The demanding schedule of athletics often gets in the way of student athletes who want to do a semester-long SST, but this May Term, the GC baseball team has the opportunity to get around that. Sort of.
Led by Maria Sanchez Schirch, professor of Spanish, and Doug Schirch, professor of chemistry, members of the baseball team will be traveling to Nicaragua for the three weeks of May Term. This is the first time the college has offered something like this, and if the program goes well, it may be opened to other teams.
“This option gives athletes the opportunity to participate in our first-rate SST program without missing their season,” said Alex Childers, the head coach.
A number of the players are looking forward to this trip for that very reason.
“I’m not able to go on a full SST because I can’t miss a semester of practices,” said Michael Walker, a junior. “This is the next best thing.”
Ryan Hartig, a sophomore, thinks it’s a step in the right direction for GC athletics.
“It opens up several opportunities,” he said, “and gives so many memories for the athletes who do not get to participate in SST.”
But some athletes do get the opportunity to go on SST. Cody McCoy, a sophomore, will be traveling to Peru in the fall. He plans to use Nicaragua as preparation for a semester in Peru.
During the three weeks, the team will be living with host families and taking Spanish and culture classes each morning. In addition to class, they will be playing local teams throughout the week, and the weekends will be used for more exploration of Nicaragua.
“I’m excited to get to know the area of Nicaragua where we’re staying,” Walker said. “So some of my free time will be spent exploring.”
As with any cross-cultural experience, there will be some challenges.
“Obviously cultural immersion is one of the unique parts of the experience, but also what makes SST so great,” Childers said. “Our players will be challenged by being outside of their comfort zone, but this is an experience they will continue to draw upon.”
Chandler Ingle, a first-year, is excited for that cultural immersion.
“Getting to know the different customs and rituals of the Nicaraguan people will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. “I hope to walk away with a new perspective and wider horizon. It’s not everyday that you get to travel to a different country, play baseball and learn about a new culture.”
Another challenge the team will face is the language barrier. Most players have only taken a semester of Spanish and are not fluent, which makes communication difficult.
“Everyone is worried about the language barrier with host families,” McCoy said.
Even those who have taken Spanish at GC are nervous about it.
“My biggest challenge will be my terrible Spanish,” Walker said. “I’ve only taken two semesters of Spanish here, and I’m pretty bad at speaking it.”
But despite the potential challenges, most players are excited for the opportunity to experience their sport in another culture.
“I think it will be eye-opening to see how important baseball is in their culture,” Hartig said, “and how they truly play it for the love of the game.”
For McCoy, it will be his first time outside of the U.S., but he’s excited.
“As a team, we’re looking forward to playing baseball with some of the teams down there,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how the game is taught in Nicaragua.”
Blake Collins, a junior, is ready to have a good experience using baseball to interact with new people.
“I’m excited to learn about a different culture, have a good time with my team, meet some new faces and share some of my knowledge of baseball,” he said. “I’m excited to be able to experience their way of living and their views of baseball.”
But while baseball is a central theme, it isn’t the only focus. Relationships off the field are also important to them. Ingle is excited to spend this time with his coaches and teammates.
“I think this trip will really benefit team chemistry and lasting relationships beyond the baseball field,” he said.
Not all of the players will be traveling to Nicaragua, which could make some of the games difficult without a full team. McCoy noted that the local teams will provide GC’s team with some tough competition. There is even potential for the team to play a local military team.
At the end of the day, the players are hoping to grow from this experience much like they might on a full semester of SST, but with a focus on baseball.
“I hope that I will walk away from this trip with a new perspective of baseball and how to play it,” Hartig said. “In a first-world nation, we often get caught up in the business of college sports and often are unable to reflect on why we play the game in the first place.”