Story behind the story: Joe Mussatto

By Amanda Johnson

Joe Mussatto always knew he loved two things —  writing and sports. After graduating from a small high school that didn’t provide many opportunities for journalism, he attended the University of Oklahoma, and ultimately, discovered his passion for sports journalism.

Mussatto began working at The Oklahoma Daily, OU’s student newspaper, his second semester freshman year. He initially was a sports reporter covering softball but worked his way up to sports editor, and eventually, editor-in-chief his senior year. After graduating in May 2016 with a degree in journalism, he moved to Lexington, Kentucky, to work for sports website SEC Country until it shut down in June.

Today, Mussatto works as a beat writer for OU football, men’s basketball and softball at The Oklahoman the same paper he grew up reading. Although he has only been there since August, he believes, for now, it is the perfect fit for him.

Amanda Johnson: I really enjoyed your piece “OU at the forefront of psychology in college athletics.” Can you tell me a little bit about the background of this story, and how you came up with it?

Joe Mussatto: We started talking about doing a story on (Psychological Resources for OU Student-Athletes) … because I think Lincoln Riley had mentioned it earlier in the year. We knew a little bit about it, but we wanted to go into it more. Rachel Bachman at The Wall Street Journal did a thorough story on the rise of sports psychology and college athletics, and OU was a school she briefly touched on. We had this idea, and then thought, ‘OK we really need to do this because it’s like a thing, people are writing about it, and I think people are going to be interested in it.’ I think when you have a story on a national level there’s always a way to break it down a little bit on a local level to kind of go all in.

AJ: Did the writing process for this story change at all as you researched it further?

JM: The writing process changed a little bit once I did my interviews because after I talked to Cody Commander, he told me OU was, to his knowledge, the first athletic department to hire a sports psychologist. So that was kind of what I led with — the destigmatization of it and also the rise of it in college athletics. Then, I was able to go down to the nut graph of it and tell, ‘Here’s why you’re reading about this.’ It’s happening everywhere, but OU is kind of the first school that went all in on this, and they have the largest staff housed in the athletics department. I just went in from there more on a general line. But, I wanted at the beginning to be able to tell OU fans or anyone reading this locally, ‘Here’s how it affects OU.’ Once you have them hooked on that, I feel like you can go into the broader subject.

AJ: Were there any challenges you faced writing this story?

JM: Because of (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) and certain laws, OU can’t give me a list of all the players that come in and see them. So, after football practices, I would try to pull three or four guys aside after they were done in bigger interviews and ask them if they had ever gone to (Psychological Resources for OU Student-Athletes) and if they took advantage of the services. It was hard to get them to really talk about it, because I don’t know if its the stigma around mental health or just not everyone being comfortable talking about that.

AJ: How do you usually approach writing feature stories?

JM: It’s tough because there’s different themes and subjects and materials you are working with. With this story, it was more like I had all this information and wanted to get it out. It’s a feature in a sense that I’m not writing about the team necessarily or what they did on Saturday score-wise … but it’s different than sitting down and writing a profile on an athlete. I think the writing style is a little different for something like this. I’m a little more straightforward with it, and I don’t feel the need to play around with the language. With the subject I’m writing about … I would consider this piece a little more of a trend story, but I think reporting is the most important part of any feature. If you haven’t done the reporting, if you don’t have the details, if you don’t have answers to all the questions the reader might have — writing can’t make up for that. I think good reporting supplements good writing, but if you don’t have the details to begin with, no matter how flowery your language is or how creative you get, you can’t really make up for holes and things you can’t answer.

AJ: What do you hope to accomplish in your career, and where do you see yourself down the road?

JM: I think about that a lot. I don’t know if I have one specific answer, but I guess my goal is to tell good stories that people care about. Personally, I like to get away from the games, things like who the backup tight end is. That stuff is so important on a beat, and fans are crazy and want to know all that information. But, I think the goal in my career is to write stories that bridge the gap between die-hard sports fans and people who don’t really care about sports but want to read about an athlete who has an incredible story. I like writing about the people who play the sport more than the sport itself. That’s what I want to keep doing in my career, even if it’s not sports, I just like finding interesting people who do interesting things and telling their story.

AJ: Any advice for young journalists beginning their careers?

JM: The best advice is probably to say yes to anything. I think it’s pretty hard to get started in this business if you’re totally set on something in particular. Most likely, that one thing you really want, that dream job you’re imagining, unless you’re just insanely talented with an amazing amount of luck, it’s not going to happen for your first job. There’s absolutely no shame to start your career wherever and to write about whatever. Once you get in and work hard, those opportunities are going to come. You don’t know when they are going to come, where they are going to come from, but they are going to come.

Q&A with Chloe Klingstedt

By Haley Harvey

Chloe Klingstedt, formerly Chloe Moores, attended the University of Oklahoma pursuing a degree in journalism. After graduating in the spring of 2017, when she was also the arts & entertainment editor at The Oklahoma Daily, Klingstedt married and moved to North Carolina. There, she worked as a reporter for a small newspaper in her town, the Statesville Record & Landmark, before landing her current job as editorial assistant at Our State Magazine.

During her time at the newspaper, Klingstedt wrote a compelling feature on an immigrant mother who overcame being undocumented, homeless and a victim of domestic abuse. Nesa Coleman’s story reminded her of the importance of journalism in shedding the light on subjects that could be misunderstood or hard to talk about.

https://www.statesville.com/news/once-homeless-undocumented-nesa-coleman-succeeding-on-her-own/article_746a6c08-8e93-11e8-befc-674e3a111b39.html

HH: How have you been adjusting to life after graduating?

CK: It’s kind of a long story, but I’ll make it short. I got married in May — my husband and I went to OU and we dated all through college, and he proposed. He is getting his master’s degree in North Carolina. He was applying for master’s programs our senior year of college, so I kind of knew we’d be moving out here, so I started looking at different media organizations. I stumbled upon Our State Magazine and just immediately fell in love with it — the gorgeous photography and wonderful writing. I applied for a position and didn’t get it, but they said they would keep me in mind. I thought, ‘OK, yeah, whatever,’ and in the meantime got a job as a news reporter at a small local paper here called the Statesville Record & Landmark and worked there for a year. About two months ago, I got an email from the Our State managing editor, and they said, ‘We have this position open. Do you want to apply?’ I was just floored that they remembered me, and I applied. After a few interviews, I got the job. It’s in Greensboro, which is about an hour northeast of Statesville.

HH: What has been your favorite story you’ve written so far?

CK: Oh, gosh. At the Statesville Record & Landmark my beats were court and agriculture, which kind of sounds like an odd combination, but in North Carolina there is a very heavy agriculture industry. The county I was living in produced the most milk for the state. They were a big dairy county. So, that’s what I did. I was also one of four reporters there, and when I left I was one of two. I kind of did anything and everything. I wrote everything from court stories, to business openings, to feature stories about artists or unique people, to bigger, agricultural issues in the county. I just did a little bit of everything.

HH: Let’s talk about your story about the undocumented, homeless immigrant woman from Barbados who overcame several struggles. How did you find Nesa Coleman?

CK: It just kind of fell into my lap. I had been working there for a few months and I got this press release about this man who was homeless and got hit by a car in a tragic accident. Through a court settlement, he received a fairly hefty amount of money but lived in a disabled home after the accident, and his life was never the same. After learning about that and talking to some of his caretakers, I started thinking, ‘What does homelessness look like in Statesville and Iredell county?’ which was the county I was living in, and ‘What resources are available?’ I just fell down a rabbit hole. I just started researching all the resources I could get my hands on and started talking to different organizations in the community — the housing authority, different healthcare organizations, the homeless shelters, just everyone. I really just needed to find someone who was going to be this face of homelessness. So, me and our staff photographer went out one day to this homeless camp in the woods and met this man named Daniel. I started reporting on him and right as I started doing that, these two women just walked into our newsroom one day and one of them was Nesa. It was crazy because they said, ‘We’ve discovered this homeless camp in the woods and we feel like we need to help them out. Have you written anything about it?’ I said how I was actually starting to write about it, and Nesa told me that homelessness was important to her because she used to be homeless. When I first started reporting on homelessness, it was going to be like a three-part series. My editor decided that one part of the story would be like a ‘success story,’ like someone who has broken the cycle of homelessness, so I reached out to Nesa. She was once homeless and was also an immigrant survivor of domestic abuse, and I asked her if she wanted to be a part of the story, and she did. I just kind of reached out to her and talked to her, and we just went from there.

HH: Why do you think it’s important for people to know about people like Nesa and the struggles they have faced?

CK: I think it’s important to shed light on something like this because it’s not talked about. Statesville is a fairly small community, the population was approximately 25,000 people, and it is very conservative. Most people didn’t really talk about serious things. So what was really neat was that I got to shed light on these topics because they are something that people don’t talk about, but they’re there if you look for them. I think in every community, no matter how wealthy or well-off it is, educated, or whatever, there are people who are homeless and living in an unstable situation. I reported on this story for months and months and finally got it published, and because I lived in a small community, I had people coming up to me at church and in the community saying, ‘I know Nesa. My kids go to school with her kids and I never knew that about her,’ and how what a powerful story it was. That was really cool. If I had been living in a bigger community, they might not have reached out to me. I think that just reaffirms the fact that that’s what journalism is for — to get those stories out and to bring them to life. They’re not what people think of when they hear of people living in society day-to-day.  

HH: Were you faced with any challenges during the making of this story?

CK: Oh, yeah, but not so much in the actual story itself. Nesa was always very open with me. She welcomed me into her home, let me interact with her kids. I asked her a lot of really personal questions and she was always very straightforward with me, and that was just so cool. I felt so honored that she let me do that. More of my struggles came from the broader struggles that are facing the newspaper industry in general. I started reporting on her story in January, and I don’t think it got published until the summer or early fall. A lot of that had to do with the fact that we were short-staffed, and I was having to report on a ton of things. I wasn’t really able to give the attention that I wanted to that story. Even looking back, you know, I’m my own biggest critic, but there were things that I was not even happy with when it did get published. It was just having to feed the beast of putting a paper out every day. There were a lot of times when I came in in the morning and had no idea what we were putting in the paper the next day. My whole day consisted of turning in content for a few things in the paper, and that’s kind of the struggle of the newspaper, and then on the side having to fight for the story. I had to remind my editor why it was important and why this story needed to be told. So that’s mostly where my struggle came from, not necessarily from reporting on the story itself.

HH: Did you learn anything or come away with any new experiences upon completing the story?

CK: I think what I learned from reporting on this story was, I think a lot of times when you talk about hard subjects like sexual assault, homelessness, gun violence, or any of those really hard, ugly topics in our society, a lot of times we don’t think to ask where the resources are for these people who need help. I was really impressed to see that a lot of those resources are there, and I think I learned that more of their problem was connecting the dots between those resources. It wasn’t necessarily that there wasn’t healthcare available to people who don’t have insurance or are homeless, it wasn’t that there was necessarily nowhere for them to get a job. In those situations, her husband never applied for her green card, and she didn’t have a car or a source of income because she didn’t have a green card. It was connecting the dots of all of those things so that she could start taking the steps to be independent, and to kind of get out of that homeless situation. So that was a huge thing I learned and kind of changed my perspective on homelessness in general.

HH: Did you receive any reactions to the story from any of your sources or the public?

CK: My first reactions were kind of what I said earlier about the people at church who pulled me aside and told me their kids went to school with her kids, and they thought the story was so important, so that’s cool. I had colleagues that I worked with at The Daily who were really sweet and gave me a lot of great feedback about the story. Statesville is a really conservative community, so when we did share the story on Facebook, a lot of the public were very insensitive and ignorant when it came to being undocumented or being an immigrant in the country, which was part of Nesa’s story. They weren’t very understanding of that. But what was really cool that came out of that was that there were people in the comments that called them out on it, or kind of talked about what that means, so that was cool as well. I expected people to react negatively to that aspect of things, but it was cool to see other people in the community have that discussion.

HH: From your experience so far in the world of professional journalism, do you have any advice for journalism students preparing for a career upon graduating?

CK: Honestly, I think the biggest shock — and everyone tells you — is that you’re not going to get paid a lot. But even then, I was really shocked. When I first started at the Statesville Record & Landmark, I made $12.26 an hour. I didn’t know reporters made hourly wages for starting, that was kind of news to me. Which isn’t a bad thing because it means you’re getting compensated for your work, but I made $12 an hour when I interned at the Tulsa World the summer before, and now I had a ‘big girl job’ and it wasn’t much of a step up. My biggest obstacle was honestly making sure I could pay my bills, and that aspect of things was a rude awakening. It’s different to be able to do this at your college newspaper and love it, but then you actually have to try to support yourself. Fortunately, I made it work, but that was kind of a wake-up call. I think you just have to know that going into it, especially for newspapers. You have to really love it because that’s what was fulfilling to me. Obviously I needed to buy groceries and put gas in my car, but the cherry on top was that I believed in what I was doing and thought it was really important work. You have to believe in that or it’s going to be really tough. I guess from more of a newspaper industry perspective, it’s grim right now. I was so sick of everyone telling me in undergrad that print was dead, the newspaper industry is dying, blah, blah, blah. It was easy to brush that aside when I worked at The Daily when advertising and money wasn’t a big part of it. We just kind of got to focus on putting out really great work and engaging with our audience. In the professional world, standards are there. When I started out working at the Statesville Record & Landmark there were four reporters, and when I left it was me and one other guy — the editor who had hired me left. There was a lot of turnover and it was crazy. Even in just the year I was there out of college so much had changed. There are a lot of reasons to be discouraged, so I would encourage anyone who really cares about this industry and think what journalists do is important to have that reality going into it, and to have a really good support system of friends and peers who can cheer you along because it’s definitely not for the lighthearted.

 

Story behind the story: Jim DeRogatis

By PAXSON HAWS

Article: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/jimderogatis/parents-told-police-r-kelly-is-keeping-women-in-a-cult

First story: https://chicago.suntimes.com/entertainment/sun-times-archive-r-kelly-accused-of-sex-with-teenage-girls/

For almost 18 years, Jim DeRogatis has been covering the sexual abuse young African American women has been enduring from rapper R. Kelly. DeRogatis started covering these scandals after he reviewed Kelly’s album, TP-2.com, for the Chicago Sun-Times in 2000.

In his review, DeRogatis said “the shift from church to bedroom are so jarring they can give you whiplash.” Two weeks after this review was published, DeRogatis received an anonymous fax saying Kelly’s issue was young girls.

This fax had very specific details with names, dates and court cases. It led DeRogatis to a Polish sex crime unit who was investigating Kelly and a law suit filed on Dec. 24, 1994 that was never reported on. The sex crime unit said they couldn’t talk to him. The law suit filed said Kelly would return to the high school he attended and have sex with 14-15-year-old girls from the choir. One girl he had a relationship with tried to commit suicide before Kelly made her sign a non-disclosure agreement and paid her off.

There had always been the rumor that Kelly married singer Aaliyah when she was 15 and the marriage license lied about her age. DeRogatis and the Chicago Sun-Time were successful in finding the annulment paperwork for this marriage. This occurred after the 1994 court case proving Aaliyah was not the first girl.

DeRogatis talked with other women mentioned in Aaliyah’s lawsuit and the 1994 lawsuit. When DeRogatis reported on all of this in 2000, he said crafting the nut graph took longer than any sentence he has ever written. It took himself, multiple editors and the lawyer to produce this graph.

No one did anything after this was published. Kelly denied everything and threatened to sue but never did. In the 18 years DeRogatis has been reporting on Kelly, not a single word has been challenged by a law suit or corrected in the paper.

A year later, DeRogatis received a call at home to check his mail box. Inside was an unmarked envelope with a 26 minute and 39 second video of Kelly having sex with the girl from the anonymous fax who was never confirmed. They gave the tape to the police and reported on it the same day Kelly sang at the 2002 Winter Olympics closing ceremony in Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

In June 2002, Kelly was indicted for 21 counts of child pornography instead of statutory rape. The girl in the tape and her family did not participate in the case and were living overseas from the day the Sun-Times reported the tape.

Every six to eight weeks for 6 years, the judge convened the prosecution and defense and went into closed chambers. All files from those six years were sealed and remain sealed despite a lawsuit from the Sun-Times. The trial lasted five weeks with 75 called witnesses and two dozen presented witnesses.

DeRogatis was compelled to testify despite the special witness law that protects reporters. He took the fifth amendment to protect his sources. DeRogatis emphasized how prevalent rape culture was in this case and the jury did not convict because they did not hear from the girl in the video.

DeRogatis says he did not pick this story, it picked him. For a decade after the trail, victims of Kelly and their families came to him with their stories.

To get sources to talk with him and go on the record, he rang doorbells and made phone calls. Overtime, he proved he cared and believed victims because he talked with them, got facts correct and would rather he be held in contempt of court than reveal his sources.

In November 2016, the parents of a girl from outside Atlanta, Georgia came to him because their daughter started a relationship with Kelly and they hadn’t heard from her in months. This was the start of DeRogatis’ reporting for his piece published with BuzzFeed News in July 2017.

Another pair of parents came to him and told DeRogatis about the ‘cult’ Kelly had. DeRogatis has spoken with other women who broke away from the ‘cult’ and personal assistants who saw first-hand what the six women in the ‘cult’ went through.

This story took nine months of reporting and three different news organizations before BuzzFeed published it. He started out reporting with MTV News before they dropped out after three months. He spent another three months with the Chicago Reader and then three months at another paper before going to BuzzFeed. DeRogatis’ story was published only four days after the last paper pulled out.

Now, DeRogatis is working on writing his 11th book, which will be about R. Kelly and his thirty years of abuse. The two sets of parents that came to him in 2016 have still not spoken with their daughters.

DeRogatis is from New Jersey and studied journalism at New York University. He started his career at the Jersey Journal as a reporter. He started at the Chicago Sun-Times in 1991 as a pop music critique. Today, he is a contributor at BuzzFeed News and an assistant professor at Columbia College Chicago.

DeRogatis’ advice for journalist is to make sure people know how to find you and to always answer phone calls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Story behind the story: Anna Bauman

Story behind the story: Anna Bauman

Lauren Owen

There are many prominent names within civil rights history. Some however, often go unnoticed. One such person is Clara Luper. Anna Bauman, a reporter at the OU Daily, wrote a story about Luper and her legacy.

The story opens with a reenactment of the event Luper is known for-a sit-in to fight for equal rights. The reenactment is done in a class for the African and African American studies department.

J.D. Baker, who knew Luper, is one of the students who helped reenact the event. While this was just a reenactment, the stories told are still relevant today.

At the beginning of this semester, Bauman pitched this idea while brainstorming with other OU Daily members about longer pieces. The story came about when the African and African American studies department was elevated to department and then named after Luper this past March.

Before she began the project, Bauman had not heard of Luper. During an interview for the three-part story about influential black women of OU, Dean Stanley Evans of the OU law school revealed he was a part of the sit-in Luper organized.

The subject of that interview was then changed to Luper. Evans told her what it was like to participate in that sit-in, which added another voice to the story.

The project, which took approximately 3 months of switching between daily journalism and interviewing for the Luper story, took a lot of interviewing and research to make. Bauman read the autobiography of Luper to help prepare.

“Their stories are just really interesting and they interested me for sure so I was doing the research and looking into them.” Bauman said.

The idea of having a 3-part story about influential women at OU began after Bauman read a special called “Overlooked” by the New York Times where they wrote obituaries of influential people. This was a special because, beforehand, the only people who got an obituary written by the Times were white men.

Just as the Times aimed to recognize a more diverse group of people, so does the Daily. Bauman said the “Overlooked” series inspired her to reach out to people Luper knew and share her story.

“It was really inspiring to read about and see how strong and courageous and brave that these women were.” Bauman said.

The challenges she faced while writing this story is that she was unable to get in contact with Luper’s daughter. However, she was able to get other interviews with other people that knew Luper.

While the story was not as timely as it could have been, Bauman said that she wanted to make sure she got the project done before she graduated.

“These people can be recognized at any time of the year.” Bauman said.

Bauman has been working at the Daily for three years since she was a sophomore. She was originally an engineering major, but decided to switch to English because of her enjoyment of writing and other liberal arts.

In high school, Bauman was on a part of the school paper. She also did internships at the Oklahoman and Omaha World-Herald.

This coming spring, she said she is participating in the Gaylord in D.C. program to report on the Oklahoma legislature. She said she is not sure what she will do after college.

“It’s a scary thought, but it will be okay.” Bauman said.

The advice Bauman said she would give to future aspiring journalists is that they need to always be curious about the world around them. She also said that reading the news and interacting with ideas they had never considered before would help as well.

The biggest piece of advice she gave was to get hands-on experience. Her advice for OU students in particular is to work at a place like the Daily, due to the hands-on nature of the journalism profession.

To make a great story, Bauman said that the stories need to engage not only the audience, but the writer as well. She said that if they are passionate about the subject, better stories will be told.

 

Giving the team a family feel

By PAXSON HAWS

When Lindsey Gray-Walton, University of Oklahoma volleyball head coach, and her husband arrived in Norman this year, they knew exactly what the program was missing – something the team needed if it were going to succeed.

Under the previous coach, the volleyball team finished the 2017 season with a 7-22 record. Currently, the team has a 13-10 record with five games remaining. Gray-Walton said the team members was very “cutting” in their communication with one another when she and her husband first arrived.

“I think that’s one big thing that was struggling here at Oklahoma is the kids just wanted to be loved and that was one of the biggest things we pushed when we got here,” Kyle Walton, volunteer assistant coach, said.

Gray-Walton was announced as OU’s volleyball head coach on Dec. 24. Gray-Walton announced her coaching staff on Jan. 22, which included two assistant coaches and a volunteer coach. Among this staff is Gray-Walton’s husband, Kyle, who served as the head coach at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky from 2014-17.  

This season is not the first time Gray-Walton and her husband have coached together. The couple coached together at the University of Kentucky from 2012-14 where Lindsey served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator while Walton was a volunteer coach. But this will be the first season where the couple is in a coaching position that gives them the power to make decisions.

Though Walton served as a head coach before moving to Oklahoma with his wife, he wanted to be with his wife as she created her own program for the first time.

“Lindsey and I wanted to coach together,” Walton said. “We wanted to do it together and see what we were capable of.”

While hiring a family member may seem questionable, Alyssa Enneking, senior outside hitter says it helps keep an “open relationship” and gives the team a personal connection to the coaching staff.

The university has a policy in place to prevent two family members related through blood or marriage working in the same department. The policy is in place to ensure one family member is not in a position to make suggestions about the others employment, salary, etc. OU’s Board of Regents knows there could be value in having two members of the same family in one department, so there is a way around this policy.

The appropriate vice president can recommend a waiver be signed. This waiver would include designating an objective individual to make employment and salary recommendations for the family member on the waiver. Once the Board of Regents approves the waiver, the family member can be hired.

This waiver has been used several times throughout campus, especially with the current coaching staffs in the athletic department. Patty Gasso and her son JT coach the softball team. Lon Kruger, men’s basketball coach, has his son Kevin on staff as does Sherri Coale, the women’s basketball coach, who also hired her son Colton. Women’s gymnastics has K.J. Kindler and her husband, Lou Ball.

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Taking over a program is a large undertaking. Gray-Walton had to create a relationship with each student-athlete, create a work dynamic with a new coaching staff and coach the team on her  “philosophies.” Walton’s previous experience in doing this played a part in her decision to bring him on.

“Those first 15 months are a grind and you need someone who’s lived that life before,” Gray-Walton said. “It just so happened that he had.”

With a 5-year-old girl, Berkley, and one on the way, Gray-Walton says the mixture of their family life and professional life makes life easier overall.

“Before it was like I’m here on this day and you’re here on that day and what are we going to do with her,” Gray-Walton said. “Now, it’s like we’re both in the same place. Either we can have a family member come in if we need someone to watch our daughter. We all know where we’re going to be.”

Before taking the job at Oklahoma, Gray-Walton and her husband spent the past three season coaching at different schools. Walton said he has different “philosophies on certain skills and how things should be taught” but he has learned a lot from his wife, especially in terms of communicating with the players.

“I think the time away helped up both establish what we believe in and what we need to do at the highest level,” Gray-Walton said. “Now we’re kind of combining those powers.”

One reason Gray-Walton and her husband work so well together is the constant discussions they have. Walton said he and his wife do not always agree on everything when coaching which helps create discussion. Gray-Walton says they balance each other out because she can become serious quickly and he is able to keep her laughing.

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With both Gray-Walton and her husband having very similar schedules now, it’s not uncommon to see their daughter watching and helping out at practices. Berkley can be found passing volleyballs to her father during drills and watching the team practice from the sidelines.

“Having Berkley around helps us understand that it’s bigger than just us,” Enneking said. “We do it for more than just us. We’ll look over and see Berkley just looking at us with stars in her eyes. She really admires us. It really puts into perspective what we do here and it’s not just volleyball.”

The couple believes the team has a better connection than previous years. They also agree that there is a family feeling within the team and with Sooner Nation.

“The inclusion of family, for sure, is felt my everyone in our program,” Gray-Walton said. “Ultimately, you got to be able to laugh at yourself. Families are weird. They’re kind of funky at times so we just try to have a really good time.”

Walton says to create these relationships, he has to be able to relate to the girls so he calls himself a “players coach.” This means he watches some of the TV shows and listens to some of the same music as members of the team to help create conversations.

“They’re kind of like our fun aunt and uncle off the court,” Enneking said. “They are some of the coolest people ever. We love being a part of their family.”

Enneking and her team had been bonding with Gray-Walton and her family for several months when they learned their volleyball family would be growing by one.

In October, Gray-Walton purchased a pair of baby-sized Nike shoes with blue and pink laces and presented them to Keyton Kinley, a sophomore on the team who has small feet and struggles to find the correct shoe size.

The team laughed at the joke before realizing the shoes weren’t for Kinley. Gray-Walton was letting the team know she was expecting another child.

Enneking said she liked being included in the announce. It made the team truly feel like they were a part of Gray-Walton’s family.

Human Interest: Firefighters taking on a threat within their own departments

By OLAN FIELD

When local firefighters and paramedics respond to a 9-1-1 call, they normally meet an individual having one of the worst days of their life.

For Mike Nettles, a Guthrie firefighter, this reality would hit close to home on a cold winter’s day, when he found himself responding to a rollover accident where a small girl, the same age as his daughter, would die.

“I would say kids are the worst part of this job,” Nettles said. “They can’t protect themselves. They rely on adults to keep them safe. When that’s not done, you just know that there is a life that has been wasted because of somebody else. If an adult decides not to wear a seatbelt and drive 130 mph on an icy highway and gets in a wreck. That is a decision the driver made. The child can’t make those decisions for themselves.”

The small girl was unbuckled playing in the rear cargo hold in an SUV. During the rollover, this rear portion took the brunt of the roll. Everyone else in the vehicle would survive.

The sights first responders see and the voices they hear can remain with them long after an accident. The men and woman who put on the uniform are human just like the rest of us – a bunch of type-A personalities who volunteer for this line of work to serve to help those in need and protect those most vulnerable. Society labels these people as heroes. Young kids look up to them and often say, “I want to be a firefighter when I grow up.” But what happens when a hero is the one in need?

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a mental illness that has typically been associated with military members returning from war. Firefighters and paramedics are not the first people who come to mind, but increasingly, departments around the nation are seeing signs of the mental illness among their coworkers and are acting to curb the problem.

The threat of PTSD is not believed to be a new problem, according to the Association of Fire Fighters, rather the problem is beginning to gain attention and be taken seriously.

“I do feel like the if there is a stigma that exists within not just firefighters, but in all three (police, paramedics and firefighters) overall that exist,” said Greg Machtolff, a firefighter and police officer in Guthrie, when asked about a stigma that prevents first responders from seeking help.

According to a study from the International Association of Fire Fighters in 2016, almost 20 percent of firefighters experience signs of PTSD, such as disturbed sleep, increased irritability, self-destructive or reckless behavior.

“I don’t know what it would take (to change the stigma). Probably just more talking about it. We usually hash all our problems out at this table you’re sitting at right now,” said Nettles, sitting at a solid oak table in the kitchen of the Guthrie Fire Department.

The table and kitchen are just inside the building from the garage. It is the first room Guthrie firefighters enter after responding to a call.

The most common signs of PTSD in firefighters are replaying the event in their mind, difficulty sleeping, or upsetting thoughts and feelings, according to the Association of Fire Fighters.

Guthrie’s firefighters have resources for help if requested. Machtolff explained resources in Oklahoma City’s and Edmond’s fire departments are accessible.

“It would have to take city and state government actions,” said Machtolff, in response to taking greater action in addressing PTSD. “Without their support that is not going to happen.”

The cultural stigma to suppress any form of emotion in a predominantly male-dominated field, is a real problem. In 2017, more firefighters died from suicide than out during a call. At least 103 firefighter suicides in comparison to 93 firefighters in the line of duty.

In 2017, Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery opened to better address the needs that come with mental health, substance abuse and alcoholism of firefighters and paramedics.

“I mean there’s always the ‘tough guys’ stigma with any kind of emergency services,” said Machtolff.

“(First responders) are definitely A-type personalities and probably a lot of those people, you know, bottle stuff, so that they can maintain the appearance of that A-type personality. It is totally not necessary,” Nettles said.

The cultural stigma that surrounds seeking help for PTSD results in first responders being afraid of being perceived as weak. Along with not having a clear course for recovery, others fear the results of missing work for extended periods.

“Getting back to the job or, you know, losing out on some of their retirement. There is not a set program. I think that we need to have a program to where we know that if you have this problem, you can do something,” Machtolff said. “Verbalize the process of when you tell somebody that I can’t, you know? I’m having a problem. I can’t sleep. I’m stressed out. You know, that incident really bothering me. There’s nothing that says OK, from step A through Z, then we try to get you back to your work.”

With the 2016 study from the International Association of Fire Fighters, some departments have acted, to ensure that firefighters have the access to help that they may need.

“I think we definitely have taken steps in the right direction for mental health,” said Parker Melendez, a first-year firefighter and paramedic in Guthrie. “This department, there are still some changes that could be made, and some stigmas lifted to maybe make that a little bit better.”

The future is not clear on how city and state governments will act in the struggle of understanding and caring for firefighters with PTSD. Until then, first responders will continue to work like heroes.

First responders with continue to conduct one of the hardest jobs society can ask of an individual and at times these people will need to take a break, just as Nettles needed when he arrived at that rollover accident.

“The young lady was the age of my daughter,” Nettles said as he reflected on the memory. “She wore the same white Hanes socks, with the purple toned purple heal as my daughter, Susan.”

Human interest: OU employee shares struggle with breast cancer as number of young women diagnosed increases

By Sierra Rains-Moad

Chelsee Lewis Wilson was in a meeting with her coworkers at the OU K20 Research Center when her phone rang — she was expecting a call, but it was a full day early.

Wilson left the meeting with a sense of urgency and called back. Her doctor picked up.

“‘We got your results back and you have breast cancer,’” Wilson remembers her doctor saying.

Wilson was in shock and envisioned the diagnosis as a death sentence.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to die at 29’,” Wilson said.

Wilson is one of around 250,000 women who have been unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age. Every October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities reminds individuals of the disease that affects 1 in 8 U.S. women.

Yet, many young women remain unaware they can be at risk for developing breast cancer as early as their 20s, OU Breast Health Network radiologist Elizabeth Jett said.

Most women do not get screened for breast cancer until they are in their 40s, Jett said, and in most cases young women have been advised to wait. However, the number of women contracting breast cancer in their late 20s and early 30s is increasing for unknown reasons, she said.

Physicians generally consider genetic risk factors and family history when looking for the cause of the disease, but an increasing amount of young women who are developing the condition in the U.S. have no family history of breast cancer, Jett said.

Jett said breast cancer can be particularly harmful to younger women because it not only derails many of their professional and life plans, but it is often more aggressive.

If breast cancer is not caught quickly in younger women it can be deadly because the cancer spreads throughout the individual’s lungs, brain and organs, Jett said.

“We go through our 20s and we kind of think we’re invincible and we’re going to live forever,” Jett said. “When all of the sudden you’re faced with the reality that that’s not necessarily true.”

Before she was diagnosed, Wilson said she didn’t even go to the doctor for a cold. Wilson was living a “pretty normal life,” working with schools across the state to help build interactive learning communities and, in October 2017, celebrating her first anniversary with her husband.

It was a coincidence that Wilson’s annual appointment with her physician was coming up in March 2018 when she first felt a lump in her breast while in the shower.

“I thought ‘OK, well I’ll just address it, it’s probably just a cyst,’” Wilson said.

Wilson said her doctor initially thought the lump was a cyst as well, but after conducting a mammogram and an ultrasound, her radiologist said she was concerned.

“The big problem we see so often in young women is they didn’t think they could have cancer — their health care provider says ‘Oh this is just a lump, a bump in your breast tissue,’” Jett said. “They tend to get blown off a little bit because people don’t think about breast cancer in women in their 20s.”

A biopsy was done and Wilson was sent home expecting to receive a phone call with the results in 48 hours.

Kristen Sublett, Wilson’s coworker at the K2O Research Center, was in a meeting with Wilson when the call came. Sublett and Wilson’s other coworkers had been witnesses to Wilson’s medical appointments for weeks.

No one would have ever expected Wilson would be diagnosed with breast cancer, Sublett said, but when Wilson left the meeting to take the call, her coworkers knew right away.

“She’s very, very young and healthy,” Sublett said. “It was just complete shock.”

After her coworkers learned of her diagnosis, Wilson’s husband was the next to know. Calling her husband and telling him “you need to leave work” is a part of that day Wilson said will forever be ingrained in her mind.

For many young women, the diagnosis of breast cancer can spell the end of a relationship, Jett said.

“For some people it derails their plans professionally, for other people it destroys relationships,” Jett said. “There’s a lot of women whose husbands have divorced them after they were diagnosed with cancer.”

It wasn’t easy, but Wilson said her husband was always there for support. “‘This is a crappy first year of marriage, so let’s just get through it,’” Wilson recalls her husband saying.

Wilson’s particular form of breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma, is one of the most common, but like many other young women, she is triple positive, meaning her breast cancer grows very aggressively and feeds off hormones like estrogen and progesterone.

Because her cancer was so advanced, Wilson said she had no option but to go right into chemo. This meant many long hours at her physician’s office every three weeks throughout summer 2018.

First would come the saline, then the anti-nausea meds, then the heartburn meds and then the Benadryl.

Wilson broke down in the waiting room before getting her first MRI. Only her coworkers and her husband knew of her diagnosis at this point because Wilson was holding off telling her family and friends.

“Telling someone that you have cancer really sucks,” Wilson said.

However, her doctor was able to calm her down and remind her that breast cancer is highly treatable. Wilson then gradually became more comfortable with sharing her story and began to notice how there were a lot of other 20-year-old women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Out of her newfound courage grew a strong support system of family, friends and colleagues.

“No one has given me a chance to feel sorry for myself and I think that’s part of what’s helped,” Wilson said. “No one goes ‘Oh, you have cancer’ and gives me sad eyes. They just treat me like normal.”

Sublett said she was impressed by the way Wilson carried herself at work following her diagnosis.

“She hasn’t let it keep her down,” Sublett said. “She’s done everything that she’s been able to do and she’s had a great attitude about it.”  

In the seven months Wilson has been enduring treatment, she has managed to keep traveling across the state to help schools with professional development. Even when she can’t make it into the office, she works from home, Sublett said.

Wilson was the first person Sublett has known to be diagnosed with breast cancer and as a young woman in her 30s, Sublett said she has become more conscious of her own health as a result.

“It did make me stop and think about ‘Is this something I’m paying attention to, is this something that I’m asking my doctor?’” Sublett said.

Wilson went through six rounds of chemo from May to October before her doctors found that the cancer appeared to be gone. But they wouldn’t know for sure unless the affected breast was removed.

Wilson had the option of keeping one of her breasts, but opted for a double mastectomy because the chances of the cancer returning were at 20 percent, which was not worth the risk to Wilson.

“I would take 20 percent odds if I was playing the lottery — a one in five chance is great,” Wilson said. “But a one in five chance for the breast cancer to come back and that I would have to fight this battle again is way too high for me.”

The idea of having both of her breasts removed and returning home the same day was a hard thought to grapple with, Wilson said, but on Oct. 18, Wilson had the procedure done.

It took more than half a year to get to this point and put a heavy strain on her personal life, but Wilson said she is excited for her battle to finally be over and has obtained a different outlook on life as a result of her experience.

“It sucks, but I would rather fight it now and get it over with than 30 years down the road,” Wilson said. “This is a low point so life just gets better from here and it kind of makes life more enjoyable, which is a very strange thing. I’m just a lot more grateful and it takes a lot to come to that realization, but we get there.”