*Wallace State’s men’s basketball team is currently on a historic trip to the Dominican Republic, becoming the 1st NJCAA team in any sport to compete on foreign soil according to coach John Meeks. Wallace State will play two games in the Dominican Republic, but as this blog indicates, the team is making memories in other areas of life, much more worthwhile!
Day 1 of Dominican Republic Trip (Friday, Nov. 13)
As told by Wallace State sophomore Tyrell Clary, a Huntsville native
We started out one of the most exciting days of our lives by waking up at the crack of dawn (3 a.m.) to leave from Hanceville and head to the Atlanta airport. Guys could have easily been complaining and griping about having to get up that early and even about having to ride on a super-small bus with a ton of luggage and donations, but we were just too excited to even think about it.
We arrived at the Atlanta airport at 7:30 a.m. with a loud wake-up call from assistant coach Will Dyer…my ears still ring! As soon we heard that, it seemed liked we all sprung up ready for action. We jumped off the bus and grabbed our bags. Even at 7:30 am, the Atlanta airport was still busy. We walked in and checked our bags. For some reason you would think the airport would not be a scary place, but from the looks on some of our guys’ faces, they look terrified. I don’t know if it was from the scary-looking security people or just because for some it would be their first time flying.
We walked through the security without a problem, which was shocking to me because everyone thought we would get stopped for having the wrong things, like toothpaste or liquids, in our bags. After getting through security we walked to get something to eat. Everyone was looking at us as if we were famous or something. People were constantly coming up to us and asking questions like, “What sport do you play? What team do you play for? Where is your school at?”
Even though I am already famous, it made me feel like even more of a star!
Everything in the airport was fast moving and seemed like it rarely stopped so we had to hurry to eat. We headed to our gate and waited until they called us for our plane to depart. As we sat there guys charged their phones, listened to music, and even watched videos on YouTube. Antonio Wilson seemed to be more terrified than a deer in headlights. He actually called his mom to come get him…Haha! Some players were calm and some looked like they would rather take one of coach’s freezing cold ice baths than to fly on the plane.
We boarded the plane at 9:20 a.m. Getting on the plane was pretty exciting because it was time to head to the Dominican Republic. Taking off was the best part for me because it was like getting on a roller coaster, taking off at a jet-fast speed, and soaring over the clouds at an altitude of 28,000 feet. Luckily, the first-time flyers were asleep by the time the captain told everyone how high up we were. Most guys on our team fell asleep and slept most of flight until coach woke us up to fill out papers we needed in order to get into the Dominican Republic.
We landed at the Dominican Republic airport at 2:07 pm with applause from the passengers on the plane, thanking the captain for a safe flight. We had finally arrived in the Dominican Republic! If that was not evident because we were on the ground, it was even more evident from the heat! It was 86 degrees and we had on our travel suits, making it seem like 102 degrees. Harry Harris was sweating like we had just had practice on the plane!
The first thing we noticed when we got off the plane was the beautiful women. It seemed like everywhere we looked there was a pretty lady walking by. After we grabbed our bags and headed to find our vans, everything was really fast paced. We had to adapt quickly. One of the guys working at the airport asked us if we played basketball and we told him we did. He responded by laughing and saying, “Get ready to get beat.” We all just gave him a smirk and kept walking.
We walked outside to our vans, where we met Hector, our translator, and Nino, our driver. They drove us to the SCORE complex where we are staying, which was about 30 minutes from the airport. On the way to the complex, we saw beautiful trees and the beach, but also crazy traffic, people driving on the wrong side of the road, and four people riding on one motorcycle! It was pretty mind blowing to me how people were all over the place! People walked in the street into on-coming traffic and the cars didn’t even stop. Hector told us it’s just the way they do things.
We arrived at the complex around 3:30 pm (the two-hour time difference gets confusing at times) where they fed us sandwiches. We were initially worried about the food, but none of the players had any problem eating, as the food was gone within seconds. After eating lunch, we were assigned to our rooms…rooms that are very different from what we are used to in the United States. We had bunk beds instead of twin size beds, no television, no cell service, and limited internet access in only one room of the complex. I don’t think many of the guys mind not having a television, but we definitely miss 24-7 access to our phones. But, all the extra time we aren’t able to use our phones gives us the chance to get to know each other better, others around us better, and grow more as a team and family.
We found a ping pong table in the back of the complex. Tyler Hopkins and Kylen Butler started out the first game. Let’s just say we hope that Kylen plays basketball better while we are here than he plays ping pong. After the ping pong match we met for dinner in the complex dining room, where they feed us a buffet-style meal. At first, the food looked very strange, but it ended up being really good, especially the chicken and rice. Guys were going back for more which was a shocker because most of our players are picky eaters.
After we finished dinner, most of the team decided to go to the beach, which is only a block away. Walking to the beach was somewhat scary because cars were way too close to us. As we walked on the sidewalk, some of the people in the cars stared at us. But I am used to that with my celebrity status…remember??? When we got to the beach, we were amazed at its beauty and the blueness of the water. People were swimming in it all around us. We took some pictures of the horizon as the sun set…the pictures look like they should be in a famous painting. We left the beach and headed back to the complex. We have to be inside the complex by 9:30 p.m., as a guard armed with a machine gun locks all the gates. Curfew in our own rooms is 10:30 p.m., and that’s just about now. We are all really tired but so ready to see what excitement tomorrow brings!
Day 2 of Dominican Republic Trip (Saturday, Nov. 14)
As told by Wallace State sophomore Kylen Butler, an Illinois native
Today begins our second day in the Dominican Republic! We all woke up at around 6:30 a.m. to start getting ready for breakfast which started at 7 a.m. The breakfast food was very good. They served us pancakes, sausage with cheese, and a huge variety of fruits.
Shortly after breakfast, we left to go help at a basketball clinic. On our way to the clinic, we rode through their “downtown.” That was a sight to see. It was jam-packed with traffic, pedestrians, and stores. When we arrived at the clinic, all the kids were excited to see us. We taught them drills that we practice daily at Wallace State. They all caught on to the drills very quickly. The kids didn’t speak much English so we had to talk to them using hand motions and similar gestures. It was funny how the kids got our attention; they would whistle or make a “siss” sound.
At the end of the camp, we gave the little ones candy and the older ones T-shirts and shorts. They we all thankful and very happy. We enjoyed ourselves just as much as them!
Our next stop was to an all-girls orphanage. There were about 45 girls that were there. They were all put in the orphanage for different reasons, such as being abandoned or death of their parents. We were able to play and have dance-offs with all the girls. Before we left they sang us songs. It was good seeing how the orphanage brought all those girls together and made them one big family.
After we left the orphanage, we went back to our hotel for lunch. They served us chicken, mashed potatoes, various salads, and rolls. We had free time after lunch, but we were all exhausted after the busy day so we took a nap to get rest for the game tonight.
We woke up at 5 p.m. for dinner. I’m not really sure what they served us, but it tasted like roast beef with rice, and they had potato salad. After we finished eating, we left for our first game of the trip.
The game was held in a nice arena and we had a nice crowd to play in front of. Everything went well and the outcome was not the same as when I played ping pong (haha!). We came away with the win, 96-65. We took pictures with the other team and with fans. It was a great experience.
We finally arrived back to the SCORE complex around 10 p.m. and had a few snacks. I better get some rest…we have another long day ahead of us tomorrow.
Day 3 of Dominican Republic Trip (Sunday, Nov. 15)
As told by Wallace State sophomore Xavier Mills, a North Carolina native
Today is day three of Wallace State’s adventure in the Dominican Republic, and was probably the shortest day we have had so far.
This morning I was able to sleep in some, but woke up at 8 a.m. to come down to breakfast. Today was the first day I did not eat breakfast. The food they served today I cannot describe. I may be the pickiest eater on the team, but I just decided to sit this breakfast out.
At 9:15 a.m. we took the bus to go to church in San Pedro. Church was great. I did not understand a lot of what they were saying but it looked like they were having such a good time. Felix, from SCORE, came with us and translated a lot of the pastor’s message for us.
After church we came back to SCORE for lunch…a complete meal of different types of pasta. I definitely made up for not eating breakfast, as the meal was really good!
When lunch was over, the entire team decided to go to the beach. It was really a sight to see. The water was beautiful and some of the people were very friendly. It was like a live fiesta at the beach. Music was playing and you could see a lot of families having a good time with one another. We were told that Sunday’s in the Dominican Republic are for family and the beach definitely showed it. I even saw a man wearing a church suit and tie.
After spending most of the afternoon at the beach, we came back to SCORE to relax and have dinner. We took naps, watched college basketball games, caught up on our lack of Wi-Fi throughout the day and had a good dinner of rice & beef tips.
Around 10 p.m. we came together as a team to conduct a team devotion. That was a great experience. People on the trip with us and other players gave testimonies and shared what they had learned or felt this far about the trip. The focus of the devotion was “unity” and I definitely feel like we’ve became closer as a team.
Overall, today was a great experience and I got to see the lifestyle people live daily. It truly showed that I’m blessed. It humbled me. I am very thankful for this opportunity.
Day 4 of Dominican Republic Trip (Monday, Nov. 16)
As described by Wallace State sophomore Immanuel King, a North Carolina native
Today I woke up for my fourth day in the Dominican Republic. It was about 7:30 a.m. when I went downstairs for breakfast. The breakfast was pretty good. I like trying food I’ve never had before, but the breakfast we had was something like American eggs mixed with a lot of vegetables. After breakfast, I went back to my room to lay down for a while, because I knew today would be a very busy day.
Later that morning, we went to the grocery store to pick up food to feed the families in the Sugar Cane Village, one of the poorest communities on the island. The store we went to, Jumbo, was like a Wal-Mart, as it offered a lot of other stuff than just food. Felipe, our group leader for the day, divided the team into groups to shop for the families. Each group had a specific assignment to get enough of one item to feed a family. We bought rice, beans, salt, oil, spaghetti, chicken flavor, and tuna. After we purchased our groceries (the money conversion here is odd…it cost almost $12,000…but we were told it was less than $300 American dollars), we each grabbed a grocery bag and divided everything up into 25 bags. We also added toiletries that we brought with us on the trip, donated by people in the states.
After leaving the grocery store, we went to the Sugar Cane Village. They took us to the school where all the kids in the village attended. The parents of the kids met us there later. As soon as I got off the bus, I was surrounded by 50 kids, shaking my hand, asking to get on my back, and wanting me to play with them all at the same time. We spent several hours at the school. Some of us played an exhibition game against some of the boys that lived around the village. Our guys were on the other team but I played on the Dominican Republic team. That was pretty fun. We had a play-by-play announcer on a speaker and we actually won the game. The little kids really enjoyed it!
After we finished playing with the kids and passing out candy to them, we got ready to pass out our food bags to the families. First, Xavier Mills introduced himself and our team individually to them and then Harry Harris gave his testimony. When they were done, they started calling out family’s names and each of us was selected to give a bag to a family and pray for them. For me, that was one of the best experiences on the trip. I could tell from the tears of the families that it was one of the greatest blessings they had ever received.
We left the village and went back to the SCORE complex for a nice lunch of chicken and rice. This is also my time most days that I get to spend on my phone, as our phones do not work here in most areas. We had a game later in the evening against a tough team, so I took a nap, as did the rest of the team, to get ready for the game.
We left the complex a few hours later for an outdoor market to do some sight-seeing and shopping for our friends and families. It was a cool experience to learn to barter with the people. I found out you could get things much cheaper from them than the price they were asking for, especially if you learned to just walk away. A lot of times, they would chase you down to get you to buys the item!
About the time that we finished shopping, a huge rainstorm came, so we got back on the bus to head to the game, which was only a few blocks away. We arrived at the game early and the other team and referees were late because of the rain so we had quite a bit of time to warm up. We played against one of the best club teams on the island…and the referees didn’t seem to like us too much either. The game was close the entire time, which was a change from Saturday’s game, but we were able to pull out the win. The atmosphere at the game was a lot of fun. Fans were chanting against us and cheering very loudly for their local team. I enjoyed the guys that we played against a lot. After the game, we took pictures with their team and had the opportunity to pray with them.
We left the game to go to dinner. It was our first time eating out all week. They took us to Pizza Hut, which was a lot like the Pizza Hut’s in the United States. After eating, SCORE leader Giovanny shared a devotion with us on the fact that our ministry doesn’t stop in the Dominican Republic. It continues when we arrive back in the US.
We finally arrived back at the SCORE complex near 11 p.m. It’s been a crazy long day and I’m very tired, but thankful for the days I’ve been able to spend here. Lights out…back to the US tomorrow!
Day 5 of Dominican Republic Trip (Tuesday, Nov. 17)
As described by Wallace State freshman Jaylen McCoy, a Montgomery native
Today is our last day in the Dominican Republic, so we had the opportunity to sleep in. Quite a few guys took advantage of this, but I got up around 8:30 a.m. and went to get breakfast. I had breakfast with the coaches and Xavier McCoy. Breakfast this morning was French toast and several kinds of fruit. I did not want to risk getting my stomach upset again like it was earlier in the trip, so I stuck with the fruit. Seemed like everyone else wanted to sleep, but I wanted to spend as much time sight-seeing before it was time to leave.
After breakfast, several of the coaches and players walked with me to the beach. We got to take in the last couple hours of relaxing warm weather. The beach was so nice during the morning hours… it was peaceful and made you think and reflect on the trip. After we got back, Dan Watson, our video guy for the week, started working on some short videos of the team, asking questions like what was our favorite parts of the trip.
We had lunch a little before noon (burritos and fajitas) and packed our bags to leave for the airport. It was difficult saying ‘adios’ to our Dominican friends. We had made so many connections with the people at the SCORE complex that few guys wanted to leave. After we were loaded on the bus, Mr. Giovanny prayed for us that we would continue to make the same impact in the U.S. as we had in the D.R., and that we would have a great season. SCORE showed us great hospitality all week, and we were very grateful for the experience!
We are on our way to the airport to head back to the United States! The driving here is always crazy…I wonder how we ever get to where we are going. One thing I am not going to forget is how fast they drive in the DR. It feels like the driver is going 90 miles per hour. Another thing I will never forget is how it’s so warm here in November! Putting our travel suits back on to get prepared for Alabama weather was one of the worst experiences…not excited about going back to the cold.
Checking in at the Dominican Republic airport did not disappoint. Our wait was pretty long as expected, and the lines were ridiculously long. It definitely makes you appreciate the stream-lined process in the U.S., even though sometimes we think the lines in the U.S. are long. While we waited for the plane, the vendors in the airport showed the same aggressive selling side as those we had met throughout the trip. Many of the guys gravitated towards the beautiful women who were vendors. I’m surprised anyone left with any money at all!!!
Our flight departed around 3 p.m. Dominican time and we landed safely in the U.S. around 5 p.m. Atlanta time. It took about an hour to get through immigration, where they asked us tons of questions about our trip. We finally got our bags and, after waiting 30 minutes or so for our bus to pick us up, we were on our way home. But…not before we made a quick stop at Chick-fil-A for dinner. I have to say, I have missed it, and American food in general!
We arrived back at school around 10 p.m., to put an end to a great trip. We all thank God for blessing us with His traveling grace. What a great experience for us! Never would we have thought that a trip like this would impact us so much, let alone even happen. Being the first junior college to do something like this is a great feeling, but knowing our impact in the D.R. will last a lifetime feels even better. The trip was great for team bonding, and I feel we came back closer as a group, but also closer to God. God was in the midst of everything, and we plan to keep him there for the rest of our lives!
*Photos are courtesy of men’s coach John Meeks