Snowbound on PA turnpike, Duquesne men's basketball team made the best of chilly situation
January 23, 2016 9:07 PM
@DuqMBB on Twitter
While stuck on the turnpike the Dukes did what college students do so well – they killed time.
By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At some point early Saturday morning, as his team’s bus remained in the same spot it had been for the past several hours, Duquesne University forward L.G. Gill fell asleep.
When he woke up a few hours later, it seemed like they hadn’t moved. He wasn’t groggy, nor was he caught in a bad dream. He, his teammates, coaches and staff were stuck.
The Dukes’ bus carrying them back from a Friday game at George Mason idled in the same position on the Pennsylvania Turnpike about 80 miles outside of Pittsburgh for a stretch of 22 hours spanning from Friday evening to Saturday night, caught in the same winter storm that engulfed much of the northeast and mid-Atlantic.
“I’ve had experiences where you have delays or where you have to pull over and stop at a hotel because the weather was so bad, but never where you got stuck like this for a long stretch,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. “It’s unfortunate where we got stuck because there’s nowhere to get off. There’s nowhere to move.”
At 7:29 p.m. Saturday, the Dukes’ bus began moving for the first time since the previous night. After a concrete barrier was removed, they were able to cross into the eastbound lane on the turnpike. From there, they were planning on exiting at Bedford on to Interstate 99 before getting on to U.S. Route 22, which would take them back to Pittsburgh. The team announced on its Twitter account late Saturday night that it was finally home.
Duquesne left Fairfax, Va., at about 4:30 p.m. Friday after an 86-75 victory against the Patriots, a game that was moved up one day because of the impending blizzard. Even with the inclement weather, the Dukes were originally making what Mr. Ferry described as good time. The battle, at least as far as they saw it, was getting out of the Washington, D.C., metro area, not the final stretch home.
Then, suddenly, one of the fastest-paced teams in college basketball came to a screeching halt.
At 9:15 p.m., and about halfway between Bedford and Somerset, the bus came to a complete stop. The weather at the time was fine, but as the vehicle continued to sit there, snow started to fall and pile around the backed-up vehicles. Passengers scoured the Internet and took to social media to see what was causing the delay. Initially, they were told it was an accident, leading them to believe it would be cleared and their journey would resume soon enough.
As the hours continued to pass, though, it was clear that wouldn’t be the case.
“We had everybody’s safety in mind and moved [the game] up,” Duquesne athletic director Dave Harper said. “This was a parade of terribles for all involved. They were going to get home at a decent hour and safe hour on Friday night. Now, it has turned into this.”
The bus was turned on throughout the time they were stopped, providing heat in frigid conditions, as well as a working bathroom. The team also had made an earlier stop at a Sheetz gasoline station, giving them food and drinks in addition to the pizza and sandwiches they received right before leaving Virginia.
Trapped in a crowded commercial bus for hours, things naturally got antsy at times, especially since Duquesne has six players who are 6-foot-8 or taller.
“We’ve been trying to make the most of it by stretching out to the other side of the bus,” Mr. Gill said. “A couple of guys on here are just laying out right now. It’s pretty uncomfortable, especially for guys like me.”
So, as they waited, the Dukes did what college students do so well — they killed time. While not trying to uncomfortably fall asleep, they played charades and other games. They watched movies like, fittingly, “Invincible.” Some, like walk-on forward Nick Foschia, braved the cold outside and made snow angels over the frozen pavement. A group of eighth graders from Iowa on a nearby bus even came on board to hang out.
As Friday turned into Saturday, several team Twitter accounts posted pictures and updates from their travails. By Saturday morning, their situation had garnered national attention, spreading on social media and even landing Mr. Ferry interviews on ESPN and CNN.
Amusing as it may have seemed, the predicament was dire enough that the National Guard was called on the scene to aid stranded motorists, providing them with water and other necessities. The team tried ordering pizzas to be delivered at an overpass near the bus, but businesses were either closed or unable to make the trek.
Still stuck and out of food, Duquesne assistant coaches Rich Glesmann and Brian Baudinet, along with graduate assistant David Steckel, walked about one mile to a nearby station of the Somerset County Emergency Management Agency.
Once there, they met two employees, Joel Landis and Scott Grahn, who were able to drive their truck to Giant Eagle to pick up a load of groceries Mr. Baudinet had ordered ahead of time.
Even for a group of people that spends an inordinate amount of time together, the experience, in a twisted-enough way, served as a bonding experience. The ordeal was frustrating and at times jarring, but it helped bring them closer together.
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