Without question, Marisah Henderson got the sweetest deal when it comes to the Wichita State women's basketball mentoring program.
"I feel a tiny bit a part of the team, which is really cool," said Beth Tully, owner and master chocolatier at Cocoa Dolce Artisan Chocolates. "I'm like the honorary mascot or something, as long as I bring chocolate."
Wichita State coach Jody Adams knew what she wanted to do after college. She studied under the best coach in the nation — Tennessee's Pat Summitt. When Adams took over her own program, she wanted to help players who didn't want to continue a life in basketball after college.
"Not everybody who plays for me wants to be a coach," she said. "The one things Beth Tully can pass along is her work ethic, her vision as a leader, how she gives to this community. Those things that need to come, sometimes, from other people, other respected people in the community."
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One of Adams' first priorities when she came to WSU in the spring of 2008 was to start a mentoring program. She wanted her players to enjoy contact with women outside of basketball, women who could help her players mature and prepare for their future.
Mentors and their proteges meet for a dinner in early fall. They perform a community service project and spend time job shadowing. In between, they get together as schedules allow.
Often, the relationship is not about basketball, something the players say they need.
Businessperson Sheryl Wohlford helped senior Ashley Gladden grieve when her grandfather died. Gladden, from Baltimore, and her mother spent Christmas with Wohlford. Wichita Eagle fashion writer Bonnie Bing is teaching freshman Jazimen Gordon to add color to her wardrobe and etiquette at the dinner table.
"Most of our conversations aren't about basketball," Gladden said. "She usually asks me what's wrong before I can get it out."
Henderson, a senior from Kansas City, Kan., and Tully are in their second year as a team. The match turned out better than either expected.
Henderson came to WSU as a shy junior who sometimes let her frustrations take over. Tully wasn't a "ball person."
"It was like love at first sight," Tully said.
Almost two years later, they credit their relationship with opening doors. They see each other every week or so, depending on the season. They text and call regularly. Tully is a season-ticket holder who usually sticks around after games to see Henderson. Henderson is free to stop by Cocoa Dolce, or the manufacturing building, to talk or work. She helps at charity events and is the Shocker chocolate expert, able to explain what it means to "temper" chocolate, the correct temperature needed, and why Cocoa Dolce uses Belgium chocolate.
"Beth is somebody I never would have thought I would get to know," she said.
Tully's influence, as well as Adams', has helped Henderson learn how to deal with people.
"Just being around people — Beth's a people person," Adams said. "For Marisah to be around and go make chocolate with her and be there working with her to see how she meets her employees and how she meets new faces and engages in conversation with those new people who walk into her store everyday... that's something Marisah has seen over and over."
As a junior, Henderson said frustration sometimes got the better of her — she called herself high strung. Teammates say she had a temper.
"She's willing to communicate now," said Gladden, her roommate. "At first, it was hard for her to communicate what she wanted. She might get upset about what she wanted because she didn't know how to put it in words. She's definitely a different person."
Henderson learned a leader can't talk to everyone the same way. She learned to talk team things to the team. If the subject is tough or critical, her approach needs to fit the person and circumstance.
"It's easier to express myself with different types of people," she said. "Some people are better if you challenge them. Others are if you pull them to the side."
The Shockers are benefiting this season.
"Our leadership from last year to this year, it's a (180)," Adams said. "How she manages her emotions, the negativity that sometimes runs through your mind when you make a mistake to being able to bounce back."
Helping Henderson didn't seem like hard work to Tully. She enjoys playing her part and watching young women work hard and play basketball with passion.
"My generation, that was right before a lot of the entitlement programs that equalized the playing field for females in sports," she said. "I think I missed something really profound, I see now, in building a team."