Photo by Sam Mostow
I walked into the Pit sixty-three minutes before the start of the first game of Friday night’s boys and girls basketball playoff doubleheader. This evening, instead of being a casual fan, I was here to shadow Athletic Director Ms. Julie Bravin for the evening. After walking in, I was quickly greeted by Bravin and her seven-year-old daughter, Angeline.
“You can follow me around, but you’ll have to be my personal assistant,” Bravin joked.
I knew I was facing a fairly daunting task: following the busiest person on the court for two high-profile first-round playoff games over the span of four and a half hours. Mason was set to play Manassas Park for two playoff games, with the girls teams playing at 6:00 and the boys teams playing at 7:45.
Most of the hour of preparation was spent coordinating with both teams’ cheerleaders. Manassas Park brought cheerleaders, which is atypical, and Bravin was unsure of whether both teams’ cheerleaders would fit behind the narrow baseline. After consultation with the referees and both cheer coaches, it was determined that each team could have ten cheerleaders.
“Now you’re experiencing what I normally do,” Bravin said.
Bravin, who has worked at Mason since 2000, grew up in Altoona, Pennsylvania, a city of approximately 46,000 roughly halfway between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. She always had a love for sports and went to her school games as a teenager. At Mason, she taught French, coached track, and served as an Assistant Athletic Director before becoming the full time AD in 2015.
The rest of the hour before the game was spent making sure the pregame announcements were in order. Bravin typically reads the starting lineup and introduces the national anthem.
From tip-off of the girls game at 6:02 until the game ended, Bravin spent most of her time waiting for a problem to resolve. For example, the Manassas Park Athletic Director, Dan Forgas, went to the old gym at Henderson, so Bravin had to make sure he made it into the building. Most of the rest of the game was spent making sure everyone in the stands was practicing proper sportsmanship. Bravin spent most of the game watching the stands instead of the action on the court.
Led by sophomore Bella Paradiso’s 11 points, the girls team won swiftly, 50-16.
The boys game was set up to be significantly closer. Despite Mason’s #7 seed and Manassas Park’s #10 seed, the rankings were deceiving. Josiah Freeman, a nationally-ranked 6-foot 5-inch shooting guard and Division I commit, who transferred to Manassas Park from Paul VI Catholic High School, was determined on the previous day to be eligible for the postseason. Freeman played once in the regular season a week before and scored 32 points, however, he was deemed ineligible after the game because of a 22 regular season game limit, so Manassas Park had to forfeit that game.
It was surprising to many when Freeman was deemed eligible to play. However, as athletic director, Bravin kept a clear message.
“It’s not my place to comment on the eligibility of another player since VHSL is the one who determines eligibility,” she said.
Freeman became more controversial even before the game started. At the end of warmups, Freeman dunked and was mobbed by players on his team in celebration. The dunk earned him an individual technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct, which led to Mason being able to shoot two free throws at the start of the game. This energized both teams’ student sections, who were shouting chants back and forth all night.
Bravin didn’t really react. In fact, throughout the evening, Bravin remained steady, calm, and poised, even as her surroundings were not.
Part of Bravin’s role as AD is to make sure fans in the student sections are in line with the rules. One of the main rules is that no student is allowed to stand outside of the designated student section so that sitting fans don’t have a blocked view.
Bravin manages the crowd in other discreet ways too.
“I ask the person who is standing closest to the end to tell anyone who stands on the other side that they can’t stay there,” Bravin said.
As much as Bravin makes her job look easy, Friday night was anything but easy for her. Freeman’s sudden eligibility generated press (The Lasso was not the only news outlet on hand for the game) and Manassas Park brought a student section, meaning she had two student sections to wrangle instead of one.
The Cougars cruised to a 72-62 win over the Mustangs, catapulted by Freeman’s 39 points. High tensions throughout the game and drama at the end didn’t make Bravin’s life any easier.
During a late timeout, with less than a minute left in the game, Mason head coach Michael Gilroy approached Bravin.
“I’m not shaking hands with these guys,” Gilroy said. “A fight will break out, I guarantee it.”
Bravin was able to talk Gilroy down and make sure both teams shook hands.
While Gilroy’s prediction did not come true and the postgame handshake line was uneventful, the process of fans exiting the school was not. Tensions were high between Manassas Park and Mason fans, and while no physical fighting broke out, security made it a priority to get everyone out of the school as quickly as possible.
“There were so many things that happened, so I was just processing the whole night,” Bravin said.
In the commotion, I got separated from Bravin and security was getting students out of the building. I figured that there was no point in trying to get past security, so I got my backpack out of her office and went home.
Bravin’s frantic evening of work didn’t end when the buzzer went off. After I’d left, the Manassas Park fan bus was nowhere to be found, so her services were required to help find it. Bravin also helped clean the gym, counted the money for the night, printed out a financial report, worked with the cheer coaches in her office to coordinate the cheerleaders’ travel to the next girls basketball game the following Tuesday. It was 10:15 by the time she left the school. She concluded her work for the evening as Athletic Director at midnight.
“It’s part of my job,” Bravin said matter-of-factly. “It’s what we do.”