In the Land of the Golden Eagles, a recruiting tool is used to entice top male basketball players from around the country and throughout the world. Once at the College of Southern Idaho, it encourages the men to soar on the court and provides a refuge off the court.
That recruiting tool is “Booster Families” a collaboration of college and community that has proven to be a winning combination for the 2011 NJCAA Champions. Steve Gosar, Head Men’s Basketball Coach for CSI, states that the program is an “integral part” of the athletes’ lives.
Coaches connect a local family with an athlete to ease the transition of living away from home. These families also offer support, and allow an escape from dorm life.
Gosar and the entire coaching staff inform recruits about the Booster Family program and promise the athletes’ parents another set of eyes to watch over and support their child.
Junior college is about opportunities and second chances for many players. Gosar believes that the booster family program sets the foundation many athletes need to turn a corner in their lives to continue with basketball and a career.
“Basketball family plus Booster Family equals a successful, enjoyable experience for a player,” says Gosar. And the experience is enjoyable for the families, too. Around 60 Southern Idaho families generously open their doors to CSI athletes in basketball, volleyball, softball, and baseball each year. Once the doors are open, lives can change.
Andy and Lynn Richmond of Jerome, along with their three children Lilly, Grace, and Heston, have been a booster family for six years. From Senegal to France, and Hawaii to Guadeloupe, players have come to their home to hang out, eat an occasional meal, and enjoy a family atmosphere.
Recently in the Richmond’s kitchen, CSI basketball players, Sebastien Michineau and Greg Sequele, and volleyball player Ashia Joseph, eat tacos, peruse through photographs, and play Angry Birds. Effortlessly, Lynn banters with the athletes and chats about everything from holiday plans to macadamia nuts.
When the conversation turns to a recent basketball game, Michineau, Sequele, and Andy discuss and debate a specific play involving the two players. With each man insisting his version is correct; suddenly a kitchen “instant replay” takes place involving all three reenacting a moment in the game.
“Fun, that is one reason we are a Booster Family,” says Lynn Richmond.
The fun started six years ago when Lynn noticed that CSI basketball player, Bocar Ba was sitting by himself after a game as the rest of the players mingled with their Booster Families. She quickly learned that the coaches were having a difficult time finding a family for him because he was from Senegal, and the language barrier was tricky. Instantly Lynn said, “Well then, we’ll take him.”
After a successful basketball career at CSI, Ba went on to play for Colorado State. On Senior Night he was not by himself; the Richmonds were there to escort him on the court.
Lynn sees the booster program as an opportunity to introduce her children to different cultures and says, “Jerome and Twin Falls lack the diversity Andy and I grew up with in Oregon.” She states that she has raised her children around a variety of players through the years, and she is proud the children have open minds toward people of all skin colors and backgrounds.
Recently, Ba sent Richmonds a text message expressing his gratitude for everything they have done for him and apologized for anything he had done wrong. Ba did this in honor of Tabaski, a celebration important to the Senegalese who believe in asking for forgiveness to start fresh in a new year. A simple text message provides a teachable moment and a cultural lesson for the Richmonds and their children.
Although booster programs across the United States have made headlines for inappropriate gifts, large amounts of money given to athletes, and even booze cruises for teams, the program is much simpler in Southern Idaho.
For example, Aziz NDiaye from Senegal had a personal aspiration when the Richmonds hosted him. He always wanted to learn to drive. Andy was happy to accommodate and taught him the basics on his riding lawn tractor. Another basketball player from Senegal could not swim. Richmonds hauled him to the Snake River with a water noodle, a little physical support from Andy, and some basic instructions. He was paddling by the end of the day.
According to Joel Bate, CSI Athletic Director, every athlete has aspirations and a story. Bate says that the Booster Families help keep athletes grounded, like sophomore Fabyon Harris from Chicago. Before he came to CSI his story was written with violence and heartache. Bates believes that the program has allowed Harris to understand that the world around him can be a “safe and enjoyable place.”
Harris says, “When I first came to Twin Falls, I had a chip on my shoulder and didn’t trust anyone.”
And what would Harris tell any new CSI recruits? “I would say if they find a family they like and want to hang out with, it’s a blessing. If the family wants to spend time with you and support you at the games, it’s really good – and that’s from the heart.”
Booster Families pour their hearts into the athletes to make a difference in a young adult’s life. The program may be an effective recruiting tool, but it also embodies the kindred spirit and generosity unique to Southern Idaho.