In this edition of the Between The Hedges Q&A, we check in with former men's tennis standout Drake Bernstein - who is now the assistant women's tennis coach at the University of Alabama. Bernstein was back in town with the Crimson Tide for last Friday's dual match, and we caught up with the All-SEC and career 100-match winner.
BtH: So this is your first season spent out of Athens, and Winder even before that--how does it feel coming back?
Bernstein: It's good. This place is still home in a lot of ways, being around the courts especially. It's different from being on the other side of it, both coaching and not being at Georgia.
BtH: Definitely must have a different feel not being here. What do you miss most about Athens?
Bernstein: This tennis center, probably. I've spent a lot of time here, growing up watching the matches, learning the tradition, and then getting to be a part of it. That's the most special thing for me. Everything else is great, but this is the first place I go when I come back and what stands out for me.
BtH: How's being a coach somewhere else treating you?
Bernstein: It's awesome, I love it. We've got a really good team, all hard workers and good listeners. The best part for me has been the head coach, Jenny Mainz, who has help me so much. She's been so patient, took a chance on hiring a younger guy for a women's team, and she's made it really easy for me to coach.
BtH: What's your favorite part of coaching, as opposed to playing?
Bernstein: Maybe that I get the chance to affect more than one court at once. Obviously when you play, you try to be supportive of the guys on the courts next to you, but now I can actually give insight and influence multiple courts at once. Hopefully you can help get more than just one point for the team.
BtH: You still miss playing, right?
Bernstein: Yeah, totally. All these big matches stuck at three-all, you really wish you were out there playing. I do miss it, but the time that I had here was special, and I got plenty of it in.
BtH: How do you think Manny [Diaz] has helped you prepare for this transition from player to coach?
Bernstein: Manny's one of the best, if not the best, coaches in college. He and [Associate Head Coach] Will Glenn showed me about what it takes to coach, how to handle a team. We never overlooked anybody, nor did we give anybody too much respect. You try to play all the matches the same. And Jenny's the same way--treat every match as if it's any other match when you play. Another thing about Manny is he gave me good perspective about how important it was at the end of the day. If you lose a tennis match, or win one, the world's not going to end. He's done that for me and I hope I can do the same for these girls.
BtH: You might have an opportunity to come back here next month for the NCAA Championships. What would that mean to you?
Bernstein: Yeah, we've got a good shot with a good team. It's been their goal since the beginning of the year to be here in May, and as we're ranked now we're in, but there's a lot of tennis we've got to play between now and then. Hopefully we can move up in the rankings instead of kind of hanging out where we're at and cement ourselves here.
BtH: Thanks a bunch. Good luck!
-By Eliot Beckham
In this edition of the Behind The Hedges Q&A, we sat down with Director of Event Management Christie Purks. With two degrees from UGA and with her vast experience including serving as the meet director of the 2001 and 2008 NCAA Gymnastics Championships in Athens, Purks has just about seen and done it all in her time in the UGAAA.
BtH: So you're the Director of Event Management - could you take us through your average day?
BtH: Is there no such thing as an average day?
Purks: That would be very true. There's a lot of variety--you can kind of put my job into two categories: one is the daily planning that involves being in the office, drafting memos and having meetings, and then the other portion is when I'm out at the events, at the tennis or basketball court. Those days are more troubleshooting and problem-solving, taking care of issues as they come up as opposed to the planning of the other category.
BtH: Do you have a favorite subpart of either part?
Purks: I like being out of the office. There's a lot of variety, you come in contact with lots of different people. It's not that it's easier, because you're dealing with problems, but I do enjoy being out. I would not do well sitting behind a desk every day, so that's one reason why I've kind of been drawn to this job.
BtH: How did you come to be at UGA?
Purks: I have two degrees from the University--I was a Public Relations major as an undergrad and later got my graduate degree in Sport Administration. I had the good fortune one summer as an undergrad to work for the athletic department as a student intern. That got my foot in the door and gave me the opportunity to meet Lewis Gainey, who at the time was the Assistant Athletic Director for Event Management. When I got done with classes for my graduate degree, I needed an internship to complete the program. Lewis offered one to me helping plan a swimming and diving national championship and, once I was done, offered me a full time job.
BtH: You've coordinated several other national championships across a variety of sports, right?
Purks: I have! I tell students who come talk with me that that's what I consider myself most fortunate for being able to work at Georgia, because we host a lot of postseason events. Many institutions just don't have the resources, either staff-wise or financially, to be able to host these kinds of events, but the University of Georgia has always taken pride in hosting postseason events so I feel like I've actually been given the opportunity to plan big events on a big stage at UGA. Maybe my favorite - well, I shouldn't say favorite - maybe the largest event I've gotten to handle was the 2008 Women's Gymnastics National Championship.
BtH: Which Georgia won.
Purks: We did win, which is always nice.
BtH: When you say it's not your favorite, is it because you have a different one, or because you're not going to pick favorites?
Purks: I won't pick favorites. I've done two gymnastics championships, two swimming and diving national championships, and a tennis one, too. They're all different and unique and come with their own stories. But that one was by far the largest I've had to coordinate and put on.
BtH: What's the hardest part--is it that kind of size and scale?
Purks: That's one part of it--with the gymnastics, we tried very hard to replicate the way it's done at the Olympics, with the gymnasts competing on podiums that had to be constructed from scratch. It brought about lots of different challenges for the facility, we had to build the platforms and rearrange seating in the arena. Way different than a regular season gymnastics meet.
BtH: A lot of tough logistics and planning must go into these events. What's something you like to do to relax, your favorite part of Athens?
Purks: Well, I grew up in Atlanta, so I do like the big city life, but it's replicated really well for scale here. And Athens has a lot of great restaurants, that's definitely my favorite part. But I also went to school here and loved it, and I just feel like I'm one of the fortunate ones who got to hang around.
---By Eliot Beckham
This week Between the Hedges checks in with UGA track & field star Morgann Leleux. Leleux, a pole-vaulter, was runner up at this year's NCAA National Indoor Championships and is currently the top American in the outdoor rankings. Here's what she had to say.
BtH: Thanks for sitting down to talk with us, Morgann. Why don't you tell us a little about yourself--how'd you end up pole-vaulting at Georgia?
Leleux: Well, I'm from New Iberia, Louisiana, where my dad was my pole vault coach and I was a gymnast. He was the one who gradually got me into pole vaulting and I guess I ended up being good enough to come here on scholarship.
BtH: A lot of our readers, not to mention myself, won't be too familiar with the details of your sport. Why don't you take us through a meet day leading up to your jump?
Leleux: I really try to stay relaxed, keep my adrenaline low. I try not to get too excited. And before I even go out there I give myself a number that I want to reach like 14' 4". Up until the meet starts I do my warmups, I stay relaxed, and when it comes I turn my adrenaline on and get ready to jump high. That way I come in at a high height and from there, take it and keep going higher.
BtH: I know that at your first ever competition you tied the then-school record (14' 3½''). What's your current personal best, and what are you aiming for?
Leleux: Right now, my best is 14' 5¼''. The last home meet I wasn't actually supposed to jump, but Coach [Petros Kyprianou] was like, "Hey, it's a good day! Go grab your spikes and uniform, you're gonna jump today."
BtH: Really! How'd you feel about that?
Leleux: No, it was good. It was originally just going to be a conditioning week for me, and I had lifted extra and all that, so we just treated it as practice and just gave me a fun home meet to jump without much pressure.
BtH: It's obviously a really taxing sport. Do stress injuries like shin splints ever bug you?
Leleux: I think because of gymnastics those problems don't really bother me. Doing gymnastic means you have to keep yourself really fit--I was a level 10 back home.
BtH: That's college level, isn't it?
Leleux: Yeah, I've actually been training gymnastics on the side. My coach says that if I make 15 feet then I can try and be a Gym Dog as well.
BtH: That's really cool, we'd love to see you out there. But why 15 feet?
Leleux: That's the height that'll get me a look with the Olympic team. I'm going to the Olympic trials soon. It's really stressful. Because of all the competition for spots in the US, it basically comes down to how high you jump on that one day. If I can make 15' then I'll probably end up in the top 3, and get a spot on the team.
BtH: That's awesome. Good luck, and thanks again.
Leleux: My pleasure!
-By Eliot Beckham
John Bateman's job at the UGA Athletic Association is officially the Director of Marketing, but as he puts it, it's hard to call something you love "work." In the first edition of the Between The Hedges Q&A, we sat down with Bateman to learn what he does for the UGAAA.
BtH: Thanks for sitting down with us. Could you describe what being the Director of Marketing entails, what an average day is like?
Bateman: Well, I usually like to get in around 7:30 - I read up on what's going around in the SEC online, make sure I'm up to date on what other schools are doing - and then after that, it's really a mixed bag. On non-event days, I'll do work around the office with our student assistants and interns to prepare for and handle group and single game tickets for events coming up. On days we do have events, I'll usually organize ticket sales at the student bookstore or coordinate large sales to groups. Then I'll head to the event and make sure that souvenirs and concessions are running smoothly and that our groups are having fun. Around halfway we'll get attendance figures, and that's when the cycle begins again.
BtH: Last night's baseball game against Georgia Tech drew a crowd of 3,004, a season high.
Bateman: Yeah, it went really well. Georgia versus Georgia Tech is always such a great and competitive game no matter the sport, and always draws a large crowd. It helps when the weather is as nice as it was yesterday. We tried hard to promote it within the student body specifically, and we couldn't have asked for a better turnout. 1,044 of that crowd were students, which completely surpassed expectations. So thanks to them for making it such a great success.
BtH: The game didn't go too bad either (Georgia won by a scoreline of 7-1).
Bateman: As marketers, we don't throw touchdowns, make free throws or score goals, but we do influence the game. We try to pitch the event to the fans as what it is: an enjoyable SEC sporting event put on by one of the top athletic programs in the nation, featuring incredible student-athletes.
BtH: What you do for Georgia is really appreciated. How did you end up here?
Bateman: I grew up in Albany and came to UGA as an undergraduate in '86, graduating in '91. I got my Masters degree in education from the graduate school here, focusing in sport management. As an undergrad I had been a student manager with the basketball team, and that was where I got started. After grad school I interned for a while at the offices of the Southeastern Conference in Birmingham, but came back in '94 to work on the promotions staff. I haven't left since.
BtH: So Athens has kind of been a second home to you. What's your favorite part about living here?
Bateman: Oh, do I have to pick one? It's America's greatest college town. The food, the music, the downtown life... it's just so easy to go out and get involved, to meet people. I've had the opportunity to coach the Athens Academy 5th and 6th grade girls' basketball team, just through friends I've met. The town keeps you young.
BtH: If it's hard to pick one aspect of Athens you like most, it's got to be even harder to pick the best thing about work.
Bateman: It's hard to call it going to work, really. But getting to interact with all the students is certainly a highlight. We have an especially close relationship with the campus community.
BtH: You're the "Mayor of Milledge," right?
Bateman: Some of the [fraternities and sororities] came up with that nickname for me a while back, just because we're so involved in marketing events and coordinating with them.
BtH: I've seen it's your twitter handle, @mayorofmilledge. You've got quite a following.
Bateman: I just talk about Georgia, and make sure people know when and where events are happening. It's not hard selling the Dawgs.
Check back next week for another edition of the Q&A!