Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sport Shift: Trading in Megaphones for Dumbbells

Story and Photos by Bridget Chavez
Link to Unedited Interview here
Link to Story Package here

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It smells like the inside of a sweaty sock, and the blaring hum of the giant fans competing with someone’s Spotify playlist don’t exactly make you want to get your workout on. But for a lot of students at Syracuse University, getting a workout in at Archbold Gymnasium is just something you have to do. 

Walking into the gym you find yourself on the basketball court and usually a few students are shooting some hoops. A giant curtain stretched from the floor to the ridiculously high ceiling shields typical gym equipment from a basketball gone astray. 

As soon as you get to the other side past the curtain, you find two rows filled treadmills, ellipticals, rowing machines and bikes and in the third row weight lifting machines. Beyond this area is a profusion of benches, barbells, squat racks and an entire wall dedicated to free weights. And while the gym is typically filled with students of all shapes, weights and sizes, two in particular have been spending a large amount of their time here lately.

Once their workout is finished most students hightail it out of there as fast as possible, but Jermaine Shavers Jr. and Justin Villani can't get enough of this place.


Have you ever seen a kid light up with excitement and eyes nearly bug out of his or her head visiting Disneyland for the first time? Well, imagine that, add about four feet and 175 pounds, some facial hair, a couple of bro tanks and you can't miss Shavers and Villani at Archbold Gym pumping iron. And I doubt you'd miss them but just in case, their "favorite ride" in their "happiest place on earth" is the free weight section.

In between sets of shoulder presses Shavers says what they’re doing isn’t just a regular fitness routine.

“To be able to build and create you know, like what you feel you should be or what you want to be is really dope," he says.

Moving on to the bench press, Shavers spots Villani benching more than 150 pounds. "Come on, come on," he says. Having recently committed themselves to the competitive sport of body building, the two are each other's primary sources of support.

“I saw the results of others and I thought, ‘Hey I think I want to try that,” Villani says, finishing up a set of squats. The two say they’ve been gym goers throughout their time at SU, but never like this.
And it all began while they were on the Syracuse cheerleading squad together. 

Villani spent five seasons on the team and Shavers one, but in the fall of 2016, the two decided to hang up their cheerleading uniforms so they could dedicate their time to starting the first ever body building club on campus.

It was at the National Cheerleading Championships that they decided they were going all in, but not going it alone.

"Taking a leap by yourself is kind of scary and once you do it you're blind," Shavers says, "But it's better to be blind with somebody because you have somebody to fall back on and help you up if things go left."

They call the new organization Orange Physique in hopes of attracting more students to the sport. An essential team member, Stephanie Morales is the only certified personal trainer on the team says it’s nice being around others who “just get it.”

A major goal of the team is to shut down misconceptions people might have about body building. Morales says she’s noticed this particularly for women.

“A lot of girls just hop on a treadmill at the gym and are afraid they’ll get too big if they life weights. And that’s just not true,” she says. Diet plays a crucial part when it comes to getting the results people want.

"People don't really take the time to research how what you're eating affects your lift," Morales says, adding that the group holds each other accountable when it comes to food. The three say sometimes they'll meal prep together so they stay on track.

With a mix of about three dozen students ranging from freshmen to graduate students, Orange Physique is gaining more momentum, while waiting to be recognized by the university as an official student organization, which Villani says should happen soon.


As they three rotate between sets of curls, they say they want to offer students support in reaching their fitness goals. Even though it falls on the individual at the end of the day it’s the backing of the team that gets people where they want to be.

“It’s a lot of behind the scenes,” said Villani, who is getting ready to compete in his first show this summer, “but you need that team to help get you there and get you to that show in my opinion.”

Shavers on the other hand says he's doing everything he can to help and will keep training with his buddy, but he's not going to compete in a show until later next year.

If you find yourself in Archbold, it's likely you'll see or even work yourself into one of their sets. They're still looking for new recruits and say everyone is welcome.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Nor Rain, Nor Sleet, Nor'easter

Story, Photos, Video, and Interviews by Jon Cerio

SYRACUSE, N.Y. --  People in Syracuse,and Central New York know that, like the weather, plans can change in a heartbeat. Sometimes the weather is the reason for the change and they were reminded of all that during four days in the middle of March. 

When it comes to Syracuse men's basketball, some fans are more hard-core than others. You could call it "Syracuse Mentality."

The Syracuse men’s basketball team and its fans went from hoping on Selection Sunday for a spot in the NCAA tournament to planning an NIT game at the Carrier Dome for Tuesday, to finally playing the game on Wednesday.

Media got the postponement news in an email on Tuesday from the team’s Sports Information Director Pete Moore.

After consultation with Onondaga County and City of Syracuse authorities, as well as the NCAA, and with fan and participant safety the top priority, tonight’s NIT game between Syracuse and UNCG has been postponed,” it read.

Onondaga County had issued a travel advisory early that morning and while the University of North Carolina at Greensboro team had arrived on Monday, getting fans and others safely to the game and back remained a concern. 

Say it Ain't Snow

Between Tuesday morning and 7 p.m. Wednesday evening, more than 25 inches of snow fell in the city.  Schools and businesses in the area were closed or running on essential staff only on both days and with SU students away on spring break, that applied to the university as well.

Even on the eventual game day, conditions were still pretty challenging.  The advisory had been lifted in the afternoon but the Syracuse University campus is located on a hill, and cars and trucks still had trouble making it up the slick Adams Street incline.  

On Waverly Avenue, near Marshall Street and Irving Avenue a few blocks downhill from the Dome, intersections were still filled with slush. Drivers hoping to get a running start to power through the mess had to watch for pedestrians crossing in front of them.

The temperature was about 20 degrees but the wind chill made it feel more like six.

Snow Patrol

Normally, Syracuse city police officers are stationed by the busy intersections of Harrison Street and Almond street, at the off ramps of Interstate 81 North and South, directing traffic for SU games.   On Wednesday, their absence was apparent.  

There were no lines of cars waiting to sneak past patrol's waving arms.  No sea of red taillights impeding your progress as you inched forward.  Nothing but white covering the roads, buildings, and white knuckles on fists clenched to steering wheels.

Even if you got up the hill and through the thick, icy terrain, you still had to park.  University staff did a reasonable job of clearing parking lots, including the West Lot, with one key exception - exiting on foot.  

Poor 'Soles'

Unless your plan was to backtrack the 50-plus yards or so to where you entered on this blustery night, you had to find the footpaths of previous patrons' steps to exit the perimeter.

There were lines in the lot of fans trying to do this, with borderline success.  It was a balancing act of sorts - one shoe in a foothold, leg covered in the white stuff, as you pivoted your other foot forward, hoping that you weren't stepping onto ice or slippery slush.  The process was even harder for media people carrying cameras and tripods, as the added weight made balancing even more of a challenge.

Slippery steps and howling into the wind

Then came the steps - which you avoided if at all possible.  The 20 or so steps in between Sadler and Lawrinson residence halls were even more harrowing.  Even though there were railings for support, the steps were not well cleared.  It was as if you were attempting an obstacle course, finding the path, each step more precarious than the last.

If you cleared those, you then made your way around Sadler, where the bitter wind would beat against you, as if offended by your persistence.

One fan spoke into the wind loudly enough for passersby to hear.

"How did Wake Forest get in (to the NCAA tournament) over us?"

Salt of the Earth

When you finally made it to the Carrier Dome, you had plenty more steps to climb.  At least these ones, along with the surrounding sidewalks, were better cared for.

That's thanks in no small part to Syracuse University maintenance workers such as Chris Oliver.  Oliver put in the extra hours shoveling dozens of steps, and then applying a generous amount of salt afterward, to help protect the fans.  For him and his coworkers, this storm was harder than the norm.

"Just a heavier snow load the last couple of days, you know a little windier," Oliver said.  "So you just gotta apply it a little heavier and keep moving."

Oliver maintained his smile, but appeared a little winded by the conditions.  When asked if he was glad there was yet another home game to prepare for, he only had to say two words.

"Oh yeah," Oliver replied with a smile.

And with that, he was down the steps, spreading some extra salt.  Another local guy with a tough Syracuse mentality.

Hi-Yo Silver

Once through the Dome's doors, the idea of sparse lots, sidewalks and roadways paled in comparison to what greeted you inside.

The sight of silver was jarring, as row upon row of aluminum bleachers sat empty.  The bright Dome lights reflected off the benches, making the bleak turnout that much more apparent.

For fans of one of the Northeast's premiere teams, it was like the Wild West when finding a seat.  The usual rules and restrictions did not apply on this night.  It was first come, first serve, as bargain hunters willing to brave the elements were rewarded with good basketball - and a better vantage point.

“I’d seen some tickets for $25 for courtside, so I was like ‘I ain’t missing this,’ Watertown resident Montezze Smarr said.  “If I had to get stuck, I was going to get stuck. Courtside at a Syracuse game?  You can’t beat that.”

Smarr was giddy with enthusiasm, getting to witness his first game up close.  He made the 85-mile trek from the Fort Drum region to see the Orange in action.

"We're kind of used to it.  We were kind of wondering why everyone was complaining," Smarr kidded.  "Welcome to our world."

Syracuse Mentality

On the floor, Orange players warmed up in shirts with the slogan "Syracuse Mentality."

It refers to the attitude of the team, but just as easily describes the attitude of the hard-core fans who made it to the Dome on this night

“It’s not a blizzard,” Syracuse native Steve Haller said.  “We live in Syracuse.  It’s a Tuesday - Wednesday in this case.  It was supposed to be a Tuesday.”

“Eh, it’s not too bad,” Andy Wilson said.  “It’s alright, we’ve had worse.”

Wilson stood at the most congested spot in or out of the Dome that night - the concession stand.  Due to the limited turnout, very few stands were in operation.  As a result, fans were bottle-necked through the area at halftime.  If you didn't know any better, you'd have thought you were in the middle of a sellout crowd.

Not-So Loud House

When you combine the tough conditions, and the fact that SU had been eliminated from NCAA tournament contention,  the “loud house” wasn’t quite as loud on this evening.  

Syracuse had drawn more than 30,000 fans for its victory against Duke a few weeks back, on a mild, February night.This was not Duke nor was it the NCAA. NIT games, rare as they are in Syracuse, usually don't draw big crowds anyway. Here in mid-March, in the lingering wake of the storm only 4,288 fans bought a ticket.  

“It was definitely a smaller crowd,” Syracuse freshman guard Tyus Battle said.  “It’s just good seeing people out there to support us.”

White Out

Fans who did show up were rewarded.  Besides cheaper-than-normal seating, the team pulled off a victory.

Syracuse beat UNCG, thanks in large part to graduate student forward Andrew White III’s record night.  White hit seven three-point shots, and officially passed current assistant coach Gerry McNamara for most threes made in a single season.  White ended up with 109 on the season after the game, two ahead of the McNamara record that stood for 12 years.

"I just wanted to make sure that I gave my team and my coaches and the fans that were here supporting us something to be proud of," White said.

Storm Troupers

After the game, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim spoke of the fans to an average-sized crowd of about 20 in the press corps.

“I thought the people were good, I thought they were very good,” Boeheim said.  “Obviously it’s tough to get out and get here.  The fans that were here were very good, very excited.”

After the game, fans weren't as excited to head back out into the night and make their way home. One thing did make it a little easier, however. 

There were no traffic jams on this night.

Nor Rain, Nor Sleet, Nor'easter in Photos

SYRACUSE, N.Y. --  Syracuse men's basketball's first-round NIT game against the University of North Carolina Greensboro was postponed 24 hours after more than 25 inches of snow fell on the area in a two-day span.  Here is the story in photos by Jon Cerio.  Click on any photo to start the slideshow.