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Endowing the Future

How one couple is helping student-athletes excel —
on the court and in life.

By Jamey Smith

For Texas Women’s Basketball super-fans Julia Hickman and Cecil Reynolds, the players and coaches they cheer for and the fellow fans they sit with at the Erwin Center each winter are more than a community. The couple calls them “our basketball family.”

Hickman and Reynolds, while not UT graduates, are hooked on the Lady Longhorns. They attend nearly every home game, go to practices, even travel with the team to some of the away games. They’ve cheered on the Horns at tournaments in Canada, the Caribbean, and Europe. And this year they took their support a step further, creating a first-of-its-kind graduate fellowship to help players find success after basketball.

Donors Julia Hickman and Cecil Reynolds

Julia Hickman and Cecil Reynolds at the Erwin Center, where they are familiar faces to players, coaches, and fans.

It all started with camp. Julia explains that when she was a UT professor in the early 1990s, then-coach Jody Conradt started hosting basketball camps for Longhorn fans. The first camp drew about 75 women, and she went with some friends.

“We went to Hunt, Texas, and stayed at Camp Waldemar for a whole weekend. We ate with the team, and they taught us how to play,” Julia says. “Well, I’ve always been into sports, I always wanted to play everything, and at that first camp, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”

Cecil soon caught the bug as well. “Women’s basketball is a lot of fun to watch,” he says. “You see a lot more of a game of strategy and teamwork as opposed to a game of individual power that you see in the men’s game.”

Julia and Cecil are psychologists, and Julia does a little scream therapy of her own at the games. In those early years, when she was still a full-time clinical psychologist, “I had to sit all day, and be calm and listen to my patients,” she says.

“But at the games, people would not describe me as calm and patient,” she adds, laughing. “Everyone knows this about me — that it gives me a release.”

“A few years ago,” a proud Cecil says, “she was the NCAA women’s basketball tournament Fan of the Week on their website. They had a picture of her standing up, both arms in the air, screaming at the top of her lungs at—”

“At somebody,” Julia says.

“It had to be the referee,” Cecil says.

Support in a Crisis

After the couple, longtime Bastrop residents, lost their house and nearly all their possessions in the 2011 wildfire, their basketball family stepped in. “They were there, checking on us and doing things for us,” Cecil says.

Julia Hickman cheering on the Lady Longhorns.

Julia Hickman cheers on her team.

UT staffers surprised them one day by dropping in at their relocated home base in Austin with a his-and-hers assortment of burnt orange attire. “Basketball season was coming up,” says Julia, “and we had to have Longhorn clothes! Their support for us when we were in a crisis just meant so much.”

Cecil is now a professor emeritus after many years of teaching at Texas A&M. He and Julia are into sports of all kinds — Cecil played professional baseball before entering academia—and when they found themselves working for institutions with a long rivalry, they had a problem to solve.

“We said, let’s compromise,” Julia recalls. “We began to do women’s athletics at Texas, primarily basketball, and men’s, primarily football, at A&M. It’s worked out well, and we’ve bonded with our Longhorn family. We sit by the same people we have for years, and every August we throw a big fan party. We call it the Basketball Bash.”

Longtime fans, whether or not they know the couple personally, might recognize Julia as the lady who waves the Believe sign at games. Each year she makes a new one and has people sign it, starting at the Bash and then at the first few games. Afterward she has it laminated, because it’s destined to go to every game she does that season—and then some.

“If there’s an out-of-town game that we’re not attending, we find somebody who’s going,” Cecil says. “The sign goes to all the games.”

Why a Believe sign? “It was very important to me that the players and coaches knew we believed in them,” says Julia. “They know we’re always on their side. Winning or losing, we’re gonna be there for them.”

 “A Wonderful Seed”

The Julia Hickman and Cecil Reynolds Team Spirit Fellowship will be awarded to student-athletes who have exhausted their NCAA eligibility and are committed to pursuing a graduate degree at UT. While recipients must be admitted to a graduate or doctoral program on their own merits, preference for the fellowship will be given to women’s basketball team members. If no such candidate is available in a given year, then individuals who participated on another UT women’s athletics team may be chosen.

Texas women's basketball

Texas has made 26 NCAA tournament appearances, winning 12 conference titles and a national championship.

“We came to realize, talking to the coaches and athletic directors,” Cecil says, “that, particularly with the basketball program, they don’t really need scholarships at the undergraduate level. They’ve got that handled. But they have other needs. This is a way we can help where there is very little support currently.”

“Both of us, having taught doctoral students for so long, really value education, and we value graduate education for people who want that,” Julia says.

UT women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky says that while some graduate fellowships exist in college athletics — the Big 12 Conference awards one to a male and female athlete each year at each Big 12 institution, for instance — they represent a relatively rare opportunity for students who want to go further in their studies.

“This is a wonderful seed, this gift, because of the people that it will help,” Plonsky says. “But more than that, it makes a statement about who we are and what we are in UT Athletics, and why people like Julia and Cecil became fans. They didn’t just become fans, they became advocates, they became believers.”

“We care about these young women, and we want to see them be successful,” Cecil says. “Our hope is that down the line, they might come back and add to this fellowship or establish one of their own.

“Wherever they end up, whether it’s in business, medicine, law, what have you, if they become successful and have the resources to do so, the greatest compliment for us, I think, would be for them to pay it forward and help somebody else.”

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Make a Gift

With an endowed gift, alumni and friends can provide a steady source of funding over time for something they believe in at UT. The principal of their gift is invested, never spent, and distributions are made to their chosen program or area.

Graduate fellowships can be funded for $50,000 or more. In creating theirs for student-athletes, Julia and Cecil are making a blended gift — they’re giving outright during their lifetimes and have a planned gift in place for after they’re gone — to eventually bring the endowment principal up to $1 million.

“Rather than wait, we wanted to be able to see some of the fruits of it,” Cecil says. “We’re funding it up front, and our intent is to add to it every year. And then we’ll leave a much larger chunk of funding when we pass.”

Learn more about ways to support UT at giving.utexas.edu/how-to-give.