After the excitement of one of the most successful seasons in history, the family of graduating senior and Fordham women’s basketball star Arielle Collins say they are approaching her graduation this month with a mixture of pride and nostalgia as an extraordinary chapter comes to an close.
The Hamilton, N.J., native point guard finished out her college basketball career as part of the first team to win in postseason play since 1980. The Rams’ final record of 26-9 marks the second-highest win total in school history and the Rams’ first winning record in 19 years.
Through her four years at Fordham, Arielle’s parents were her—and her team’s—biggest fans. Mother Donna Collins drove to campus to prepare team dinners before and after big games. Dad Jim Collins made it to all but five games of Arielle’s four-year career—even in the early years when she wasn’t getting much playing time.
Jim Collins, the chief of police in Hamilton, N.J., said he was lucky to have a schedule that allowed him the flexibility to travel to away games and show the support in person that he knew every parent on the team felt for their daughters.
“You’ve heard of the saying you’re only young once. Well, my daughter only has four years of eligibility to play college basketball, and I wanted to show her how proud I am to be her father, and how much I supported her pursuing her dreams,” Jim Collins said.
While watching their daughter and her teammates win game after game was thrilling, both Jim and Donna Collins said that they were most proud of the incredible team spirit that the Rams enjoyed under Coach Stephanie Gaitley.
“[Coach Gaitley] knows how important family is, and I think the big turnaround for the team was being family,” Donna Collins said. “Stephanie brought more than just coaching experience to the team. I think she brought with her a sense of pride, togetherness, and teamwork.”
Donna Collins played her part in building that sense of family amongst the team by serving as the “team mom.” From cooking dinners to giving advice on outfits to hosting the team Christmas party, Arielle said her mother filled a role for some of her teammates that their parents’ geographical distance made challenging.
“My teammate Charlotte [Stoddardt] is from England, so she doesn’t have the advantage I have being from New Jersey. She would always say how much it meant to her that my mom would do anything for her whenever she needed,” Arielle said.
“That’s how my mom is. She’s even like that with her friends at home. It’s in her Italian blood,” she said.
As she and her team played game after game in this exhilarating season, the presence of Arielle’s parents lent her and her teammates comfort and encouragement. Dad Jim was a familiar and friendly Fordham-supporting face in the seas of people at away games.
Mom Donna arrived early enough to sit in the same spot no matter what auditorium the team played in—across from the bench, at center court, in the first row, so the team could spot her as they played.
Donna often led a caravan including Arielle’s brothers, their friends, and other supporters from their hometown. She was once running late and had a friend hold a section of seats for their cheering squad of more than 30.
“The team all knew to look for me there, and they would tease me that if someone did something wrong, the girls on the bench would look over and say, ‘Uh-oh, Mrs. Collins doesn’t look happy,’” Donna laughed.
As much as they are proud of the team’s successes on the court, both Jim and Donna Collins said they were more proud of the attitude with which they played. As he traveled from game to game, through snowstorms, flat tires, and long late-night drives, Jim said the strength of the team as a whole is what made him know that this season would be special.
“That first game of the season, they played so well as a team—with four players in double figures—and it made them successful,” he said. “They meshed and played to each of their strengths.”
“It’s like the year of American Idol when Carrie Underwood won, and you just knew it. At the beginning of the season, I had that same feeling. I was like, ‘This is it. This team has something special,’” he said.
Donna reflected on the season, and her experience as a Fordham parent, while spending time cleaning the place that embodied her experience as team mom—the apartment Arielle shared with her teammates. As she waited for the young women to return from an Athletics Department celebration, she said she realized she would miss Fordham almost as much as her daughter.
“It was great being part of this great experience and this great family,” she said. “I think they’re going to miss it like crazy, and I know I am,” Donna said.
“But I love my girls very much, and I’ll be here next year to watch some of the games.”