By Ben Savallo
Tyler Junior College reaches out to find the best athletes not only in the surrounding areas but overseas as well. Because of the tremendous history TJC offers, many international students are brought to TJC for guidance and a boost in the right direction for their sport he or she chooses to pursue.
“We have a really nice history at TJC. So when certain players aren’t NCAA eligible, and they’re talking to four year schools-division one schools, because of our history, those schools will contact me,” said the Men’s and Women’s Tennis Coach Dash Connell.
Coach Connell brings in international athletes annually to offer a stepping stone they need to begin their careers. In the United States, students begin sports for their schools as soon as middle school. But as for other countries around the world, many schools don’t offer sports.
“Nah, there’s none at all,” said the Australian freshman tennis player Reid Feehan on schools that offer sports in back home. “I was more focused on sports than school.
Feehan said during the week, a lot of times he would leave school early to go home and play tennis to perfect his craft.
It can be difficult at times transitioning from one lifestyle to another said Alassane Seck, a freshman basketball player from Senegal, West Africa.
“The first time was very difficult because coming from Senegal, West Africa it is very different from the way you guys are playing it, like the system is completely different,” said Seck on the differences in basketball overseas.
Back home, Alassane also experienced the absence of sports from schools. Alassane said many times after school he would go and play street basketball. This is why a lot of parents contact TJC coaches to have their kids come play here.
“It can be difficult…but TJC in general and my coaching style outside of that is you come here for an education first and foremost and the bonus is you get to play a sport you love,” said second year Head Volleyball Coach Brandi Hood.
Coach Hood has brought in several international students to play for her in just her second year at TJC. This year, her team features two girls from Brazil, one from Australia, and a sophomore from St. Lucia.
Coach Hood said the transition could even be strenuous at times. Just ask freshman Paula Carvalho from Sao Paulo, Brazil who came to TJC halfway through the season and is already leaving her mark on this team.
“Her first match, she had gotten off of a flight, ran around campus getting ready for classes and dorms-I mean she had flown overnight and then stepped on the court and did so well,” said Hood on Carvalho’s arrival.
Despite the difficulty there might be in the transition part of this process, many of these internationals have left their impact not only on the athletic programs, but the school as a whole.
“I love an international effect from the angle of what it does, to me, for your campus, for your team,” said Men’s Head Soccer Coach Steven Clements. “Your campus is exposed to different people from all over the world; different thoughts, different cultures, different religions. They bring such a social dynamic to the campus.”
Coach Clements continued to say he believed it’s important to have that “flavor” on a campus. Throughout Clements’ tenured career at TJC, he’s had dozens of international students come play for him. Halfway through his 15th season, one can only imagine the number of international connections he has throughout the world.
“We have many former players from all over the world that help us see players. They help you and a lot of four year schools help you,” said Clements.
A lot of times the players will find a way to come into contact with the coaches here through email or phone call. And making connections seems to be something these international players know enough about.
“The connections between the kids we have from the states and the internationals-watching them bond and get lifelong friendships over playing junior college athletics,” said Head Basketball Coach Mike Marquis. “You want to learn from them as much as you can because obviously we’re trying to give them as much as we know here. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Just like Coach Marquis, a lot of coaches at TJC would agree that they have all learned several things from each individual they’ve taken into their respective programs.
“The main thing I’ve learned is how personalities mesh. They push me to learn how a team comes together,” said Coach Connell.
International students not only bring their differing persona’s but bring culture and religion and ideas to the TJC program in whole as well as the athletic department.
“Having an international out there is kind of like having another coach out there, they just see things a little bit more. What they see is a little bit different, their volleyball IQ is a little bit higher,” said Coach Hood.
As for Coach Clements, who currently carries 14 international transfers on his team, has had some fun with the recruitment process over the years.
“How many people have gotten calls from New York City, Tyler, Texas and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said Clements. “It’s pretty neat and it’s pretty fun you know, especially if you get to go visit.”
It’s clear to see that TJC not only offers a diverse athletic program, but offers a very social dynamic community. Not to take away from the talent of student-athletes in the states, but internationals just offer diversity and culture that U.S. student-athletes can’t.