Steppin’ With A Star
Rap legend Snoop Dogg can usually be found selling out huge venues such as Madison Square Garden or the L.A. Coliseum, so the hip hop star’s late April performance at the UMBC’s Retriever Activities Center was a unique event. What made it even more special? Step performers from a few UMBC fraternities and sororities can now brag that they opened for Snoop Dogg.
UMBC Greek organizations entertained the 2,500 people waiting for the headliner with a step show competition encompassing styles from shimmy to stomp. UMBC’s Kappa Alpha Psi walked away with top honors at the show by combining both styles and breaking out their fraternity’s traditional “cane step” – giving them a dimension that none of the other performers possessed.
Senior Kappa Alpha Psi stepper Bakari Smith credits demonstrating a variety of moves as the key element in their winning performance. “We just thought a complete show that touched all aspects of the scorecard would give us a good chance to take the crown,” he says. “When we slowed it down with our kick, then [our] shimmy, I heard the screams and knew right then we killed the show.”
You might think opening for a legend would make student performers nervous, but Smith says sharing the spotlight with Snoop Dogg provided more incentive than inhibition.
“There was a lot of pressure, but we used it to keep us pumped up to perform well,” says Smith. “Our fraternity’s fundamental purpose is achievement, so we are always under pressure to perform at a high level – regardless of the endeavor.”
Mind Over Matter
The tough-minded attitude that pitcher Jay Witasick ’93, learned on the way to the major leagues served him well during a 12-year career there – and informs his work these days with TWC Sports Management in Timonium.
“I was mentally tough,” says Witasick. “No matter what happened in the game, I was ready the next day. When the game was over, the game was over. Even today in business, I never let any one game or one out define a whole career.”
As a transfer to UMBC as a rising sophomore, Witasick posted a 7-5 record for the Retrievers over two years. He was 4-1 with four complete games in 1993 and finished second in the nation with 12.3 strikeouts per game. He signed a professional contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, who picked him in the second round of the 1993 draft.
Witasick finally broke into the major leagues with the Oakland A’s in 1996 and pitched for seven teams over 12 years. A starter early in his pro career, he then shifted to the bullpen – from which he made 349 of his 405 appearances and retired with a 32-41 record and a 4.64 ERA.
Today, Witasick guides a new generation of players – both at TWC and as an assistant baseball coach at Harford Community College. Players under his tutelage benefit from the experiences of his battling baseball career, but his own memories center on the joys of that life in Major League Baseball.
“I enjoyed every day I played in the big leagues,” says Witasick, who played in two World Series. “I felt like a kid for 15 years straight. It’s fun. That’s the way it should be.”
Aspiring actors and videographers often yearn to be discovered. But three recent UMBC students and alumni aren’t waiting around for a big break. They’ve made their own success by collaborating on a comedy web series called Monday Wednesday Friday (www.facebookwastaken.com).
The skits are performed by former UMBC student Darrell Britt-Gibson (who also appeared as “O-Dogg” in HBO’s The Wire) and Joe King ’09, mechanical engineering, and produced by Tal Levitas ’08, political science and media and communications studies. Each episode is a freestanding story, but there are running themes to the sketches, with Britt-Gibson and King appearing as pilots, sportscasters, CIA agents and even wild animals.
“For the animal shoots, we had to be in make-up for twelve hours,” quips King.
The team for Monday Wednesday Friday is based largely in Los Angeles, the better to be close to the entertainment industry. The series started in January and recently wrapped up its third season of videos, but they are already drawing in other UMBC alumni to the process – including Adam Kurtz ’09, visual arts, who designed the show’s Tumblr website.
The Monday Wednesday Friday trio is also garnering kudos from even better-known UMBC alumni such as Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman ’97, history, who gave the show a shout out in a recent appearance at Auburn University.
Levitas says that the Monday Wednesday Friday team wants “to create sharp, funny comedy that is written, acted and produced well. We don’t want to present slow, long performances and we’re really serious about tackling this in a new modern medium.”
In early May, UMBC invested in the recent success of its women’s basketball program by signing Phil Stern to a new six-year contract that will keep him coaching at the RAC through the 2016-17 season.
UMBC’s women’s hoops team has just completed one of its best seasons in recent memory – vastly exceeding preseason expectations in which the team was forecast to finish fifth in the America East conference.
Stern’s squad won the conference’s regular season title and accumulated 20 wins for the first time since the 1985-86 season. He also led the team to its second post-season berth – a spot in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament – in the last five years. (The Retrievers stormed into the NCAA Women’s Tournament in 2006.)
This year’s overachieving squad featured senior forward Meghan Colabella (who reached 600 career rebounds) and senior point guard Michele Brokans (who tallied more than 300 career assists). Next year’s prospects may be even brighter, as the team will be led by a talented tandem including center Topé Obajolu, forward Erin Brown and guard Michelle Kurowski. Kurowski finished the season ranked sixth in the NCAA with an .894 free throw percentage – a school record and the third-best ever in the America East. She was also named as America East Scholar-Athlete for women’s basketball.
Continuing that combination of skill and smarts is one of Stern’s highest priorities. “We will continue to bring in quality young ladies,” he says, “who embody the true definition of the term ‘student-athlete.’”