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International athletes impact ORU athletics

Fabien Zierleyn
Fabien Zierleyn

When Dr. William M. Wilson took over as the fourth president of ORU in 2013, he emphasized globalization. With over 72 countries represented, ORU is already becoming more globally diverse. Athletics are an area where this mission is very evident.

ORU has had international athletes for years, but recently it has become more noticeable. ORU track alumnus Andretti Bain was recently inducted into the ORU Hall of Fame. Bain won a silver medal for the Bahamas in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

Eleven of the 14 intercollegiate sports that ORU offers have at least one athlete from another country. Many of the teams have multiple international athletes.

Tinashe Mutanga and Raphael Chihambakwe are sprinters on the Golden Eagles track and field team. They are also fellow countrymen who ran against each other back in their home country of Zimbabwe. They both have their own reasons why they chose ORU. Mutanga is a freshman this year but is 21 and brings experience to the team.

“There is a very good track program here,” said Mutanga. “There is also the religious part; I feel like I can be closer to God.”
For Chihambakwe, a major part of his decision was the coaching staff.

Bernadett Balla
Bernadett Balla

“When the coaches talked to me, I didn’t know anything about ORU,” Chihambakwe said. “But out of all the coaches that talked to me, Coach Dial seemed like the guy that I was being called to. I don’t know if it was God’s ways, but that is how I ended up here.”

International athletes not only affect their individual sports at ORU, but their teammates as well. These athletes must adapt to a new country and learn a different culture, but their teammates get a chance to learn about a different culture as well.

Niles Abston and D’Khari Hicks are also sprinters on the track team. They get to learn firsthand what it is like to have teammates of a different culture.

“It’s definitely a culture shock,” Abston said. “Where I’m from there aren’t really people from other countries, especially in athletics.”
Hicks also had similar feelings about his teammates.

“I like it,” Hicks said. “You get to learn about another culture and the guys are great. But you also know that even though they are from a different country, running is running and times are times.”

Abston and Hicks respect and appreciate what Mutanga and Chihambakwe do for the team. They both realize that it is a benefit to have two guys that are older and have something to share that they learned along the way.

“They’ve taught us discipline and how to prepare for races,” Hicks said. “They are definitely leaders on and off the track.”

Coaches play an important role when it comes to athletes from other countries coming over to play their sport here. They are the ones who go out and recruit these athletes and better their program. Joe Dial, Head Coach of ORU’s Track and Field Team and Sheera Sirola, Head Coach of ORU’s volleyball team, both know what it takes to bring international athletes to ORU. The two coaches have several members of their team from around the world.

“Like all coaches, I have a network of peers, usually former players, who coach throughout the world. When those players know of a local high school player that would be a good fit for our team, they let me know, and I scout them like I would any player,” said Sirola.
The recruiting process can be different for foreign students. With no way to visit the school, foreign athletes can’t see the campus like their American teammates can.

“It’s basically a sight unseen for them. They can look at the school online unlike kids from US who usually come here physically and look at the school. Overseas it’s mainly trusting in kids from their country that have been here and have had a good experience and that’s really how we’ve gotten kids from all over the world,” Dial said. “Somebody has known somebody who has gone here in the past that we treat them well and that’s how it happens.”

President Wilson’s mission for diversity is not going unnoticed by the coaches. Coach Dial is very high on ORU’s push for globalization.

“I think President Wilson is internationally minded, and he believes in the same mission that I’ve believed in from the day I stepped in being the coach here. It’s good to know that you have a president that is totally behind what you believe. We’ve been like that from day one,” said Dial.

ORU has made an effort to be more globally diverse, and the university’s athletics program has been positively impacted by the results. Mutanga & Chihambakwe both competed at the Southland Conference indoor championship this past week. With the success of international athletes like Bain, the two look to follow in his footsteps by reaching the highest level of success.

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