Speaking of Sports: Something Extraordinary
December 12, 2006
The Little Giants’ journey to Panama embraced the College’s goal of educating mind, body, and spirit like no immersion trip before it."
—by Brent Harris, Sports Information Director
SOMETHING EXTRAORDINARY HAS BEEN HAPPENING to 39 of our students this week," history professor Rick Warner wrote on the Wabash website in late May. "They have become immersed ina society considerably different from their own, rubbing shoulders with ordinary people in a developing country. Most importantly,they have reflected on the value of working toward an understanding of a different culture."
Warner wasn’t writing about one of the College’s course-connected immersion trips. This was the Little Giants football team’s trip to Panama, a journey Coach Chris Creighton shaped into a cultural immersion/service trip with a football game at the end. With its"work hard, play hard, learn the culture, and try to make a difference"attitude, Creighton’s team embraced the College’s goal of educating mind, body, and spirit like no immersion trip before it.
The student-athletes called it life-changing.
"Although we prepared to play a football game in Panama, it was not the emphasis of our journey," says senior Chris Greisl. "We wanted to give. We wanted to help.We wanted to make a difference."
And they were ready to learn.
Bryan Engh recalls the team’s visit with the Embera, one of seven indigenous peoples of Panama. The Wabash senior was nervous as the boat, made from a carved out tree, arrived at the Embera village."
My anxiety was wiped away by the smiling faces of the people who call those hills home," Engh says. "They welcomed us into their community, showed us several of their dances, and even invited us to join them. It was incredible to be marching around in this big circle, performing a traditional dance of a people that few back home have even heard of."
Later in the week, the team showed students at one rural school the American game, providing another highlight of Engh’s trip. After the clinic, kids wanted to show their American guests their own brand of football—soccer, the national sport. The young Panamanians ran circles around the Little Giants."
Those kids were so agile, they could do things with the soccer ball I couldn’t have imagined," says Engh, who watched the game embraced the College’s goal of from the sidelines and used his intermediate Spanish-speaking skills to get to know his hosts.
"I will never forget the way we were able to communicate and find a way to enjoy each other’s company, regardless of our cultural and language differences," says Engh. "I found that human nature is generally the same in different parts of the world. It is kind.
"From holding one’s arm out the car window to feel the air, to playing practical jokes on one’s classmates, I realized just how similar we are."
For Greisl, the team’s decision to help a rural family with their farmwork stood out. Thirty-nine young men in top condition were able to accomplish several months’ worth of work in just a day’s time. Yet the members of the farming family impressed Greisl even more than his teammates, and one older woman in particular.
"She had one of the toughest jobs out there, carrying this heavily loaded basket up and down the steep hills," Greisl recalls. "We had three or four guys going with her to try to do her job, and they were struggling after the first couple of times up and back. And she did this work the whole day."
Later, when the team spent time in Panama City, Greisl bristled when he heard urban Panamanians refer to the rural people as lazy.
"Someone there mentioned that the people in the country were too lazy or stupid to make it in the city, and that’s just not true," Greisl says. "I worked alongside these people, and there is nothing lazy or stupid about them. I remember their resourcefulness, making a living with so little to go on. When I think of Panama, I think of how loving those people were and the warm way they welcomed us."
The Little Giants played the Panamanian All-Stars on the last Saturday of the trip, and once again the friendships formed trumped the action on the field.
"I had never expected those guys to be as passionate and talented as they were," says senior Patrick Millikan. "At the end of the game, despite a loss, they were still positive and happy to have played us, and we were glad to play them.We met many good players who were good men, as well."
"I’ve realized that there are fruitful ways that professors and coaches can work as partners in bringing the world to our students," says Warner, who taught Panamanian history and culture during the trip. "Not only do we teach the same students, but important life lessons well beyond the realms of academics and athletics can be learned when such partnerships are forged."
Friendships can be forged, as well.
"I just wanted to tell you guys that you are my friends," one new Panamanian Little Giant fan wrote. "I hope you won't ever forget this experience and your Panamanian friends, because we won't forget you."
Contact Professor Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org
Top Photo: After the game: Jeff Williams ’07, Nick Lyons ’08, Will Certain ’07, Justin Sparks ’08, and Chris Greisl ’07 mug for the camera with a Panamanian friend.
Lower Photo: Before the game: Andy Deig ’08 helps a rural farmwoman with her work: "We had three or four guys trying to do her work; she had one of the toughest jobs out there."