Basketball team manager uses championship, newfound celebrity to inspire others
By Scott Rudie
When recalling the recent success of the men’s basketball team, manager Ty Stacey’s eyes flash unmistakable pride at the collective sacrifice and selflessness required for his team to win its first-ever national championship.
Ty is, at his core, self-effacing and modest, and prefers to speak of even individual accolades and honors in terms of how they represent the team.
“Every person on the team has a story,” said Ty, a junior political science major. “I wish you had the time to speak with every member.”
And yet it was his personal story that gained considerable attention during the season. Ty, who suffers from spastic cerebral palsy, is confined to his scooter most of the time. He can only walk for short distances. But despite the obstacles, Ty pursued his dream of becoming a major contributor to a basketball team.
His story appeared as a front-page feature in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Winning Hoops Magazine named him the first-ever Aspiring Coach award winner, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated the attitude, work ethic, and determination needed to become a successful basketball coach. And both of these developments bookended the Wolves’ national championship. That’s a lot of attention, and Ty admits that it pushed him outside of his comfort zone.
“Coach emailed me one day about the interview for the article,” he recalled. “It came out of left field for me. For my family and me, we were kind of overwhelmed because they didn’t see me like that and I don’t see myself like that. Mostly, it was an opportunity to get the program out there for those who may not have known about Stritch.”
Diener knows that the attention will not take Ty’s focus away from the team. It’s simply not in his nature.
“It’s cool to see so many people recognize what a special person he is,” Diener said. “But Ty will remain humble. Like the other members of the team, Ty is happy to bring positive attention to our program.”
Ty felt passionate about basketball even as a child. Growing up, he enjoyed watching his sister play the game and found inspiration in the notion of a group of committed individuals united in a common effort. Despite his handicap, he knew he wanted to participate in some way.
“My love for basketball grows every day,” he said. “The 12-13 guys on the team all have a role; there’s something so amazing about watching those people come
together for one purpose.”
So Ty eventually became involved with his high school team, running the shot clock and offering support in any other way he could. Over time, he found a role that he made uniquely his own – as a motivator to keep the players focused.
“I like to bring positive energy and focus,” he said. “I love to connect with people and leave them as much of an imprint as I can.”
Ty graduated from high school and left basketball behind. He studied at several other higher educational institutions but struggled to find the sense of home that he craved.
“I knew something was missing and that it was probably basketball,” he said.
That ultimately led him to Stritch, where his sister, Karson, also attends. Here, he found an opportunity as team manager for the men’s basketball team through Head Coach Drew Diener, with whom he shares a hometown (Fond du Lac, Wis.). Perhaps more importantly, he found a campus setting that felt like a match with his personality.
“Everyone here seems so close-knit,” he said.
Ty’s presence had an immediate impact on the team, according to Diener.
“Ty brings great spirit to every practice and every drill in practice,” he said. “He pushes guys to play harder and run faster. Specifically, he made us a better rebounding team, which was a focal point. Ty was constantly talking to guys in practice, after practice and during games about the importance of being a great rebounding team. He took ownership in it and made us better.”
Ty’s first year as team manager proved to be a defining one, not only for him personally, but also for the University, as the season ended with the Wolves capturing their first-ever N.A.I.A. Division II national championship.
“It was unreal,” Ty said, beaming a reflective smile. “I’m looking forward to this summer so that I can re-watch the games of that championship run because it’s all a bit of a blur.”
During that “blur,” Ty worked long hours with coaches preparing for the next key matchup. Some days Ty stayed awake for 24 straight hours, creating game plans and preparing the players.
For Ty, the championship game versus the No. 1-ranked William Penn University Statesmen created especially vivid memories of not only a team coming together for one final challenge, but of an entire community rallying around them.
“I really want to thank the alumni for the championship run and all the others that laid the groundwork and made this championship happen,” he said. “It’s amazing how much the atmosphere at Stritch picked up – a tight-knit community got that much tighter. And it started to feel that even people who weren’t a part of the University still really rooted for us because it’s such a great group of men.”
And then the championship game ended. Stritch, 73; William Penn, 59. Quickly blinded by flashbulbs and enthusiastically greeted along with his teammates by a championship banner, Ty remembers pausing mentally to savor the moment.
“The look on those guys’ faces will stay with me forever,” he recalled. “I was tearing up because I dreamed of being in a position like that. I got to do something people in my position rarely get to experience. I was just overcome with so much emotion, and I wanted to get the message out for others with handicaps that you can get involved in sports.”
However, his spastic cerebral palsy remains a physical and mental challenge.
“I’m not going to lie; sometimes it’s hard,” he said. “It has gotten easier as I’ve gotten older. A lot of it has to do with my family; they never let me settle. Ninety percent of the time, it’s fine. I don’t even think about it.”
When it does take a toll, Ty often relies on his beloved team and the wider Stritch community for support and inspiration.
“The people here have helped because they don’t view me as handicapped,” he said. “I don’t look at those 13 guys like players. They are my family. Coach Diener approaches every day as if it’s his last day, as if he’s never accomplished anything.”
Ty is already anticipating a new season of Wolves basketball.
Beyond Stritch, his career aspirations are still evolving. He’s considering politics as a way of fulfilling his interest in serving others, but he is open to other possibilities.
“I want to do something that impacts people’s lives,” he said. “The job itself really is secondary, so I will sit back and see where life takes me. My ultimate goal is to coach.”