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No. 20/21 DePaul Rolls on Field Trip Day
A capacity crowd comprised of mostly Chicagoland elementary school children cheered DePaul onto a 69-52 win over St. John's on Wednesday at McGrath-Phillips Arena

A capacity crowd comprised of mostly Chicagoland elementary school children cheered DePaul onto a 69-52 win over St. John's on Wednesday at McGrath-Phillips Arena

Dec. 7, 2011

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CHICAGO – A soldout crowd of school children wearing Blue Demon T-shirts and screaming at the top of their lungs gave the No. 20/21 DePaul women’s basketball team a high-decibel, home-court advantage Wednesday at the fifth annual Field Trip Day game.

Led by Keisha Hampton’s game-high 21 points and four blocked shots, the Blue Demons defeated St. John’s 69-52 in both teams’ BIG EAST Conference opener at McGrath-Phillips Arena.

“Once we got her going, Keisha showed why she is an All-American by taking over the second half,” said DePaul coach Doug Bruno. “This begins a stretch of seven games in 16 days that includes a marquee matchup Sunday against Tennessee at Madison Square Garden.

“How can you not look ahead to that game? But our players staying focused for St. John’s today and SIU-Edwardsville on Friday is very important.”

Among those in the sea of blue T-shirts helping to fire up the Blue Demons was Syreena Arrington, a sixth-grade student from Greenbriar School in south suburban Chicago Heights.

“There’s a lot of excitement and energy,” said Arrington, who attended this event in 2009. “I’m glad I got a chance to go again.

“I never thought about college until I came here two years ago. I like that college students have so much independence, and I see people doing their own thing and being who they want to be.

“I want to go to college, and I know you have to get good grades. Ever since I came here two years ago, I’ve been more serious with my homework.”

DePaul (7-1, 1-0) began buckling down late in the first half and into the second half, going on a game-deciding 18-4 run. The Blue Demons outscored St. John’s 11-2 in the final 3:53 of the first half and opened the second half with a 7-2 burst.

With Hampton being backed up Anna Martin and Jasmine Penny (13 points apiece) and nine points from Deanna Ortiz, DePaul never let St. John’s (5-4, 0-1) any closer than six points in the second half.  Eugeneia McPherson led the Red Storm with 18 points, Nadirah McKenith had 13 points and Amber Thompson finished with 10 points and 16 rebounds.

“In the first half, I was kind of anxious,” Hampton said. “I was passing the ball without looking at my teammates. I was in a rush.

“In the second half, I took my time and hit a couple of shots. They went in, and I hit a couple more.”

Bruno appreciates the significance of Field Trip Day.

“This is DePaul through Jeanne (Director of Athletics Jean Lenti Ponsetto) and the Athletics Department reaching out to public and Catholic schools,” Bruno said. “This is a cool game to play.

“It’s cool to have all those kids wearing blue shirts in the gym.”

Greenbriar teacher Keri Lorenzen played for Bruno from 1989-93 when the Blue Demons went to four consecutive NCAA tournaments.

“I e-mailed (DePaul marketing director) Karen Loiacono two years ago and asked if I could bring my class for a visit,” Lorenzen said. “She told me about Field Trip Day and set us up.

“We came back this year so more students could experience a college environment. They know I played here and asked if I was going to play today. I said: ‘Good God, I’d get killed out there.’”

For Arrington and classmate Daniel Berrum, this was the second women’s basketball game they have seen.

“All you see is men’s sports, so it’s great these kids get exposure to female athletics,” Lorenzen said. “They get to see that the women can do just as well as the guys.”

Through the generosity of Ponsetto, the Athletics Department paid for 30 buses, provided free tickets and T-shirts while showing the children the library, student center and classrooms.

“One of the cornerstones of DePaul’s mission is community outreach,” Ponsetto said. “Along with the chance to visit a college campus, the children of Chicago were treated to the very best in women’s college basketball.

“It’s great that Field Trip Day brought together two Vincentian institutions who model community service in the work they do. The letters we receive each year from the students and teachers indicate how much fun they had and how much they learned.

“This experience piques a child’s curiosity. What better way to enhance the educational process than to help a child learn something new.”

It was a raucous two hours that included the Blue Demon pep band, cheerleaders and dance squad along with an entertaining halftime dance contest won by selected students from the South Side.

Reinberg School near Belmont and Central brought 215 students while St. Monica Academy from the Northwest Side had 180 school children in attendance. Bright School from the South Side brought 175 students.

Lauren Levar, a manager on the Blue Demon women’s basketball team last year, returned to campus with a group of students from Peirce School of International Studies on the North Side.

Michael Manning of the Chicago Public Schools Office of External Affairs and Partnerships was instrumental in distributing Field Trip Day information to the city’s schools.

“This is our largest community-service event of the year, and we couldn’t do it without the volunteer help and participation of staff members across the entire spectrum of the Athletics Department,” said community outreach administrator Dave Corzine.

“It’s a great opportunity for CPS students and others to be exposed to a college campus and atmosphere. The Athletics Department’s initiative in this is to be a part of DePaul’s greater mission and reach out to those who may not have otherwise thought about attending college.”

All in all, it was a win-win kind of an afternoon for the Blue Demons and their young fans.

“The best part for me was seeing the DePaul players having so much fun,” said Greenbriar sixth grader Daniel Berrum.