Story by Austin Cannon
Photo by Taylor Soule
At just 10 months old, Eli Baranczyk is arguably one of the Drake women’s basketball team’s youngest fans.
Elijah James Baranczyk, or Eli, was born May 8, 2012, at 9 pounds, 2 ounces and 22 inches, to Drake women’s basketball head coach Jennie Baranczyk and her husband, Scott.
Baranczyk was hired last spring and had little time to move to Des Moines from her previous coaching job at the University of Colorado.
“I was hired exactly two weeks from my due date and then he was born a little bit after, so he was a little late. Not quite three weeks,” Baranczyk said.
Eli did not miss a Drake game, home or away, during the entire season, and he was in the gym almost as soon as possible.
“It was two days after he was born, he was at the Knapp Center,” Baranczyk said.
Carly Grenfell, a redshirt sophomore guard, echoed how Eli got involved with the team immediately.
“In the summer, when he was first born, we would swing by the coaches’ offices just to see him,” Grenfell said.
Eli goes to games with either his father or his grandparents and sometimes even rides the bus with the team to away games.
Sophomore forward and center Cara Lutes and the rest of the team interact with Eli mostly on the bus.
“On bus trips, he will sometimes come to the back of the bus with the players. … We read books to him, hold him and play with him,” Lutes said.
Not only does Eli attend basketball games, he is an active participant.
“He actually watches the games, and he likes to play catch during the games,” Baranczyk said.
Eli quickly became part of the team. Toward the end of the season, he started giving high-fives to the players. Baranczyk said Eli often approaches players and coaching staff alike, without fear.
“He’s pretty unique in the sense that he doesn’t get extremely scared of a lot of people, like he’s kind of use to being a round a lot of different people. … He doesn’t have any sense of stranger danger.”
Baranczyk likes the component of family making its way into the program and how Eli is always there, win or loss.
“It’s real. It’s a real part of life,” Baranczyk said. “And it also gives you perspective, so when you’ve had a great win, it’s fun to hold him, and when you’ve had a bad loss, he doesn’t know any different. I mean you’re still his mom.”
Throughout the season, Eli’s positive presence has had an impact on the players.
“He’s cute as a button and can put a smile on your face win or lose,” Grenfell said.
If anything, Eli provides an example for young Drake basketball fans.
“Our team jokes that he is the perfect baby, calm-mannered and so adorable,” Lutes said.