Across much of the state and region, sports fans and non-fans alike, are casting an eye towards the Caribbean and Florida, where Irma, one of the largest storms on record, has churned it's way through much of the Atlantic. In Minnesota, there are multitudes of college students who have an even stronger interest in the unfolding catastrophe, as several athletes in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference hail from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as Florida and the surrounding region.
Football preseason is hard enough, especially when you are away from home and looking to make a statement to a new coaching staff and teammates. For Northland Technical and Community College quarterback, Shannon Patrick, and several of his Floridan teammates at NCTC, the impending storm is one more factor on their already-full radar. Patrick, from West Palm Beach, Florida, earned Offensive Player-of-the-Week honors in the MCAC West on Tuesday. On MCAC football rosters across the land of 10,000 lakes, from M State in Fergus Falls to Vermilion Community College in Ely, football players from Florida and a few Caribbean nations are pursuing their educational and athletic opportunities. While most thought that making sure they had a good coat and gloves for the winter was the priority on their fall to-do list, chances are, now having daily communication from friends and family in the path of the storm is taking center stage for them.
In baseball, the Minnesota College Athletic Conference has a very diverse talent pool with student-athletes from Arizona to Florida and several Central and South American countries. One of the largest demographics of non-Minnesotans on these rosters are athletes from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. In fact, at Minnesota West CTC in Worthington, 18 players on the 2017 roster hailed from Puerto Rico, with another several athletes coming from Florida can be found on both the MnWest baseball and football squads. The Bluejay volleyball team also has two players from Puerto Rico competing this fall. Between the three teams, almost 30 Bluejay student-athletes come from a hometown that was in, or may be hit by, Irma's path. Minnesota West's baseball coach, TD Hostikka, notes "Minnesota West CTC and our leadership has established a plan to provide for all students and student-athletes from Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Florida, as a demonstration of our caring concern and valuing the families of our students."
A cursory look over M State's 2017 football roster shows the expected hometown stars looking to compete at the college level. However, the Spartans roster also includes Jakeem Auguste and Le'Joni Williams (Virgin Islands) and several Florida-based teammates. Central Lakes College, currently 14th in the NJCAA national poll, has a pair of Virgin Island based players, Vernon Clarke and Te'Shurn Greenaway and the team at Mesabi Range College has over a dozen players from Florida and another four from the Virgin Islands. Mesabi Range College football and their Florida connection was first featured in the 2015 Star Tribune story by Mike Kaszuba, entitled "Hope on the Range."
Two of the top players at perennial baseball power Itasca Community College, Anthony Azor and Isaac Rodriguez, are both from the Dominican Republic, as is Jerry Hernandez, along with Puerto Rico product, Jonathan Castellanos, right-handed pitchers at Rainy River Community College, located in International Falls. Justin Lamppa, long-time baseball coach and men's athletic director at Itasca, recruited Azor and Rodriguez to Grand Rapids. Lamppa notes "Both Anthony and Isaac have brought a lot to our program at ICC and the community of Grand Rapids. They are both involved locally with church and youth groups, and our heart goes out to their friends and families back home." Lamppa went on to note, "We have ten football student-athletes from all parts of Florida here on campus this fall. Certainly their families will very likely be affected by this storm, and we want them to know our thoughts are with them."
All told, over 125 student-athletes from Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic suit up across the Minnesota College Athletic Conference, primarily in baseball and football, as well as dotting volleyball, soccer and basketball rosters. As the nation, and the sporting world, watch Irma unfold, countless conversations are occurring between teammates, coaches and administrators within the non-scholarship, NJCAA-affiliated league.
"One of the great things about the MCAC is the opportunity for student-athletes who grew up in towns like Ely, Austin, Thief River Falls and others to compete with and against athletes from distant states and countries." noted MCAC director, Peter Watkins. "Something like this disaster has caused many folks in Minnesota to think what it's like for those students who are hundreds of miles from home when events like this happen. We are pleased to hear of the many colleges in our Conference which are doing everything they can to help with this challenge. It's certainly tough enough being away from home while pursing an education and athletic career, and this will be an added dynamic in the lives of these student-athletes."
MCAC football season heads into Week 2 games of the 2017 fall campaign this Saturday, while many baseball teams have already begun fall practices and workouts. MCAC Volleyball is in Week 3 of it's season. "Something like Irma certainly transcends sports, but we know that many of our campuses have student-athletes directly affected by this storm," Watkins notes. "Many coaches and administrators want them to know that our thoughts are with them and their families. We also appreciate that the individual campus communities are looking out for them; perhaps a little more closely this week and in the upcoming months."
About the Minnesota College Athletic Conference
The Minnesota College Athletic Conference is the organizational body for NJCAA-affiliated two-year technical and community college athletic programs in the Minnesota State system. The mission of the Minnesota College Athletic Conference is to advance intercollegiate athletics by providing an engaging and supportive environment for success of our student athletes and competition among member institutions. The MCAC is committed to the guiding principles of encouraging the development and success of student athletes, promoting the integrity, honesty and loyalty to member schools as well as upholding the sustainability of conference athletic programs.