela also credits Merchant for turning her team into approachable and accessible role models for the children. She said that, also during warm-ups, the Spartans were coming up to Cecelia and others and giving out high-fives.
"It means a lot, especially showing them they can do what we do and they can do whatever they want," senior guard Nia Clouden said. "Just being able to be a good role model for them on and off the court is really important and I love the kids."
"I remember, last game I think, I was shooting a free throw and they were screaming in the middle of it," she added with a laugh. "They don't know the rules, they don't have to be quiet and I think it's so cute. I look forward to having them be there.
She may not know the rules now, but one day, Cecelia hopes she will.
"When we were driving (to the Breslin tonight), she asked her dad, 'Daddy, if I play here, will you come to every single one of my games?'," Pamela said.
Support student media!
Please consider donating to The State News and help fund the future of journalism.
Share and discuss “'Daddy, if I play here, will you come to every single one of my games?': 6-year-old Cecelia Jones relishes trip to Breslin” on social media.