A Week to Forget, a Friendship to Remember

A Week to Forget, a Friendship to Remember

The United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) is a national organization that exists to provide quality athletic competition on a regional and national level.  The USCAA focuses specifically on smaller institutions of higher learning and their student-athletes. The USCAA has 92 member institutions nationwide and exists to conduct National Championships, name All-Americans, recognize scholar athletes, and promote USCAA member schools in 12 sports.

The USCAA’s Basketball National Championships play host to 34 of the best teams in the association’s four basketball divisions. For the teams that earn a bid, it’s a chance to create a moment that will last a lifetime. The tournament is held on the campus of Penn State Fayette in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. The event brings in 1,500 participants, family, and fans to the Uniontown area.

Team hosts are local community members who volunteer with the USCAA and tournament host institution Penn State Fayette to serve as a liaison between a traveling team and the community. The purpose of a team host is to provide their team with knowledge of things to do in the community, the best places to eat, and with up to four games in four days, even where they can do their laundry. Sometimes, team hosts even do the laundry themselves.

For players, the tournament is a chance to shine on the USCAA’s biggest stage. For Stacie Lee, a junior from University of Cincinnati-Clermont, it was a week to forget. Struck with an infection on the ride to Uniontown, Pennsylvania for the championships, Stacie found herself hospitalized before the tournament even began. While her name was being called as a Women’s Division II USCAA Second-Team All-American at the awards banquet, Stacie was undergoing a series of testing at the local hospital. Her week wasn’t supposed to go like this.

That’s where Elaine Frantz, a local resident from the Uniontown area and the Lady Cougars team host, comes in.

For Elaine, being a team host is all about doing something for others. “I think you get a satisfaction you can share with others,” says Elaine. “The major reason that I’m a team host is to extend hospitality. This is a community that is gifted with tons of historical value and we get to share that with others. These are people that are from across the country, that are new to the area, and we just want to make them feel welcome.”

Elaine served as the Lady Cougars team host during the 2011 National Championships and in preparation for their potential return to Uniontown, took it upon herself to follow the team online throughout the year.  When UC Clermont arrived on Tuesday at Penn State Fayette for registration, attention was immediately turned to Stacie’s health. What was thought of as a virus now appeared to be more severe. Stacie had stayed in the team van during the skills competition, too sick to come inside and watch her teammate Tess Jenike win the women’s free-throw and three-point competitions. After evaluating her further UC Clermont coach Mike Matthews had seen enough.

“When you’ve been a parent, you just have an intuition of when someone needs to get to the hospital,” explained Coach Matthews.

Upon arriving Stacie was immediately taken in without having to wait. The doctors began running tests and discovered an infection that had spread to Stacie’s pancreas, liver, and kidneys. Her condition was serious. The Lady Cougars would be without their star center for the entire tournament.

As the Cougars prepared for their opening round game on Thursday against the Albany College of Pharmacy Lady Panthers, Elaine didn’t know whether or not Stacie was still in the hospital. Since her husband, Ted, was serving as the Lady Panthers’ team host, the Frantz’s made sure to attend the game. It was there that she spoke with Coach Matthews and learned that Stacie was still hospitalized. She had started to feel better on Wednesday, and doctors told her that she may be released on Thursday.  However, late Wednesday night she had shooting pains underneath her ribcage, and doctors began running another set of tests.

Upon learning of Stacie’s situation, Elaine immediately placed a call to Stacie’s hospital room. She would continue to call every four hours. “Besides my mom, Elaine is the person who called me the most. She would call and check up on me and tell me what was going on with the tournament. She was very wonderful,” said Stacie.

Along with her husband, Elaine visited Stacie a couple times throughout the week, even arranging for her minister to meet with Stacie and bringing a toy for her two-year old son Jordan on Friday.

“With Elaine, it’s like having a family there already,” remarked Coach Matthews. “There is some stress involved with traveling to a National Championship. It’s good stress, but you’re going away from home and staying multiple days. Having the host there is comforting. They really care.”

The Lady Cougars would struggle in their first-round contest against Albany College of Pharmacy, trying to match up against the Lady Panther’s two six-footers without their only center.

“We just weren’t getting any offensive rebounds. The team didn’t know what to do in the first-half. I think Stacie could have made the difference,” said Coach Matthews.

Stacie watched the game online from the hospital. Just as it was ending doctors came into her room and told her that they discovered only 7% of her gallbladder was working. They strongly recommended surgery.  

On Friday, just as the Lady Cougars were getting ready for their consolation bracket game against the University of Maine-Machias, Stacie underwent surgery to have her gallbladder removed. Stacie’s mom arrived Friday night and took her home when she was released on Saturday. One of the first people to call her when she got home was Elaine Frantz.

“Elaine called to make sure I got home okay. She called three days after just to check up on me. I continue to talk to her and reach out to her. I definitely plan on keeping in touch,” said Stacie. Her coach went even a step further, “They’ve formed a special bond from now on for a lifetime. The girls really look forward to coming to Nationals, and one of the reasons is because of Elaine and Ted.”

Just a junior, Stacie will have one last shot at going to Uniontown and helping her team bring home a National Championship. It’s a trip that hasn’t been kind to her. Two years ago she severely sprained her ankle in a walkthrough just prior to leaving. Stacie was on crutches, could barely play, but gutted it out for her team. “I’m praying to make sure nothing else happens. I can’t wait,” says Stacie. “I’m more determined to get in the gym and exercise and do everything I can. I feel my season got cut short, so I’m already ready for the next season to start. We’re going to get the job done this year.”

One thing is for sure, Elaine Frantz and the other Penn State Fayette team hosts will be ready to welcome the USCAA’s finest basketball teams back to the 2014 National Championships with open arms.

Elaine & Ted Frantz