A golden opportunity for the Golden Eagles in the Dominican
Sep 01, 2010
by: Kate Nicewicz, Sports Information Intern
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Humbling – a term that is
often defined by the phrase “to make modest in
It is also a term that most simply and directly describes the
pre-season opportunity that the men’s basketball team at
Tennessee Tech University was privileged enough to experience.
For one week beginning Aug. 19, the men’s team
participated in a foreign goodwill tour sponsored by G.O.
Ministries in the Dominican Republic. They competed against seven
pro teams from around the country, gaining valuable experience on
the floor as a team and knowledge of international basketball.
The team knew shortly after arriving that their trip to the DR
was a far cry from a break from pre-season three-a-days, as they
faced off against four opponents in 30 hours within the first two
days of the trip. What they may not have known, however, was that
the personal gains that they would return with would be far greater
than the strides that they made on the courts of the Dominican
Republic. They were presented with the most ideal situation
imaginable – to use pre-season basketball as an avenue to
reach out to and connect with members of a far less fortunate
culture on the island of Hispaniola. What they quickly learned was
that they were not only connecting with the people of the
Dominican, but being treated to what can only be called a
Senior guard Charles Newton grabs a quick picture
“Basketball is just a sport,” said head coach
Mike Sutton. “But the ‘people’ portion of the
trip was what was most important.
“You could tell that our players were humbled,” he
continued. “Anytime you go to a foreign country, you gather a
new outlook on the reality of how blessed you are. Our guys truly
came to realize how fortunate we all are.”
G.O. Ministries, a Christian non-profit organization dedicated
to the ministry of short-term missions, sponsors brief trips to
numerous countries around the world with the goal of preparing
participants to support the efforts of Christian leaders
Brooke Brotzman, the founder of G.O. Ministries, coordinated the
sports outreach trip for Tech with missionaries in residence Will
Partin and his wife Audrey, who reside in the Dominican Republic.
For the duration of their trip, the team worked together with the
Partin’s to reach out to the native residents of Hispanola
and to enlighten other basketball programs around the country of
the opportunities available through the G.O. Ministries Sports
On their first full day in the Dominican, the team played two
games, visiting Pastor Nico’s mission in Los Perez Barrio
Zac Swansey helps out serving lunch at Pastor
after their first game. The team was able to shower and rest
between games, and also experienced the daily lunchtime ritual at
the mission – serving the children of the island their only
hot meal of the day.
Nestled in a noticeably more desolate and tired area of the
Dominican, the mission dishes out lunch portions to hungry island
children in a seemingly unconventional manner – in color
coded bowls. Each color represents the amount of food given to the
children, based on their ages.
And despite the seemingly obvious communication barriers –
the country is almost entirely Spanish-speaking – “if
you tried to give them the wrong bowl, they let you know it!”
But in fact, communication off the court didn’t seem to be
much of a problem at all, for one new Golden Eagle in
Matt Marseille (left), a transfer student out of Centenary College
whose parents were born in Haiti before moving to the U. S. over 30
years ago, spoke Creole to several children, enabling him to reach
them on a more personal level. Due to the on-going, habitual
immigration from Haiti, Haitian Creole is a prevalent dialect
throughout the Dominican.
“I know that Matt doesn’t speak Spanish, so I asked
him later how he talked to those kids,” Sutton relayed.
“He told me that he spoke to them in Creole.
“Matt also speaks French and I was amazed and proud of how
he and his teammates interacted with the children,” Sutton
It was evident to all that the people of the Dominican are more
than passionate about basketball and loved being around the team.
On the same token, the team was forced to recognize what
true passion for any sport really looks like – a broken goal
at one end of a deserted lot, creating what is barely discernable
as a playing field or court.
This trip marked the first time that a Division I program has
gone to the Dominican for a foreign tour of this capacity. On the
second day of their trip, the team was able to visit the office of
the mayor of Santiago. Gilberto Serulle, the newly elected mayor of
the city of approximately one million thanked and took pictures
with the team, welcoming them to the city.
Mayor Serulle also attended one of TTU’s games, inherently
shutting down play for 20 minutes when he and his entourage arrived
on the scene unannounced at the nationally televised
The magnitude to which the team will benefit off the court from
their experiences in the Dominican is immeasurable.
“What we tried to do collectively as a team can’t
help but build team camaraderie and make us better,” said
“Sometimes the guys will surprise you,” he continued.
“When we go on road trips, they’re usually only a few
days. But when you spend that amount of time together, you develop
closeness with each other. We got to see that interaction and
camaraderie as the players developed a greater appreciation for one
That’s not to say that the trip won’t benefit the
team on the floor, as well. The tour was especially important for
newcomers and members of the team who redshirted last year, in that
it gave the coaching staff an opportunity to see the players in a
game-like situation. The tour was particularly significant for
freshman Dennis Ogbe and transfer student Liam McMorrow, who did
not spend the summer with the team and have had less of an
opportunity to showcase their talents in a competitive manner.
McMorrow (below), a seven-foot transfer from Marquette, was a
former hockey player and has little more than a year’s worth
of collegiate basketball experience under his belt. He reached
something of a milestone while in the Dominican, competing in only
the 25th game of his career.
“I liked the fact that we had a few close games, so we got
to see how the team dealt with it,” admitted Sutton.
Matt Marseille, Javon McKay and Mitchell Hill got to see their
first action as Golden Eagles along with redshirts Chase Dunn and
Zac Swansey. The importance of this was not lost on Sutton,
who said that “having the chance to get seven new guys on the
court is huge, because it gives coaches a better feel as to what
those guys are capable of.”
The Golden Eagles returned to the states on Aug. 26 with a
newfound respect for one another and for their own good fortune.
The bonds between teammates have been fortified even in the
pre-season, while the relationships that the players formed with
the people of the Dominican will stay with them forever.
“Sometimes we worry about what we don’t have, and we
get caught up in the material things,” Sutton noted.
“But this trip gave us an opportunity to travel to a third
world country, and our team knows how exactly how much they do have
to be thankful for.
“The first words to the team from me at our first practice
were about how blessed we all truly are. The wonderful experiences
that we had on the G.O Ministries tour reinforced that and I think
our young men will cherish all of those experiences for the rest of