Sports: the international language

Thomas Gallick

Kent State may not be the most well-known university in the sports world, but that has not stopped the school’s athletic teams from recruiting athletes from different countries.

In all, Kent State is currently home to 20 international athletes on active rosters from five different continents. The student-athletes come from all over to compete and learn, sometimes without knowing Kent State existed before being recruited.

Chenel Harris

At one time, sophomore guard Chenel Harris thought she would be flipping through the air gracefully in college, not banging away in the low post for rebounds.

“I actually started out (playing basketball) just as a hobby because I couldn’t do gymnastics,” Harris said. “I got too tall. I know it sounds odd, but it’s true.”

The Ontario native said her main encouragement to try to play basketball came from her father, who pushed her along throughout her career when she “thought it was too hard.” By the time her high school career neared its end, she ended up weighing several options for college, including an obscure university in Northeast Ohio.

Kent State discovered Harris when assistant coach Mike Terry came to scout prospects at an Amateur Athletic Union showcase in Toronto. The Flashes’ coaching staff had previously contacted Harris about playing at Kent State, but her successful day at the showcase was the clincher and Terry offered her a campus visit.

Former Kent State guard Kerrie James, also a Canadian, hosted Harris for a visit that sealed her commitment to the school.

“I fell in love with the campus,” Harris said. “It’s a beautiful campus, and I loved the coaching staff.”

But not all of Kent State’s features hooked Harris right away. She said she was troubled by her inability to find anything resembling the home-cooked meals she had eaten in her hometown of Mississauga.

“Oh, the food was a struggle,” Harris said. “My freshman year, I actually instead of doing the freshman 15, did the freshman negative 15 because I didn’t want to eat anything at all.”

Harris also missed the bright lights and big city. She grew up about 15 minutes outside of Toronto, one of the largest cities in North America. Needless to say, Kent often bored Harris as a freshman.

“(Toronto) is similar to New York, but not as crowded, I would think,” Harris said. “There’s not much going on here (in Kent). On a social scale from one to 10, I would give it about a three.”

She also said she greatly missed her father and hometown.

“I called my dad crying and pouted; that’s really what I did,” Harris said. “It almost took me the entire year (to get used to Kent). By about the end of (freshman) season I completely adjusted. My dad had to make some visits up because I was so sad.”

Though Harris struggled with being homesick during her freshman year, she said she has since grown to accept Kent as her new home.

“I’ve kind of made some roots in Kent,” Harris said. “And I eat now. I eat the food.”

Robert Falchi and Dean Wood

Kent State hit freshman long jumper Robert Falchi and his Australian countryman and teammate, freshman high jumper Dean Wood, as soon as they stepped off the plane. Well, at least the cold wind of Northeast Ohio that so often whips around the campus did.

“I had seen snow twice before in my life, and that was when I was up in the top of the mountains,” Falchi said. “It’s 116 degrees back home at the moment, so it’s just a huge temperature drop.

“I’m always up for something different, it’s just (that when) I hopped off the plane . I didn’t know it could get that cold.”

Falchi and Wood both said they like the new experience of snow, but they did not fully realize how cold Ohio could be. Wood said he brought nothing warmer than a pair of jeans and a “sloppy joe” (Australian slang for wool sweater) from home.

Wood went out the next day to buy a winter coat.

Assistant track coach Philip Rickaby, also an Australian and former Kent State track standout, recruited both Wood and Falchi, but the two have different reasons for traveling thousands of miles to attend school in Kent.

Falchi said he thought Kent State and its excellent track facilities could be the next step in his goal of competing in the Olympic Games, while Wood said he and his parents were most excited about his effort to continue his education.

Wood, who finished school three years ago, had been working a full-time job back home when he got the offer.

“My parents were over the moon,” Wood said. “An opportunity like this doesn’t come up too often.”

Martina Gavier

Sophomore golfer Martina Gavier did not have the easiest time convincing her parents that moving to Kent was in the best interest of her career, especially when golfers can take advantage of the mild weather all year long in Cordoba, Argentina.

“Since I’d been 15 I’d been talking to them about (playing college golf in America),” Gavier said. “At very first, I remember, it was hard actually.

“My dad was like ‘Yeah, but you’re not going to leave.'”

Gavier said once she started playing amateur tournaments in America, her parents realized going to the United States would be her best chance to continue her career at a professional level. At one such tournament in Florida, Kent State women’s golf coach Mike Morrow began the process of recruiting Gavier and offered her a campus visit.

So Gavier left Argentina in the summertime to travel to Kent State in the middle of winter. The experience left her feeling a little cold.

“It was weird. I came over winter break and there was snow here,” Gavier said. “I really was not that attracted to the place. Then I met Mike, the coach, and the (assistant coach), and I really fell in love with the people. The people convinced me.”

Gavier had only seen snow once in her life before her Kent State visit, on a ski trip in Western Argentina in her youth, but now she describes it as “a fun thing,” even when it ruins her opportunity to practice outside.

Despite the adjustments to a sometimes snowy campus, Gavier made an immediate impact on the team. She finished third on the squad in scoring average last season and received the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year award.

Gavier credits the close relationships she forged within the golf team with helping her avoid the perils of homesickness her freshman year.

“They were amazing to me,” Gavier said. “I will always remember that team. We had so much fun.”

Contact assistant sports editor Thomas Gallick at [email protected].