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Courtesy: Gonzaga Athletics

Scavenger Hunt Helps Team Bonding For Baseball, Tennis, Golf

Courtesy: Gonzaga Athletics
          Release: 04/13/2012
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            SPOKANE, Wash. - Take bits and pieces of two television reality/game shows, throw in a scavenger hunt and what do you have?

            In the case of Gonzaga University's baseball, golf and tennis teams you have a model for team bonding.

            It started in the fall of 2010 as a brainchild of the baseball team. The result was so favorable the men's and women's tennis and golf teams got into the act this year.

            Baseball first tried it in the fall of 2010.

            "The year we had it in 2010 we thought the team wasn't as jelled as we thought it should be, so we just tried to do more things that brought the team together. We did it last year and the guys loved it, had a blast with it, so we thought we'd make it an every year thing," assistant baseball coach Steve Bennett said.

            But year two couldn't be a replica of year one, and the challenge was on.

            "This year we wanted to do it, but change what we had done. The first year was a scavenger hunt. Coach (Danny) Evans put clues and they had to grab an envelope and it was like the Amazing Race," Bennett said of copying the concept of one of television's reality shows. "This year we decided to do more stuff here, but did a picture hunt. Danny and his wife came up with about 20 things and I came up with about 10 things you needed to take a picture with or do downtown."

            The 35 members of the baseball team were grouped into seven teams of five. Captains were selected and team members were drawn from a hat.

            "We had seven teams of five, so the first four exercises were a 3-point shooting contest; a slap shot regatta with hockey sticks and a goalie; we went outside and did a soccer goal and each team shot and the other had to defend, and a field goal contest. Then we did our Minute-To-Win-It games (the games came right off the television shows website). Then we went downtown and handed them the sheet of 30 things and they had an hour and fifteen minutes to get as many as they can. We gave them a point for each one."

            When women's golf coach Brad Rickel and women's tennis coach D.J. Gurule heard what baseball had done it piqued their interest.

            "We called it the GoTen Challenge (combining the words golf and tennis). It had a scavenger hunt, Minute-To-Win-It and the Amazing Race. We did it to try and build team camaraderie and camaraderie between our programs. Our programs are so small in numbers it would be nice to become friends with those other programs so they know more student-athletes. We ended up with 36 student-athletes from men's and women's golf and men's and women's tennis," Rickel said.

            And, as the baseball coaches had done, Rickel, Gurule, men's golf coach Robert Gray and men's tennis coach Peter MacDonald put the game pieces together.

            "The coaches went out and looked around campus. We wanted the photo scavenger hunt to be about our campus. The more they knew about our campus the easier it would be to find these things. We also thought it would be fun for our student-athletes to be running around campus trying to find stuff and engage people on campus. D.J. was the final say on the Minute-To-Win-It games and we all kind of looked at the ones we liked. We wanted it to be tame but funny," Rickel explained.

            Baseball wanted to do something to get away from the daily grind of fall baseball.

            "We (coaches) just sat around and brainstormed things we could do with our guys other than baseball. We're so used to our guys following the same schedule and out on the field competing. It was a chance for them to step out of that realm and get to know each other. Some fun things to put them in a little different situation then they are normally in," Evans said.

            The result?

            "They loved it. They said the first year was the turning point of our team as far as really coming together and seeing each other outside baseball. There were some friendships that came from it. We try to put some different guys together. Our pitchers always hang out together and the position players are always together. We try to inter-mingle them. We pick the captains and then draw names out of a hat. The way it has come out the last two years has been really good. Not only class mix but by position," Evans said. "Maybe guys who normally wouldn't hang out on an everyday basis, they came together and new friendships were formed. The fall is a grind and I think they look forward to knowing that is the end of it and something different so they can get together."

            Golf and tennis enjoyed much the same success.

            "We were wondering how they would react to it. Once we explained the scavenger part to them - which was the first event - and said go, they took off like they had been shot out of a cannon. We knew immediately they had bought in. We wanted it to be a crazy great workout, we wanted to get their competitive juices flowing and for them to work with people they hadn't known prior to that day; to work closely with them and compete with them. All of that happened," Rickel said. "By the time it got down to the Amazing Race and the last six or eight clues that started heading them through downtown and the skywalks, we had four of the six teams still in the hunt and it was full throttle at that point, so it was really cool."

            There was at least one player from each of the men's and women's golf and tennis squads on each of the teams.

            Gurule said the event caught his players by surprise.

            "I think it was a good distraction. It hit them the beginning of prep week (prior to first-semester finals). Our kids were pretty excited and we kind of kept them in the dark for awhile about what we were doing," Gurule noted. "I think it helped us meet the other people in those sports, in golf for sure, and to hang out with the men's tennis team."

            Unlike baseball, which drove the players downtown for that part of the Amazing Race, the golf and tennis teams left from campus. The team with the most points heading into the Amazing Race got to leave campus first, and the last team left about six minutes after the first team.

            "It was real competitive. My team is very competitive so they were all in for sure," Gurule said. "We watched them do the end of it and they were sprinting everywhere they went. One of the captains said it was the best workout we had so maybe they thought we tricked them into a conditioning. They did a pretty good job."

            Baseball saw some immediate results that first year.

            "We knew it went well when we brought recruits in." Bennett said. "We brought some recruits to campus at the end of the fall and our players were telling recruits how excited they were about team day coming up. When we went out for dinner our recruits wanted to know everything about it. We couldn't really tell them because we didn't want the word to get out. But we knew they were talking about it amongst our team."

            Evans agreed.

            "It is the talk from day one as to when it is, what are we doing, guys are trying to find out secrets to get the edge, so it is fun. I think we'll be able to find new and creative things to do. They like heading downtown and they enjoy the team dinner," Evans said. "It seems like the excitement has grown every year. It's hard to keep it really fresh but we try to change it up. It gets them a little familiar with Spokane. They get to see different places they might not have seen before, or even knew were there."

            While baseball is obviously going to continue, the golf and tennis coaches also hope to make it an annual tradition. But one thing in particular hit home with Gurule at the dinner which was the climax of the day.

            "I think it will definitely be an annual tradition. I like working with Brad, Robert and Pete. It was a good experience for us as coaches to get together and spend some time working on something. I didn't have any negative feedback from my team," Gurule said. "One of the best things I noticed was when we finished and we were having dinner our teams weren't sitting together. Our teams were sitting with their "teams" and spread out with everybody else and talking. We didn't have any cell phones so everybody was really involved. There's definitely so much upside to it. We heard from baseball that it was a really great team-building experience. Our challenge is to one-up next year which is going to be tough."

            Points were awarded each team for all of the various activities with each team also having the opportunity for bonus points.

            The creativity stood out, especially for baseball.

            "One picture was to feed the ducks. One group found an Oregon Duck fan with a shirt on and they were feeding them food. That was great and we were dying," Evans recalled. "One was to take a picture in front of a water feature so they took a picture of one of the guys giving a swirly in a toilet. That was their water feature. That's what it's about, getting them out of their comfort zone and let loose a little bit."

            Evans said it was good to see the multiple personalities.

            "Everything is so structured in the fall that it's a time for us to see their personalities and see them away from the field. It lets us know who we have as personalities and see how they will jell. They get to see a side of us because we let loose a little bit, and they get to see a side of us that isn't a coaching side but our personalities," Evans continued.

            Rickel sees it becoming an annual tradition.

            "I think it was great. They ended up making new friends who are athletes with similar goals. They worked well together," Rickel observed. "We hope to make it an annual thing. We took a lot of this from baseball. It was baseball's idea, such a good idea we thought it would help our teams as well and show recruits we are trying to build an entire program here; that is not just school and golf or school and tennis, but school and sports plus being a family and being a part of something bigger than just those two things. I think every year we'll tweak it so they'll never know exactly what is coming. This year was a total surprise."