Before complaining about your upcoming holiday season travel, first consult Penn men’s basketball about what a truly terrible travel experience looks like.
After an eventful and delay-filled trip down to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam tournament that was well-chronicled on PennAthletics.com, the Quakers may have had even worse luck leaving the islands.
As the team boarded its American Airlines flight scheduled to leave at 3:26 p.m. on Nov. 20 with no issues, the Quakers looked well on their way to making the 7:40 p.m. connection to Miami that would have them touch down in Philadelphia by 10:30 p.m.
Little did the coaches and players know that their 20 hour nightmare was just beginning.
After waiting for close to an hour for the plane to take off, the pilot announced that everyone onboard would need to deplane due to a mechanical issue with the wiring of one of the wings.
Even before the announcement to deplane, Director of Operations Brad Fadem was already working to ensure that the Quakers would not go through another travel nightmare.
“I started looking at other flights from Miami to Philadelphia because I didn’t think we were going to make our original connection,” Fadem said. “So we got off plane, waited around in St. Thomas airport terminal and then little by little got more delayed.”
While waiting for the plane that was supposed to leave at 11:00 p.m., the Paradise Jam tournament ordered pizzas for the team. As one would expect with this team’s luck, even that did not go smoothly.
“I’m telling them they are going to have pizzas and three hours later we don’t have pizzas,” coach Steve Donahue said.
The team eventually got its pizza to stave off going hungry through the delay.
“Once we thought there was an issue and we got over it, there was another one,” senior guard Jake Silpe said.
The flight that was supposed to leave at 11:00 p.m. got delayed by 45 minutes, then an hour, until the team eventually got a notification that the flight was not scheduled to leave until 7:00 a.m. the next morning. More delays occurred until the team eventually boarded the plane at 11:00 a.m. and took off by 11:30 a.m., nearly 20 hours after its original scheduled departure time. More details on the nature of the delays are further outlined on Penn Athletics' website.
Still, after spending nearly a full day in the airport, how exactly did the Quakers pass the time and remain relatively upbeat throughout the ordeal?
One of the answers — wheelchair races.
Sophomore guard Eddie Scott was the first to grab a wheelchair and Silpe quickly followed. At first the two simply rolled around in the chairs. But as the delay announcements became as common as fireworks on the Fourth of July, Scott and Silpe decided it was time to channel their inner Formula One driver.
“There was an idea to make a race track around the airport using the chairs and the seats in the airport,” Silpe said. “Then we were rolling around on Instagram Live having fun at like 3:00 a.m.”
Like a depth chart, there was a hierarchy for the best racers on the team. According to Silpe, he and Scott were the best, everyone else who participated was somewhere in the middle, and senior guard Jackson Donahue was the worst, since he had a wheelchair that ‘malfunctioned’ and ‘couldn’t go as fast.’
While Donahue lacked speed and agility to maneuver the makeshift race course, he utilized his social media presence to create the perfect stuck in the airport playlist.
On his Instagram story, Donahue asked his 1776 followers for song recommendations for his playlist. And to his amusement, his followers did not disappoint.
“We had a lot of people responding. A lot of them were funny but it was cool,” Donahue said.
Recent Penn alumni, current students, and friends and family from home made up much of Donahue’s suggestion base.
In all, 14 songs made the playlist, not enough to get the players through 20 hours of airport incompetence, but enough to pass at least some of the time.
“It was a good album. I compiled a good track,” he said.
In order for a song to make the playlist, it truly had to embody the situation.
Examples include, “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly, “Locked Up” by Akon, and “Laugh Now, Fly Later” by Wiz Khalifa. However, the highlight of the album and the song of the trip was “Outside Today” by YoungBoy Never Broke Again.
The song starts with a repeat of the verse “I ain’t going outside today” and continues the moniker in the chorus. Silpe and Donahue both admitted that during the travel saga, they had some doubts as to whether they would ever “go outside” and leave the airport.
Besides putting together a racetrack and album, the team mainly passed the time by playing cards, using their phones (despite poor Wi-fi connection), and sleeping.
“I was probably the most fortunate,” said Fadem, who dealt with the brunt of the traveling woes. “Time flew by for me because I was constantly on the phone trying to figure out what was going to happen, what we were going to do. I looked and all of a sudden it was 9:00 p.m. and the time kept moving quickly.”
Reflecting on the nightmare in paradise, players, coaches, and staff found many positives in the experience. After the trip from the states to the Virgin Islands, Barstool Sports even picked up the story, after finding Mahoney’s recap of the adventure on Penn’s website.
“Definitely a silver lining, any press is good press I guess,” Fadem said. “I figured eventually somebody was going to pick it up and run with it, so that’s kind of cool.”
Coach Donahue, who mainly sees his players during practice and games, appreciated getting to see his players interact in a different context.
“It was just kind of interesting to see the group dynamics,” Donahue said. “[Old Dominion] was there — nothing against ODU — [but] their kids were kinda quiet, just trying to survive and our guys were making the best of it, having some fun, playing cards, having a little bit of a sense of humor about it."
It took Penn over 30 hours to get from their resort to Philadelphia, with 20 of those hours spent in the airport. During an experience straight out of a sitcom — or horror movie — the Quakers made the best of the experience. As a whole, the situation brought the team closer together and even allowed the veterans to get to know the freshmen better.
In all, coach Donahue summed it up best.
“There’s worse things in life. We had a little bit of a longer trip than we thought, but it was fun.”