In the Locker Room: GeMar Neloms
GeMar Neloms, OC ’89, former Oberlin varsity lacrosse player in 1988 and 1989, returns to Oberlin to serve as an assistant for the 2007 season under Coach Deb “The Great” Ranieri and the Yeowomen lacrosse team. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in government from Oberlin in 1989 and a Master’s in public administration from Syracuse University in 1990, she has spent considerable time involved with both high school and collegiate athletics and the non-profit world as a consultant.
Matt Kaplan: You played lacrosse at Oberlin. What do you remember most about that experience?
GeMar Neloms: During spring break we went to Florida where we would play or practice lacrosse for ten hours each day. At the end of each day, my friend Amy Succoup [OC ’90] and I would buy individual pints of Fruesen Gladje ice cream and eat it in one sitting outside in the warm Florida weather. I also remember how much time Amy and my friend Ike [Sanderson, OC ’90] spent teaching me lacrosse skills and sharing their passion of the sport with me. Oh, and running. I remember my first coach made us run all the time. It paid off. There were no subs on the team that year and we were the best-conditioned team in the conference.
MK: You are just a few years removed from the days when Bobby Brown and “My Prerogative” electrified the ’Sco. What do you notice has changed or remained the same about the Big “O?”
GN: Actually Janet Jackson’s “Control,” a song called “Computer Love” and Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive,” were the jams I remember from my freshman year. During my entire time at Oberlin, I felt like there was always a protest in progress, an activist meeting wherever you turned and a conscious effort on how to actualize one’s role of trying to right what was wrong with the world. I’ve only been here for three weeks and although I still get the sense that students believe one person can make a difference, the concept of community mobilization toward such efforts seems quite minimal compared to my time here. I haven’t been to the ’Sco yet, but I heard they had cages and a dancers pole — that would be a serious change. I heard students are still intimidated and challenged by my all-time favorite [politics] professor, Paul Dawson. That would be exactly the same as the late ’80’s!
MK: Rumor has it that student-athletes used to wear bright yellow T-shirts and sweatshirts that looked like caution signs. Did you rock it?
GN: Oh, like you wouldn’t believe! I don’t remember yellow t-shirts but we had these big heavy schoolbus yellow sweatshirts with a big red “OC” on the front and these bright red disco lycra running tights with red piping. We looked pretty colorful during cold practice and game days. Our uniforms were red-based kilts, which I thought were kind of cool but our game shirts were cotton polos, which trapped sweat so you felt clammy within the first ten minutes of the game. I’m assuming dri-fit gear hadn’t been invented yet. Practice gear was up to us. As Obies, you never quite knew what a teammate would wear to practice.
MK: You went on to get an MPA after getting a degree in government. What made you decide to get back into athletics?
GN: Athletics never left me. I use my degrees in my “pay the bills” profession, which involves work within the non-profit sector. Over the years, my professional work has afforded me the flexibility to simultaneously pursue my athletic and lacrosse passions by coaching, volunteering and playing post-collegiate. In fact, my lacrosse background helped me land US Lacrosse and the International Lacrosse Federation as two of my former clients!
MK: Your first game is March 20, at Notre Dame College of Ohio. What can we look forward to as the season approaches?
GN: Strictly speaking from a coach’s perspective, I think defensively we can make every opponent we play have to work very, very hard to transition the ball out of our territory and to get shots off. Offensively speaking, I think each player on our team will possess the physical skill and game intelligence to attack the cage and convert our shots taken into goals. It will be the team’s active belief about their ability to do those things that will determine whether or not they actually happen.
MK: How far is your team from reaching the top of the North Coast Athletic Conference and bidding for a post-season berth?
GN: Again, from a coach’s perspective and based on my knowledge of the NCAC, there is no skill or coaching reason to prevent us from being in the top three. Subjectively speaking, the team has to live our motto of “believe.” At this point, I think most of the players believe in their teammates, themselves and the coaches. What it will ultimately come down to is every member of the team believing in those things, believing that whenever they are faced with the choice of “can and will” versus “can’t and won’t,” they choose the former and demonstrate a consistent understanding that winning takes hard work.
MK: Talk about your role as assistant coach. What are your duties and what are you looking to bring to the team?
GN: I help players hone their individual and game playing skills. I speak to prospective Oberlin student-athletes about the college and the lacrosse program and I directly support the head coach with an awful lot of administrative work and oversight of certain activities like our lacrosse clinics. I’m not sure if I’m looking to bring a specific element to the team but I feel so honored to be a part of it that I do hope at the end of my time here in May, at least one person feels I have made a positive contribution to either their performance or the program’s overall growth.
MK: How does it feel to work alongside Deb “The Great” Ranieri? I mean, Ranieri pumps out NCAA-bound teams and has done the National Academic Award.
GN: I met Deb for the first time last May on my first visit to OC since 1991 but I learned about her in 2003 through a legendary coach who knew how much Oberlin meant to me and told me she felt if anyone could make a program strong in both lacrosse and field hockey, it was Deb. Deb has an extraordinary knowledge base for the sport of lacrosse and strategies needed for successful competition. That’s part of what brought me here and I know she sincerely believes she can get the lacrosse program a few NCAA bids.
MK: Ranieri is said to encourage a real family atmosphere among her teams. How does she foster this bond and atmosphere? How are you planning to contribute to the family?
GN: Well, she fostered it with me when Bree and her bought me clip-on purple mittens because I lost my leather gloves and had to walk around with numb fingers. I think I’m going to be the aunt that always comes to the barbeque or family gatherings with a million and one “back in the day” and “when I was at Oberlin” stories. The players are subtle. They listen to my stories without rolling their eyes and actually seem happy to listen. Maybe they are acting, but isn’t that what family does sometimes to avoid hurting feelings? The coaches on the other hand are like the peers or elders in the family and when they feel a story coming on they run for their fifth serving of potato salad.
MK: I know you are a certified fitness instructor. Can you whip students into shape by the time they leave for Cancun, and for how much?
GN: Yes, if they are realistic about what can be done, are willing to put in the time and have the right attitude I can help them towards their fitness goals, whether it’s to lie in the sun in Cancun or build houses in New Orleans. Is it un-Obie-like if I give my e-mail to you for those who might be interested? I’ll give a student discount for any student who mentions this interview!