The first Baller of the Month award for the 2016-2017 season goes to Katie Milliken, Captain and founder of The University of Pittsburgh Dodgeball club.
Katie has been the Captain and founder of this club for two seasons. She had difficulty getting her team to play last season due to having young players in a brand-new program. However, she did not let that deter her from reaching her goal of having her club become an official member of the NCDA. Katie reached that goal in September, which made it easy for the Content Team to decide who deserved this coveted award.
Having been the last BoTM from last season, I thought it was only appropriate I take the liberty of interviewing Katie:
Jacob Leski: Katie, congratulations on being the first Baller of the Month for the 2016-17 season! You have certainly earned this recognition after going through hoops and ladders to get your club going over the past two seasons.
So, The University of Pittsburgh is the 40th member of the National Collegiate Dodgeball Association. How does that feel? I know you have been through quite a bit to get this team to where it is now.
Katie Milliken: It feels so amazing to FINALLY be able to play as a legitimate member. I’ve been this kind of fringe groupie/quasi involved member/volunteer since I was sixteen and played at summer dodgeball events at Kent State and at random tournaments where teams weren’t required (for example, May Day). Honestly, the setbacks we’ve had have been worth it to be able to play and be able to be taken seriously as a team. I was gutted when we weren’t able to travel last fall, and even more so when I couldn’t even gather a group to come watch nationals at BGSU last year because everyone was so disillusioned about our prospects.
JL: What were some of your biggest obstacles establishing the clubs legitimacy over the last two seasons?
KM: Momentum was a HUGE factor last year, by October we started to see a drop off in interest, and we never even saw hardcore tournament play. I struggled to field teams of six for domestic tournaments within Pitt’s student life organizations and charity events. There was a complete lack of commitment and I came up short more than once in being able to incentivize participation. Beyond that, financial strain on my own wallet had a huge role. I was warned by Sean Smith early on that dodgeball would put a dent in my finances to keep the club afloat, and oh boy, was he right. It became a matter of not being able to attend tournaments because I couldn’t even afford the gas.
JL: Other than yourself, who were some of your greatest supports in getting your club to where it is at?
KM: I owe so much to my boys, even though this will give them all HUGE heads. Eric Vance has been a member for two years, starting as a freshman, and is entirely fundamental to any success that we’ve had. He’s been to every open gym, even the ones where he and I were the only ones standing alone in the gym. He’s a talented and bright kid; I appreciate everything he has contributed and more.
Beyond Eric, I have Ford Faucher to thank for everything he has contributed to our organization. He organized a local tournament to raise money for domestic violence survivors last February, entirely on his own, as a freshman. He is my go-to man to round guys up to play at tournaments and open gyms, and I couldn’t be more thankful for his dedication.
Finally, (and I promise I’ll stop after this) I have to thank Andrew Klang, who has played with (nearly) broken fingers, ripped-off fingernails, and an injured elbow on his throwing arm (without a compression sleeve or support). He has an excellent throw and a player to watch, as he’s just begun his sophomore year. I would carry him on my back to a tournament if I had to. All the rest of my players never fail to impress me and give me hope that Pitt dodgeball will continue long after I’ve passed the torch. Even if they weren’t mentioned by name here, I still gush about them all like a proud mom. Ask Eric.
JL: Did you ever have any doubts that your club would not ever become an official member of the League? And if so, what were they and why?
KM: I honestly never thought we’d fail outright. I figured that even if I didn’t succeed, someone would come along who would succeed in carrying it up the mountain (so to speak). I’ve had my doubts whether I would succeed, however. It’s hard to be taken seriously as a female in a male dominated organization, and especially when I’m not extraordinarily athletic either. I’ve had to rely on hope that the guys would respect me enough to listen when I make calls, or try to teach them techniques. So far I haven’t had much trouble, but I’m always afraid it’ll become a point of contention. I really appreciate having Eric and Ford in this aspect especially, as they are the model for the rest of the team.
JL: What is your organizations goal(s) going forward?
KM: This year, I want to bring a team to nationals and to win a match. Next year, I want to have a team with a winning record. Eventually, I want Pitt Dodgeball Club to be a force to be reckoned with; and a contender for a National championship. Obviously that last goal won’t be during my undergraduate career at Pitt, but a girl can dream, can’t she?
JL: It’s a worthy goal for sure! Any advice to the leaders of new clubs trying to become official members of the NCDA?
KM: Do not ever stop pushing and do not let anyone tell you no. If the school doesn’t want to let you practice on campus, go to the YMCA. If the student organization office doesn’t read your constitution, bring them hard copies every week until they read it and approve it. If you don’t have any funding and the school won’t help you, use your Christmas money to buy balls. If you don’t have enough cars for a tournament, make several trips. If you can’t travel to any tournament, host your own. In short, be unstoppable.
Acknowledgements: I’d really like to thank everyone in the NCDA that has contributed to the formation and validation of Pitt Dodgeball Club: especially John Uncangco, Sean Smith, Jacob Leski, Mitch Malleo, Sam Saccareccia, Hunter Ford, Caleb Arnold, Tony Bugajski, Mitch Aldridge, TJ Keane, Josh Conner, Felix Perrone, and the entire Kent State, Akron and Ohio University teams.