BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Ethical. Fair behavior. Polite. Intentionality. Kindness. These are the adjectives often utilized to describe sportsmanship.
The 2015-16 Kentucky volleyball program demonstrated just that in a traumatic event prior to a match against fellow Southeastern Conference foe LSU in early November. For their efforts, spearheaded by athletic trainer Katy Poole, administrator Katie Eiserman, head coach Craig Skinner and players Morgan Bergren, Sara Schwarzwalder and Anni Thomasson, the program was honored as a recipient of the 2015-16 SEC Sportsmanship Award on Thursday.
On Nov. 1, 2016 in Memorial Coliseum, senior LSU volleyball player Cati Leak suffered a horrific injury on the floor in warmups. The Kentucky volleyball team and support staff rallied behind Leak and her family, who were in attendance that day.
The support the team showed included transportation to and from the hospital, payment of hotel rooms for the family and an LSU assistant coach who stayed behind as surgery was performed, generous amounts of time spent at the hospital as Leak recovered, visits paid by the coaching staff and team members, and a friendship between Leak and the program that continues today.
“There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude for the administration and staff at the University of Kentucky,” Leak said upon hearing of UK’s honor. “Once the injury occurred I immediately felt an overflow of compassion from them as if I were one of their own players. Before heading to college, Kentucky was a program I forever respected and admired. I consider myself lucky to have a transparent glimpse into what it would be like to be a Wildcat. The thoughtfulness and intentionality behind every move, decision, or visit in the hospital makes me honored to be a part of a conference that handles a situation like Kentucky handled mine.”
UK volleyball’s honor is the first for any Kentucky athlete or program in the nine-year history of the award. Kentucky volleyball was joined by LSU football’s Leonard Fournette and Florida track and field’s Lloydricia Cameron as recipients of the award this year. The honorees were selected by a vote of the league’s 14 Athletic Directors.
“There are many stories of sportsmanship and generosity on the part of Southeastern Conference student-athletes, and these three stories are indicative of a spirit that is pervasive in the SEC,” said Commissioner Greg Sankey. “We are proud of Leonard, Lloydricia and the Kentucky volleyball program for setting a standard of sportsmanship and exhibiting that spirit that lives in the heart of SEC student-athletes, coaches and staff members.”
Following the injury, UK Athletics personnel immediately sprang to action, led by Poole. Poole and a fellowship doctor tended to the injured athlete, while members of the event management staff, administration, media relations, marketing and others tended to issues regarding the situation.
However, the journey was just beginning as far as UK’s involvement with Leak and the LSU team and staff.
One of Leak’s parents was able to ride in the ambulance with her and a member of UK’s event management staff drove the other parent to the hospital. Following the conclusion of the match, Poole and Eiserman drove an assistant coach to the hospital and stayed with her and the family while Leak was in the emergency room awaiting a decision on surgery.
Once it was decided that surgery would be conducted at the UK Hospital, Poole and Eiserman went to a local hotel and rented rooms for both the family and the assistant coach. UK would later pay that hotel bill. In addition to purchasing the room, the two made sure the rooms were equipped with toiletries and other supplies. Poole and Eiserman then returned to the hospital and stayed with the family and coach until the completion of the surgery.
The trauma surgeon and UK medical staff were instrumental in Leak’s recovery with efficient and complete care while in Lexington.
On Monday morning, Poole picked up Skinner and they visited Leak in the hospital. Eiserman again spent some time throughout the day with Leak and her family. Later that afternoon, Kentucky players Bergren, Schwarzwalder and Thomasson visited Leak and brought her a card signed by the entire team with well wishes.
Three weeks later, on Nov. 22, Kentucky traveled to LSU for a second match. It was LSU’s Senior Day and Leak was honored. It was agreed upon by the teams to allow Leak to serve the first point of the match. Bergren and Schwarzwalder, in the meeting with the LSU captains, deferred first serve to enable Leak to take the floor. LSU opted to play out the point with five players to signify a missing player on the floor.
Kentucky staff members Poole and Eiserman, along with Skinner, have remained in contact with Leak, whose senior season effectively ended that afternoon in Lexington.
In a compelling conclusion due to the exceptional care and efficiency by Kentucky’s trauma surgeon and medical staff, Leak was able to recover in time to be cleared to participate in the spring beach season.