While the United States has struggled with its political image in recent years, its reputation when it comes to college sports both for the athletes and the fans is still intact. And this reputation can be credited for attracting college athletes from all over the world.
“The fans are way more fanatical than [Thailand] but I love it. It’s so fun to be out there and play a sport or even be in the crowd. It’s just fun, I love it,” golfer Hammerli Sriyai said.
America places a lot of significance on college athletics, offering college scholarships that aren’t available to athletes in other countries. This, among other reasons, attracts international athletes to colleges all over the US.
WTAMU doesn’t escape the notice of these athletes when they make their college choices.In 2011, 14 international players have competed in eight different WT sports. The men’s and women’s soccer teams account for over half of these players followed by the cross country teams with five players. Other sports, such as baseball, have one or two international players each.
However, the rosters of all eight sports read more like a world map than a United States map. Athletes from Thailand to Kenya and everywhere in between can be seen on WT fields nearly every weekend. And while some athletes may make their way here because of the scholarships offered, others have other personal reasons for coming.
“I came here to fulfill a dream. In Canada there’s not as much drive for sports,” soccer player Melanie Shannon said. “I chose [WT] because the coaching staff is great and although they are your coaches, they are also your family and look up for you.”
In some countries, it isn’t just an individual choice but every player’s dream to go to school and play in America from the time they are young.
“Every junior golfer’s dream in Thailand is to come to college in America. I like the way American schools work,” Hammerli Sriyai said. “I got to meet my coach and she was really nice and I got to see the campus so WT worked for me. It’s perfect, so that’s why I’m here.”
While America doesn’t focus on a select few sports the way other countries do, the more all-in-nature of American players is also a change to players from other countries. To some players it is a welcome change that pushes them even harder.
“The morale of the team is better here. Everyone wants to win and gives 100 percent. That’s kind of different than back home; sometimes people are like ‘yeah, I don’t really want to play today’. [The attitude’s] really good here,” German soccer player Daniel Angloher said.
To Becky McMullen, the change of both the game’s pace and the fitness of players here compared to England was something she had to learn to adapt to. However, playing on an American team has been a valuable experience for her on the field.
“It is very different how we play in England, but you adapt. The game out here is a lot faster and they are a lot fitter so I’ve had to adapt to that,” McMullen said.
With WT’s new sports park, it will be no surprise if more international athletes make their way on to Buffalo Sports Park fields in coming years. There’s no doubt the experience will not only be a valuable one for those who come here from other countries, but for American students at WT as well.