Interview with Matt Lewis, 04/22/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐GL: This is Grace Lim interviewing Matt Lewis on Friday, April 22 2022 for campus COVID stories. Campus COVID stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Before we could get started, could you please state your name and spell it for us?

ML: Matt Lewis M-A-T-T L-E-W-I-S

GL: Now for the purposes of getting a good audio recording. Tell us again, who you are and what your title is here at UW Oshkosh.

ML: My name is Matt Lewis. I'm the head men's basketball coach at UW Oshkosh.

GL: Before we dive into your campus COVID story, we'd like to get to know you a little bit better. Just tell us a little bit about where you grew up.

ML: I grew up in Western Illinois in a little farm town, went to high school with 160 kids. Dad and Mom farmed throughout my childhood. And then after high school, they started bouncing around. And that's kind of a part of my story a 00:01:00little bit too, once they started bouncing around. But yeah Western Illinois, I'm a farm kid.

GL: And what's the name of that town?

ML: Augusta, Illinois.

GL: And what kind of farm

ML: Crop. That to us was corn and soybeans.

GL: You know, what was your parents highest education degrees?

ML: They both got a bachelor's degree from University of Illinois.

GL: Okay, and where did you earn your degree or degrees?

ML: Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. And then I've got a master's from Bethel University out of Tennessee.

GL: And what were they in?

ML: My undergrad was business and econ. And then I also had a major in history. My grad school was a master's in business administration.

GL: Okay. And then how did you come to work at UW Oshkosh?

ML: Yeah, that could be a 30 minute story in itself. Ultimately, I got really lucky. I spent a few weeks at a place called the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. The coaching staff there took a new job while I was volunteering at 00:02:00citadel. They got hired at Tulane University of New Orleans. I moved to New Orleans for a few months. In the middle of that I hadn't been offered a job by Tulane. I was still volunteering. So I moved to Memphis, Tennessee to work at Rhodes College. I worked at Rhodes for about two months. And then Tulane gave me a full time job back in New Orleans. So I moved back to New Orleans for two years. That's the division one level. So I coached the Division 1 for a couple of years, ended up not enjoying it one bit. And so I resigned and started hunting for a division three coaching job. My family has since moved from that farming community. And now they live in Neenah just 20 minutes up the road. And so when I was searching for a job in 2012, I moved to Wisconsin to be close to them. And I was fortunate to get hired by the previous head coach, Pat Juckem. He took me on as one of his assistants that year. And what year was that? That was the summer of 2012.

GL: Okay, so you were assistant coach, then?

00:03:00

ML: Yes, I was a part time assistant paid through camp.

GL: And when did you become the head coach?

ML: I became the head coach in I think it was May of 2018. We had just lost in the national championship game, and Pat took a new position. And I was fortunate to become the head coach.

GL: So from 2012 to 2018 you were the assistant coach, correct?

ML: Yep. I was the assistant and a variety of other things on campus.

GL: Okay. Sounds good. All right. Now, tell us about your position, and you know, what you did pre-COVID.

ML: Yeah, so I was the head coach for two years prior to COVID. Obviously I oversee kind of all things men's basketball in terms of just everything that goes into running that program. We had two really good years, we won a national championship in the 2018 19 season. We made the national tournament in 2020. 00:04:00Right before COVID, the pandemic, started. But yeah, it's recruiting, it's retention, it's fundraising. Obviously coaching in practices and games. Everything that goes into running a high-level division three basketball program. So I've done that for a couple of years.

GL: And how many people, you know, let's talk about how many players you have and then how much, how many staff people you have.

ML: Yeah. Our roster fluctuates year to year obviously. Typically we're in that 16 to 20 student athletes on the roster. Now some years were a little less, some years we're a little more. We've got one full-time assistant, and that gentleman has-- I've had two in my time. Casey Corn was an assistant in the middle of the pandemic. He left for a new job. Our current full-time assistant in 2022 is Kyle Jones. And then we've got a part time guy, but he works at it full time. So that's kind of our second assistant position. And that same thing has flipped 00:05:00over in my time, we've had two of those. Peter Thaos and Koji Vroom, and then we've got a gentleman, Greg Jahnke, who has been with us my entire time at Oshkosh. So he's been here 10 years as like a volunteer assistant. From the outside perspective, everybody thinks he's full time because he gives all this time to it. He just doesn't make a dime from it.

GL: I had no idea. Okay, so let's move to the early days of COVID. Do you remember the first time you heard about this virus?

ML: It would have been kind of right as we were playing in the national tournament in 2020. So the first weekend in March and I forget the exact dates, but it would have been March four, five, six, somewhere in there of 2020. We were going to play in the National Tournament, down in Naperville, Illinois, North Central. I remember hearing rumblings of stuff on the other side of the 00:06:00world. You don't really pay any attention to it. And so you go and we play, we end up losing, and our season is over. And usually right after season, you spend a couple of days breathing. And so I did my normal thing where I breathe for a few days. And one of the first days I'm coming back is like midweek that next week on Wednesday, we had a staff meeting scheduled. And Darryl Sims, you know, a few more things early that week had popped up, and in like in our eyes, the NBA had some COVID issues already. Some of the high-level conference tournaments at the division one level had a few issues. And then I really remember that meeting with Darryl where he said, 'Hey, this is getting very serious. We're sending everyone home from campus.' And so it escalated from not really paying attention to it on a Saturday to four days later campus was being sent home.

GL: And Darryl Sims is the--

ML: The athletic director here at UW Oshkosh.

00:07:00

GL: And when you were at the National, what round was that?

ML: We lost in the second round of the national tournament that year. And then our national tournament, the teams that had advanced that weekend ended up having their their season canceled, essentially, that Thursday, I believe.

GL: So when you learned from the athletic director that we're going to go home, what went on in your head?

ML: First thought was 'Okay, we're going to be home for a few weeks, and you know, spring break is coming up. When we get back from spring break, we're probably in the clear. And everybody come back to campus.' So we quickly tried to get our team assembled. We were allowed to meet with our team before they had to depart campus. And so we met with our guys and explained you know, 'when you get home, try and keep up with lifting and schoolwork and we'll figure out if we need to meet virtually or do anything like that. Like we just had a quick 00:08:00meeting about 'hey, we'll see in a few weeks.' And that was probably the-- just that initial thing was-- we had no idea really what we were in for. We just all assumed that we'd be back.

GL: Let's go back to the-- you said after the loss that you took a few days to, you said, breathe?

ML: Breathe. Yep.

GL: What does that mean?

ML: The way that a lot of us approach college athletics is you feel like you never can catch your breath. Like you always have your foot on the gas. And if you are searching for a chance to take a break to breathe, it usually means you're losing an advantage or some team is out working you, out preparing you, or something. So we talk a lot about within our basketball program, like you can't be searching for an opportunity to relax. And because that, as natural, I think as human beings we're always searching for an opportunity to breathe and relax, which is a healthy thing to do. But in the world of athletic, there's a 00:09:00balance of when you do that. And so I usually take my chance to breathe right after the season is over. And then get right back into not breathing again for another 11 months.

GL: Okay, so you sent your team home, right. And what were you hearing from them? What did they say to you?

ML: I mean, a lot of just unknowns. And so I remember having conversations guys really didn't understand what was occurring, what COVID was. I mean, I remember early, you know, I had forgotten something in my office, and don't tell Chancellor Leavitt this, but I walked back into my office when we weren't supposed to, right? I'd forgotten stuff and all of the signs are, 'This area has been disinfected'. You know, 'these doors have been disinfected'. Because we all thought it was just, if you touch something that you might, you know, touch your mouth and contract it We had no idea really what it was. And so I remember that, 00:10:00just a lot of conversations were guys couldn't process what we were actually going through. I remember just trying to have conversations keeping up with guys in terms of, you know, how they were adjusting to some of their class stuff at home, if professors were still assigning things to them how they were managing those assignments, just trying to stay connected to them, those first few weeks.

GL: And then when the university, you know, send an email, saying 'actually, we're gonna just go fully remote', what happened then?

ML: I'd say shock a little bit. Because we still had, I don't know if it was six or seven weeks left to that spring semester. There's quite a bit of time. Now you could see the writing on the wall, you know, when you follow the rest of the country and how things you know, seemed like both coasts, were making decisions a little sooner than the Midwest. And then a lot of the schools in our area started making similar decisions. So I think everybody kind of knew the direction it was headed. We started really trying to process what we were going 00:11:00to do all spring, not only from a basketball program standpoint, but a personal standpoint. Like, you know, you're at home, with your wife and she's-- we're trying to figure out when things are going to return to normal. How can we still do things and have fun and enjoyment? So again, just a lot of like, a lot of unknown, and a lot of trying to process how we move forward on a day to day basis, when essentially we were stuck in our homes.

GL: Pre COVID, around the time, the end of the season, what what did you usually do?

ML: Right after season, we'd take a little time to relax. We would finish up recruiting. And so that's something we did spend a lot of time on in 2020 was trying to recruit remotely. But we would go to, if there were any high school games still going on, we would go to high school games in normal season. We would go to the division one final four, usually, and just hanging out with 00:12:00friends. Good chance to get away for a few days, typically would take a, some form of vacation with family, whether it's you know, my wife, and I, you know. We went internationally a couple springs, our team would go internationally sometimes in the spring. Sometimes there's just traveling with with my parents and our extended family. So the spring was always that chance to really get away and breathe, relax, rejuvenate yourself. So that was maybe one of the challenges that you're, you're right off of a challenging season, into a chance to breathe and relax. And you didn't really get to do that in normal fashion. You're at your kitchen table day after day after day, which is not the same as getting to travel and get out of town for a little bit.

GL: How were you able to do any of your work at home?

ML: One nice thing about that time of year, initially, is it's maybe the least 00:13:00amount of work, you know, if you want to put that label on it. Like we aren't doing as much in April and May as we do in June, July, August, and then through the season. So I probably was fortunate where I was, unlike a professor or somebody else on campus where that early May is crunch time, early May for me was fairly relaxed. So I was just trying to get settled in and find, in some ways, find things that I can continue to be productive at. The nice thing is is that it is a pretty, I don't know, movable job. I mean, I can take my computer and my phone and be productive in a lot of different places. And so I very easily just tried to take things I thought I would need that spring with me home, obviously have my computer, and I would just sit at the kitchen table and try and get as much done as possible. The big thing that we're trying to get done that spring was there were still young men that graduated high school in 00:14:002020 that were deciding where they wanted to go in that fall. And so they are adjusting to all of their classes in their high schools being remote, being virtual, and 'where am I going to go to college?', and so they had a lot they were juggling. And we were trying to still convince those kids that Oshkosh was the place to be. And so I remember doing just crazy things to convey how much we are interested in them. All from from our house.

GL: How, I mean, do you remember-- did you convince any of them to come?

ML: Yeah, we got a few kids to say yes that spring through this. We had a few kids say no. You know, we had a couple kids that chose, you know, we're recruiting a young man from Illinois, and he chose to stay closer to home, which is no shock in the middle of a pandemic, when you don't know what's coming to be a little closer to home. But we had some some good kids say yes, that are on the team right now. We did some fun things, like, my wife is a very good baker. And 00:15:00so she baked a-- on the one kid's birthday, she baked the kid a cake. And we wrote Happy birthday with the young man's name on it. And we sent him pictures like we were celebrating his birthday, from our dining room table. So we tried to have some fun with it, and convey to those kids that we really wanted them.

GL: Give me some names of the these kids that came here.

ML: Reed, Reed Gunnink is one of them. He's a young man from from Brandon, Wisconsin, who's currently, as we're being interviewed, a sophomore on the team. Cole Booth was that graduating class. He had already committed pre pandemic, but in the unknowns and, and a lot of our guys pay for their own college, you know, they're trying to weigh that cost and return on investment. And so, you know, those kids that had said, yes, you're still trying to like 'this is going to be worth it', like paying for college is going to be worth it even during a pandemic. So for some of those guys, we were doing that too.

00:16:00

GL: Who got the cake?

ML: Reed got the cake. It was his birthday. But we also had two transfers that, I mean, committed to this place. One committed to this place without ever seeing it because you couldn't visit. Hart Holmgren was his name from Michigan. And then Hunter Plamann's a local guy, grew up in Appleton went to Xavier. He transferred here. But he had seen this place because he had friends that went here. So he wasn't-- it wasn't as unknown, but he wasn't able to meet me in person before saying 'yes, I want to go to Oshkosh'. So there was some unique dynamics there.

GL: So the spring you usually do some recruiting or reassuring and things like that. What do you do in the summer?

ML: Summer, there's a lot of recruiting and a lot of camps. Now it's June, we were gone, you know, four or five days a week recruiting weekends, weeknights. Same thing in July, we run a lot of camps. We have a huge camp in June where we 00:17:00bring, you know, at one point we had 100 high school teams come to campus. In July and August is a lot of like overnight camps, day camps. So it's a lot of things that you absolutely could not do in June, July and August of 2020. And so that was probably a big adjustment that spring when we finally realized, 'yeah, there's we're not going to be able to have camps', and you had to cancel all of them. That was a challenge.

GL: Is that a revenue generator for the department, your team? In particular?

ML: Yeah, it's a huge revenue generator for all of us that run camps. Our programs survive off of the camp revenue.

GL: What how much money are we talking about?

ML: On a good year, we can we can generate 30 to 40,000 in profit. And that's after paying. You know, our assistant coaches get a little bit of money. Some sports make more than that, some sports don't make that much. But um, that 00:18:00doubles our operating budget most years.

GL: And how did that affect your program, not having those camps?

ML: Yeah, fortunately, we were able to survive. We had built up kind of a nest egg over for, you know, several years of doing the camps and being financially responsible. We had some money, but the two years so far the pandemic have drained, you know, a lot of that because you're now you're kind of playing catch up even this summer. We're playing catch up from 2020 a little bit. I don't think it was, I mean it didn't, it didn't cripple the program by any stretch, but it was stressful. That was probably the one of the worst things for me was working through the pandemic, financially for our program, because every year you're trying to make enough money where we can operate the way we operate, and that year you couldn't make any money.

GL: Did you think that you were able to have a real season coming back in the fall of 2020? Tell me about what was happening in the fall of 2020.

00:19:00

ML: It's a kind of a series of dominoes started maybe making you realize that it wasn't really going to happen. I mean, you were still pretty positive in June, July. You're still somewhat like 'yeah, this could happen. This could happen'. But then as we started getting the policies and the procedures from the NCAA as to what would need to occur to play a fall sport, and looking at the financial burden of that for a university at our level, where we were not revenue generating sports at the d3 level, all of a sudden, they're like, 'yep, we just can't. We can't do fall sports'. And so they cancel fall sports, and so that was an eye opening thing, because they cancelled fall sports in August of 2020. And we're supposed to start practice in October, and to just say, 'yeah, we're really.. we're not gonna start practice in October', like that. That hit us. And 00:20:00then we were able to play some games later that year. But I think the reality set in in August, probably that it wasn't going to be a full season by any stretch.

GL: And how did your players take that, you know, that information?

ML: It was very difficult. I think most student athletes, one of the things they really identify with is being a athlete. Part of the reason people pay for college at our level is because they want to participate in athletics. And no doubt the academic piece is important for them too, but when you're only getting, you know, a couple of the things that matter to you, and you're losing a big piece of it, they start struggling with 'why am I paying for this? Why? Why am I investing in this experience?'. And so I think that was difficult for guys because they were losing a thing that they loved, at least for a few months. They were losing it, and you didn't know when it was coming back.

00:21:00

GL: So when did you find out that you could have a modified season?

ML: We found out that we could be in the gym I think in September, kind of late September, early October. We started getting a better plan in place. Wade Peitersen, who's the head athletic trainer here at UWO, Wade was kind of the central figure, the leader in our department, in terms of how to follow the policies and procedures needed. How to secure testing, like a lot of that Wade was helping oversee for our department. And so we found out that we were going to have the testing needed to get back in the gym kind of in late September, early October. But that didn't mean we were practicing. Like that just meant our kids were getting to shoot with no contact. And then eventually, we were able to have a little bit of contact in like late October and November. We were able to 00:22:00get back to sort of practice. I remember the actual day that Chancellor Leavitt hopped on a virtual meeting with all the coaches. And this was late November, he told us that we were going to have a shortened season after January one, that we had secured the testing from the UW system that they are going to give us the testing needed. And so I remember sitting on a high jump mat at the far end of Kolf. Our guys were shooting, and I'm sitting on the mat with Casey Korn, our then top assistant and we're listening to Chancellor say 'yes, you're going to get to play games'. And then we got to walk across the gym and tell the guys that 'yes, you're going to get to play games in February'. But that was still two months away.

GL: What was the, you know, the reaction?

ML: They were fired up. I've been they were tired of-- at that point, we had probably been in the gym together for over a month. But again, not all the guys 00:23:00at once. Or if they were all there, maybe we weren't all together. We were wearing masks while we were playing. There's a ton of hand sanitizer everywhere. So they had been pretty down to that point. And I think when we told them, they were gonna get the play, they really didn't care that it was only eight regular season games. They were just excited there was something to look forward to.

GL: Condition wise. Did the pandemic-- were they in condition at all?

ML: That was a challenge, yeah. Because normally guys will lift all spring, all summer, all fall. They'll have five good months of lifting that incorporates a lot of conditioning and agility that gets their body in a place where they can handle five straight months of a season. That spring, when all us got sent home, you obviously couldn't go to your local gym and lift. Those places were closed. 00:24:00In the summer, same thing. Like guys had a very difficult challenge of finding anything that was open where they could lift. Guys were trying to get creative at home, some guys had some weight equipment. But it was a challenge. Late in the summer, some guys were able to find gyms that were open, but some guys you know, to pay for those, some didn't. And then when he got here in the fall, there was some lifting that could occur, but still they are pretty limited in how you could use the Student Rec and Wellness Center. So guys, when they showed up in October and we're getting in the gym with them, they were nowhere near what they normally were. So we had to spend quite a bit of time that season just trying to get ourselves physically in a place to compete come February.

GL: Okay. I'm gonna go through your basketball journey, and then I'm going to go back to the the fall of 2020.

ML: Sure.

GL: Okay. So you played and started playing in February, correct?

00:25:00

ML: Yep.

GL: And how did the team do?

ML: Yeah, we, I think we went 5-2. We had-- you're supposed to play they split the conference into two sides, two divisions for basketball. And you're supposed to play the people in your side of it twice. Like you'd play on a Wednesday and a Friday. You would test Wednesday morning, test Friday morning and play. We had, I think it was Platteville, Whitewater and Stevens Point on our side, and then you're supposed to get one crossover with the other side. And we were supposed to play Eau Claire. But we had an issue on a Wednesday, a young man who was one of the most high-character, squared away kids on our team called me like a three o'clock and said, 'hey, I'm not feeling well. I just woke up from a nap. I'm not feeling well', he had already tested negative that morning. And so when he was experiencing symptoms at three, we had to call Whitewater and cancel the game. And then we were rushing, you know, PCR tests overnight and different 00:26:00things dadada. Eventually were all cleared again on Friday, that kid did not have COVID. And we were fortunate we were able to play Whitewater on Friday night, but you lost a game there. And then we lost both games versus Eau Claire, because they had several kids test positive in the days leading up to our game. So we were only playing five regular season games and then two conference tournament games.

GL: When you said lost, you didn't lose the game, they forfeited?

ML: Yeah, they were canceled. I don't-- they weren't counted as forfeits. They were just it was canceled is what they were, so.

GL: So how did your players do COVID wise? I mean, did any of those students contract COVID?

ML: Yeah, we had several in the fall. We had, at the time, we had maybe six guys living in like the tall dorms in South Scott, North Scott. And if you're living 00:27:00in those dorms, you pretty much are just going to get COVID. And so our guys, like pretty much everybody that lived on campus, ended up with it at some point in the fall. And then, you know some, like one or two guys chose to live in the isolation dorm that was Gruenhagen. Quite a few guys went and lived at home like in their basement. One kid lived in a camper for a week behind his parents' house, and he loved to hunt. And so while he was positive, he would go and hunt out the back of the camper. So they survived. We probably only had one or two guys that had like significant symptoms where they weren't, you know, they just were not feeling well. A lot of guys had mild symptoms, thankfully.

GL: Okay. All right. So, um, and then the season ended. You know, what was the ranking?

ML: I know that year they were doing rankings, but I honestly can't remember. I 00:28:00don't think we were ranked anywhere that year. There were some division three programs that were able to play a lot more games. Like some people were able to play 15-16 games. Our league just wasn't able to pull that together.

GL: So the UW Oshkosh men's team was the national champion the 2018-2019 [season], correct?

ML: Correct.

GL: Okay, and then you lost the season of 2019-2020. It's not the real season. I mean, it's like a modified season. Is that the one?

ML: 2019-2020 was the season we lost in the second round

GL: Okay.

ML: And then it was 2020-21--

GL: That's modified.

ML: That was the modified, yeah. February of 21 was when we got to play seven games. Right. Yeah.

GL: So what did you do with-- some of your student athletes were probably seniors coming in after being a national champion. And then they had to graduate-- sort of like sent home, they were sent home.

00:29:00

ML: Yeah.

GL: Did you ever see them again? I mean, that--

ML: So there were, I think it was five guys that year. I've been fortunate. We've got a lot of kids from the Wisconsin area. And so I've seen all those guys, but still not nearly as much as you would have in a normal two years after they're done playing. Like one young man, I've still got his practice gear, and Adam Fravert is his name. He plays professionally right now, in Spain. He went home, and he had forgotten this practice gear, and so I had it hanging in my office. And then he, you know a couple minutes later they, you know at some point in that [2021], early [2021 season], he was able to go overseas and play professionally. And then he got home, and he was living in Madison, and I wasn't able to connect in the summer of [2021]. And then he left again to go play in Spain. And so I've seen Adam maybe one time, and so I've still got his practice 00:30:00gear from two years ago hanging in my office. So it's been difficult to stay in-person connected to some of those guys that you would normally see quite often.

GL: Those are the guys that were part of your championship team, right?

ML: Yeah. Adam Fravert and then Jack Flynn were two of the big guys there. Jake Zeitler, Brian Wilman. Jason Price, Dave Vlotho. I actually live a couple blocks from Jack Flynn, which is a good thing and a bad thing. So--

GL: Okay, now let's go back to fall of 2020. Well actually, even before that. The chancellor, the administration furloughed about 200 people during that time because of financial reasons. And, you know, let's just go there. Were you one of those people who were furloughed?

ML: I was on the intermittent furlough. So I was not one of the people that was 00:31:00on the continuous. But our assistant coach was on the continuous furlough for four months.

GL: And how did that affect you? I mean, as you know, that's a pay cut.

ML: I mean, we were fortunate. I mean, my wife and I were fortunate both of us were able to continue working. She's an admissions at Lawrence University in Appleton, and admissions is a position that is needed. I mean, even during a pandemic, you have to have your admissions team. And so we were lucky that both of us were still receiving an income, and so we were in a decent place financially. That's probably-- we're going through all of it like could have it much worse.

GL: And in the fall, the university also reassigned a number of people to work in different roles. Were you among those people?

ML: Yeah, our entire athletic department because of the unknown of seasons 00:32:00occurring or not occurring, we were all repurposed on campus. And I was assigned initially as a contact tracer. And so in August of '20, I started training down at Winnebago County. I think I was with Winnebago County Health was who was during training, but they brought us in to train us as a contact tracer. But that position quickly changed and molded into a disease investigator. So I went from calling the close contacts to calling all the positive cases, because we had so many cases on campus those first few weeks, and there just weren't enough disease investigators to call the positive cases and help them figure out where they need to go and isolate.

GL: So walk me through something like that. I mean, what did you have to do? And how long did you do that for?

ML: I had to do it, I think until November that year. So I started in late 00:33:00August, and September, October. And then I think at some point in November, we transitioned out of it, because we were prepping for a season or thought we would be prepping for a season. So they were able to get us back towards the athletics thing. It was a good amount of work. I mean, I got to work with some people that were awesome. There was a kind of a small team of us that were the disease investigators. There were some people still doing just the close contact tracing. Then there was quite a few in athletics that were doing the hotline and answering any questions that came in. I had a second cell phone that was given to me by Winnebago County Health and an old iPhone, and you just sit down, you're assigned the cases, the new ones each day started being input into the spreadsheet we were working off of usually kind of mid day. Either at noon, or one or something, all the cases started rolling in. And they really didn't stop 00:34:00until 7:30-8 o'clock at night. There's like a seven hour window where names just kept being put in this spreadsheet. And it was critical that you got ahold of those people as fast as possible because a lot of them lived in dorms or houses, community living, and you had to get them to someplace that wasn't community living. And so you're assigned certain pockets of time that you're supposed to be actively calling. But what it resulted in a lot of times was you know, six o'clock at night. There's another 30 positive cases at the end of the day. And just anybody that was available at home would would hop on the computer and start calling positive cases, and so you'd sit there you know 7-8 o'clock at night with these people that now you knew really well, the other disease investigators, and you're just texting each other, emailing each other like, 'hey, who's who's calling that kid who's calling that kid,' or just trying to work through it as best you could for those two months.

GL: Were you on campus when you did that, or you did this at home?

ML: I did a lot of it from my bathroom. My wife has a nice, I don't know what 00:35:00you would call it. We did not have a home office, right? We never thought we need a home office. But so my wife had a nice--

GL: Vanity?

ML: That's probably a good thing. I got in trouble for setting drinks on it, I know that. Because it was like the only fair family heirloom that she has. So I would leave drink stains from setting my drink on it, but that was where I can make calls. And she could do her own thing downstairs. And then eventually we got a home office set up. But a lot of those a lot of those calls were made from the bathroom at the vanity.

GL: And do you introduce yourself to the students?

ML: Yeah, there was a script initially that they gave you. And so it helped guide you through the information that you needed to receive. The initial script involved like a 20 minute phone call. I mean, you were diving into a lot of things. Well, when when there was 80,90, maybe more than that, cases a day, in 00:36:00those first few weeks of September as kids are moving back to the dorms, there was not time for a 20 minute phone call. You may have had a seven minute phone call. And so you, you knew the really important information you were trying to get. And so you just you tried to gather that information. So you introduce yourself. Some kids knew me because of the success that we had had and being the men's basketball coach. And so sometimes, yeah, I'm the men's basketball coach on campus. It's like, oh, hey, you know, nice to meet you. And then, 'okay, you're positive. Here's what you need to know, what are you experiencing?' dadada-- and then you get that info as quickly as possible while being helpful and supportive. But there was a lot more kids you had to reach. So you just couldn't there for 20 minutes and have a full conversation.

GL: Did this students ever ask you 'what is the men's basketball coach doing calling me?'

ML: Yeah, absolutely. And it was, I mean, everybody that fall, it seemed like 00:37:00was having to do something that was in addition to, or completely outside of their normal job responsibility. Like every person, and really in almost all walks of life, like we were all doing something to help contribute to our community. And so it was pretty easy. Yeah, like somebody needs to reach out to you guys, and they've asked us to do it. So here we are.

GL: Did you reach out to somebody that you actually knew?

ML: Yeah, there would be some names that I was familiar with. And it was if you had to call some freshmen you had to call sophomores you had to call off-campus students, anybody that had tested on our campus. And then at one stage was anybody that had tested off campus that was connected to UWO. There weren't enough contact tracers or disease investigators in the county. So if they found out that, you know, if they went to SunnyView Expo Center and tested positive, the county would reroute them to our team. And then we're dealing with those too 00:38:00and so-- and we were calling faculty and staff, so your conversations were quite different. You know, you deal with a faculty staff member that asks 'what do I do with my family?', and then you had a freshman that-- 'wait, I have to move out of the dorm? Like, why can't I just stay in my dorm?' And so it was drastically different based on who you called?

GL:

Did you ever take a moment and like, you know-- the breathe parts-- of what, what the heck am I doing? I'm the basketball coach. What am I doing?

ML: Absolutely. I think we all probably did. But again, we tried to remind ourselves that likely this isn't forever. You just kind of got to get through it. And you got to do your part. And we're fortunate to still have jobs because I mean, in June and July of that year, there are a lot of college coaches meeting, wondering if we were going to have jobs and if we didn't have jobs, what were we going to do? And so I remember being in a lot of those 00:39:00conversations like so I don't know what else I'd be good at. I don't think I meant to go and work a desk job. And so when I had a job, I think I was just thankful that I was getting to continue to call myself a basketball coach.

GL: I believe that you were, you know that two and a half months or whatever-- I think I got the thing that says .25 FTE, so you were paid-- I mean, how many hours a day are you working as a contact tracer and disease investigator?

ML: Yeah, the first few weeks it was much more. I mean, it was dang near probably 80% of what I was doing was the disease investigating in September, at the height of it for our campus that fall. A lot of your time was that, but it was just like the work had to get done. And so you did it. As the fall went, it 00:40:00would, you know, it shifted back towards the .25 (FTE), you know, so 8-10 hours a week type stuff. But initially, it was much, much more just-- we had to do it.

GL:

Are you a 12 month employee?

ML:

Yes, fortunately. Yes.

GL: Okay. All right. So let's get to the spring of well actually, fall of 2020. You know, the vaccines were readily available, and the administration, the CDC, had you know, urged people to get vaccinated. What were your initial reactions to the vaccines?

ML: We, my wife and I, got ours as soon as we could. And we were able to being connected to a university, and education, we were able to get ours fairly soon. And so we were able to get ours I think up at a Walgreens near us.

GL: Okay, and then, you know, we've been living in the pandemic for over two 00:41:00years now. I mean, what have you learned about yourself, you know, living and working-- with the job assignment and your reassignment everything. What have you learned about yourself during this time?

ML: It's probably something I knew ish, going into it. But after it, I know it for a fact. Like, I am not cut out to work, you know, behind the cell phone and at a desk, or with limited people interaction. The best thing about college coaching for me is interacting with people, and obviously the student athletes, but other people around campus. Like that, that really excites me, I'm not the person suited for sitting at a home office. And maybe seeing some people in the evening like that. That's just not me. So I, I really learned that man, I want to be back on campus, I want to be around people. That's what I really value.

00:42:00

GL: When the students were playing, your student athletes were playing in that spring of 2021. There was no people in the crowd, in the stands. I mean, what was that, like?

ML: It was not as much fun as having a great crowd. But there were some unique things to it that we embrace. You know, you're playing in a dead quiet gym. And we really pride ourselves on being passionate, energetic, enthusiastic. Having having the best bench in the country is something we talked about. And they, the NCAA had reconfigured, and really, all levels of athletics. But the NCAA had specific parameters for how you set up your bench. And depending on the seat that was assigned to a young man, they could basically stay in the entire game. And so if you went back and you watched the film of our games from that year, we would-- the front row, if guys had a front row seat, they could not be standing. 00:43:00And so what we would do is the guys that were in the rotation would have a front row seat because they come out and they rest. Every guy that wasn't in the rotation had a second or third row seat, and they all just stand. And so now, it was probably the opposite. Like they didn't want people standing on top of each other. But we were on a bus together in a locker room together, like what's a matter of we're standing on top of each other on a bench? So it was fun, because our guys literally just, they were in a group of guys standing the entire game cheering for one another going crazy. And then what we found, nobody used the front chairs, so they'd just walked back to the group and hang out. And so it was it was cool from that standpoint, because they just-- they got to do some unique things on the bench that they never got to do. And now we're back to one row of chairs where you're not supposed to be standing at all. So it was not as much fun as a big crowd, but our guys embraced it and found some some fun ways 00:44:00to enjoy it.

GL: Do you remember the first time you were allowed to have crowds back in? I mean--

ML: It was fall of this year of 20-- fall of 21 starting that 2021-22 season. So November, whenever our first home game was, November of '21. We were able to get fans back, which was a lot of fun.

GL: I mean, did the the way that the students played-- I mean was it-- was the atmosphere different?

ML: Yeah, I think they really appreciated it. I mean, they probably recognized How important it was to them to have family and friends there. And we-- I like to think that our guys have always played really, really hard and passionately. But this year, like, this team that we had this year was special in 2021-22. Like they played as hard as any team I've ever been around. And so they, there 00:45:00are some really good crowds, especially when we got late in the season in January and February of 22. They got to play in some really cool crowds, which was fun for them.

GL:

Okay, so, um, how has your job changed because of this? Um, was there anything that changed, do you think permanently, because of the pandemic?

ML: Fortunately, not a ton. There's, I mean, there's some new challenges, I would say, you have one big thing I think that jumps out is anybody that's working with really all walks of life, but working with 18 to 22 year olds, there's a lot more mental health hurdles for people. So we've had, you know, young men on our team that have struggled with mental health. And I think that's a new challenge coming out of the pandemic. It just seems like we were maybe just people were more comfortable speaking about it in the last few years than 00:46:00they had been previously. And then there probably were just more people affected by it mentally. And so we've had to deal with that. And it's been a challenge for some guys. And that would be something I'd say you just are more aware of as a basketball coach now is where people are at mentally.

GL: How did you find out about these issues?

ML: We're fortunate that we spend a lot of time like trying to build genuine open relationships with the guys. So most of these guys just walk in your office and just lay it on you like 'I'm really struggling', or 'I don't, I just don't feel right. Like the last few weeks, I just haven't felt right'. Sometimes teammates, they've confided in a teammate, and that teammate made just pointed out, like, hey, so and so came to me, and he's struggling. So they were just 00:47:00lucky that we've we've had an openness to us where guys come and express it to us.

GL: Do you? Is it because of the pandemic? Or is it because of other issues?

ML: I would, I would probably say a combo. I mean, and really, it's hard to ever say Right, like, we're I'm not a professional by any stretch of the imagination. So I think some kids have been seriously affected by the pandemic, and I mean, some kids are-- they went through the last two years of high school, and they're coming to us, or they went through that spring of senior season, and they lose spring and senior year, and they lose all of that. And then they start freshman in college, at the height of the pandemic. And so a year and a half, two years of the best years of your life are drastically affected, you know, and young men for sure, we are nowhere near mentally developed for a lot of years. And so 00:48:00we're developing mentally, in the height of a pandemic, on a college campus. So I think probably a lot of those guys were affected by it. And then maybe there were some issues previously. And now that more people are speaking about it in the pandemic, some of those guys are more willing to be open about what they were dealing with prior to the pandemic.

GL: And how do you deal with that? I mean, do you send them to our counseling center?

ML: Yeah, try and get them connected to resources. And that's probably one of the toughest things as well, when you're trying to be supportive of someone that is dealing with mental health. It's like you can't force someone to go, you just, you lay out the resources, you try and support them and get them connected. Some people are more willing to go and get the help than others. And so you just, you know, if someone's willing to help them you go 'yes, that is awesome that you're willing to go and speak about it'. If they're not, then you just try and be supportive until they are willing to go and get help if that's 00:49:00what's needed.

GL: Is there anything you would have done differently knowing what you know now and in relation to your work?

ML: Not necessarily. I actually haven't really thought about that. Yeah, nothing like jumps out. I mean, there were challenging moments the last two years, but we've ended up in a really good place like myself, personally, professionally. Our program as a whole is healthy right now. So I don't know that I change a whole lot. Maybe in the fall of 2020, try and complain to my wife less they've made that'd be a good one. But we've been lucky, I think overall.

GL: So, um, you know, people talked about the pandemic, and they talked about essential workers. And, you know, obviously the people who are the first 00:50:00responders and the health care workers, they were working during the height and still continued to work of the pandemic. You in Your reassign role, actually, you were part of the solution or part of the, you know, doing something, um, do you have, do you feel yourself like that you you did something outside of your job as a as a basketball player, I mean, basketball coach,

ML: I would not like I had to pick up a phone and call people and try and help that, but I don't think I was like, I didn't do nearly as much as a lot of people. I know that for a fact. So no, I hadn't really put myself anywhere near the people that were truly on the front lines helping. And I've had friends that were doing it, I've got, I've got friends wives that were doing it. And then a lot of people were sacrificing and putting themselves at risk far ahead of what what I was doing for sure.

GL:

00:51:00

Alright, so you know, I'm gonna go go to your talk to you a little bit about your personal life. And when we when you were sent home, who are you living with at that time?

ML:

My wife, Galen, just the two of us. We didn't have any kids at the time. My family, mom and dad and brother and sister in law and three nieces. And then my mother in law, and we've got a lot of family within 20 minutes. But we were we were on the cautious side of things. And so we were not interacting with them much unless we were standing outside somewhere, you know, having an outside meal or something. So a lot of time with with my wife and I hanging out.

GL: And then you have do you have children?

ML: We do now? Yes, we do now. Yeah, that so early. In the pandemic. This is probably summer of 2020. So a few months in when you're sitting there, 00:52:00processing what is coming in the future. We realized we had a lot of time, and we had talked about adoption. For a few years, we kind of knew that if we want to have children we adopt. And so my wife was eager to get that process going, because it's a long process to start adoption. And so we made that decision that summer, to start going through the adoption process and to find an agency and to go through the training and to get an adoption pool. And so that was fall of 20. While doing the extra responsibilities here on campus at home. We were navigating those early steps of adoption.

GL: You were thinking of of adopting children during the pandemic.

ML: Yeah, well, you never knew when the pandemic was gonna be over you. None of us probably process it was gonna be two years. And now. Hopefully, we're 00:53:00trending sitting here in April 22. Hopefully, we're near the end of the spring. But who knows? So I don't think in the summer of 20, we were probably like, yeah, you're gonna adopt kids still in the middle. And there's a lot to come. We probably are like, Oh, by the time we adopt kids will be well past this thing. But that's not the way it works.

GL: When did you get adopt? Yeah,

ML: we we got matched. Again, funny how timing works. We got matched in February of 21, which would have been when we were playing. We got a phone call and the adoption agency, we worked with an agency out of Green Bay, we wanted to adopt locally, which is, in some ways, the toughest, because they're just you know, your pool is much smaller of adoptive mothers and kids. So we got we got matched, they called us they said do you want twins and my wife was freaking out because she didn't know how to feed two at once. Until we we agreed that yes, we 00:54:00want twins. And then we as we were going through some of those first few meetings. It was one of the weeks was when our UW Eau Claire games got cancelled. And so I literally had nothing to do for a week, apart from just our own practice. And so I had, I had more time than I ever had during a season and where we could go through some of those adoption meetings and kind of get things squared away. And then that spring right after the season was over March, April, we were doing the doctor's appointments. We were fortunate to have a good relationship with the birth mother and so I went to appointments with her and then the kids were born on May 8 of 21 and Know same thing where there still wasn't a ton, you could do that maybe you could do a little recruiting a little stuff. But we just, I had a lot of time. And so I lived, basically lived and worked from home for May, June, July, August while the girls were in their first few months.

GL: Are you at all worried about I mean, the vaccine is not available yet for 00:55:00children? I mean, how worried were you about bringing the virus home to them?

ML: Yeah, that was an absolute concern. It's part of the reason we got the vaccine as quickly as possible. They were born for twins, they were in a good place. But they were still born premature and one was born, not breathing. And then they quickly got to breathing in the, in the room. But that was definitely like, we didn't know how the girls were going to react. So that was probably our biggest concern that summer, because I was we were back to running camp. Some we were back to go and recruiting some. And you just didn't want to bring it to the kids?

GL: Did you or your wife or anyone close to you get COVID?

ML: Yeah, we eventually did in, I believe it was January of 21. So a few months ago. And the girls we had to 22? Yes, January 22. Sorry, apologize, January 22. 00:56:00So we, we sent the girls to daycare in the fall, there's there's a calculated risk, because the only way that my wife and I could keep working would would be to send them to daycare. And so we send a daycare, they avoided COVID at daycare for the first September, October, November, December, and really into January. And then they got it. The girls ended up with COVID. Some point in January, like they had some mild symptoms, fortunately, nothing bad. And you know, they actually are going through influenza right now. There it past him, but like a week ago, they had influenza. And those symptoms are worse than the COVID symptoms. So we got lucky, but they got it. And then my wife and I just knew as a matter of days before we got it, and sure enough, we got it. And then basically all my extended extended family members, they all ended up with it. But I'm not sure how because we still weren't hanging out together inside. And 00:57:00so it was just kind of funny. There's like eight of us that all had COVID in the same week after not having it for a year and a half.

GL: And how's everyone doing now?

ML: Are all good. Yeah, we're very lucky.

GL: All right. We touched on a ton of things. I mean, if there's anything else that we I missed that you want to add.

ML: No, I think that was a lot of ground covered. No, I think that was good. Well,

GL: thank you for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate your contribution to campus COVID stories at UW Oshkosh