The family that plays together...

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Mansfield - posted Tue., Apr. 12, 2011
The Olander family at home in Mansfield: (L-r) Mom Tracy, Morgan, dad Skip and Tyler. Ryan, who was away at school, is not pictured. Photos by Melanie Savage.
The Olander family at home in Mansfield: (L-r) Mom Tracy, Morgan, dad Skip and Tyler. Ryan, who was away at school, is not pictured. Photos by Melanie Savage.

Not many people can say that they scored the first basket in a college basketball national championship game. Mansfield’s own Tyler Olander can.

Tyler, a freshman at the University of Connecticut, is part of the UConn men’s basketball 2011 national championship team.

“He scored the first two points during the semifinal game and the final game,” said his mom, Tracy. Tyler’s parents are naturally proud of their son. In fact, they’re proud of all three of their kids, and for good reason.

Older brother Ryan, a college junior, plays basketball for Fairfield University. He also just happens to have the highest GPA of any basketball player in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Younger sister Morgan, a junior at E.O. Smith High School, is a key member of the girls’ basketball team at her school, a team which went to the final game of the Class L state tournament this year. Morgan is also consistently on the school’s honor roll.

It’s not surprising that the Olander kids would end up playing basketball. Their mom played for Keene State in New Hampshire, and their dad, Skip, played for UConn. Skip also coached basketball for many years at Tolland High School, where he also taught physical education. Tracy and Skip met at the school, where Tracy taught special education. “Our first two dates were basketball games,” said Skip.

It’s not like the Olanders pushed their kids toward basketball. Natural athletes, the siblings were involved in a number of different sports over the years. “At one point, Tyler’s dream was to go to North Carolina and play football,” said Tracy.

Tyler and Ryan both excelled at baseball. Morgan played softball for a while, and also tried her hand at cheerleading. But the siblings were introduced early to basketball. “When the boys were little and Skip was coaching, they went to games with him,” said Tracy. Mom and dad often shot hoops with their kids in the driveway. “We played ‘horse’ and that kind of thing,” said Tracy. And despite their forays into other athletic arenas, all three siblings kept drifting back to basketball. “Part of it’s the height,” added Tracy. “I guess it’s in our genes.”

There was some early sibling rivalry, especially between the boys. “It was fierce when they were young,” said Skip. Tracy recalls the boys taking over the basement rec room when they were younger. “They totally destroyed it,” she said. “There were holes in the walls.”

“We made up our own game,” said Tyler. “It was a combination of football and basketball. We would tackle each other and stuff.”

The rivalry has calmed down quite a bit, now that the siblings are growing older. “Maybe there’s a little bit of competition when we play Wii,” said Tyler with a grin.

Nowadays, the parents are kept busy supporting all three of their kids. “We go to all of Ryan and Tyler’s home games,” said Tracy, “and we go to Morgan’s, too.”

“There was a night when all three were playing,” added Skip. “Tracy went to one, I went to one, and my in-laws went to one of them.”

The siblings support each other, as well. “Tyler sent Morgan a text message the day of the state championship because he wasn’t around,” said Tracy. The whole family was there when UConn took the Big East championship, and Ryan, mom and dad traveled to Houston for the Final Four.

“It’s a great thrill,” said Skip. “Obviously you don’t expect something like that to happen. Eleven elimination games in a row - it was unbelievable.”

Tyler admits that it will be tough to top his first year in college basketball. “I guess I’ll just have to try as hard as possible,” he said.

Morgan has one more year to try for that state championship title with the E.O. Smith Panthers, and has the potential to take over the leadership role for her team next year. Ryan and Tyler would both like to continue playing basketball after college. “Maybe for the NBA, maybe in Europe,” said Tyler.

But with two parents in education, all three siblings understand the importance of school. Morgan plans to go to college, but hasn’t yet decided where. Ryan is studying for a degree in sports marketing. As for Tyler, he hasn’t yet decided on a major, but is currently leaning toward political science. “You have to have a back-up plan,” he said.

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