11:05 p.m. –The guys are up early again, eating a little breakfast and chilling by the pool. Breakfast is going to be extra important today because the itinerary is jam-packed.
Some of the players took over the pool with a big game of water volleyball. I had the scene from Meet the Parents running through my head the entire time, but no face shots or bloody noses occurred – I was putting my money on Tom “Cheese” Einberger getting it though, he was really crowding that net.
After a bite to eat around 12:30 p.m. we were set to leave for the orphanage at 1:30 p.m.
1:58 p.m. – We arrived at the orphanage named Casa Hogar Esperanza near 2:00 p.m. The orphanage is located in the downtown region of Cancun, far removed from the chain of hotels and commercialism that tourists primarily see. This was the team’s first taste of what the real Mexico is. In talking with Coach Haugen after our visit, he explained that mood and tone of the players on the bus seemed to change once we got off of main Cancun highway and into the neighborhoods. There were no fancy hotels, pools, or restaurants near by, just stucco buildings and roads that need repair.
Once the team unloaded the buses, the guys were a little sheepish once inside the orphanage. A special thanks to Kate and Brian Bergstrom who broke the ice and started playing with the orphans. Once this that happened, the team really got into the experience.
Casa Hogar Esperanza is an orphanage that houses 17 students. The kids live in pretty tight quarters in a depressed area of Cancun, but despite these circumstances, they are deeply cared for and taken care by a great group of people. The orphanage itself is completely funded by private donations, the government does not supply any financial support. Donations from groups like the Gustavus football team help keep the orphanage running.
Words can’t describe the impact the team, family, and staff made on the kids for that short period of time. Whether it was Jeffrey Dubose failing multiple times on the double-dutch, or Alec Saunders drawing pictures on the ground with chalk, all of the guys seized the moment and had a blast. Everyone had a smile on his or her face, and if the team didn’t have another camp later in the day, nobody would have complained about sticking around for the whole afternoon. Seeing one the orphanage’s infant’s eyes light up when Torey Asao blew bubbles in front of him is a mental image that will stay with me for a long time.
All of the guys tried to individually present gifts to the kids of the orphanage while there. I think the students were a little overwhelmed by all the new toys they now have to play with, which is a good thing.
After saying our goodbyes and taking a big group picture, we loaded the buses and headed back to the practice facility. As we were traveling out of the neighborhoods and into more of the tourist areas, you could have heard a pin drop on our bus. There was not a word uttered by one player for the first ten minutes of the drive. I think the guys realized that what they did, even though it was such a small act of kindness, it made the world to the orphans. I kept thinking to myself, “If this is what orphanage life is like in a city like Cancun, what is it like in the heart of Mexico, in some of the areas of Mexico City?”
“It gets pretty emotional for everyone involved when you go into an environment like that. It makes you realize how blessed we are, and also how much we can give,” said Coach Haugen about the experience. “Each one of our guys brought something special today, and even more than that, I think our players and coaches are changed because you see what people’s circumstances and reality are in terms of living.”
When we arrived at the practice field, coach Haugen addressed our bus and wanted to reiterate to the guys how blessed we are and how they can help others through such tiny acts. Peter Nyhus brought the visit to a fitting end by buying the orphanage a computer so the junior high students could get their homework done more efficiently.
3:45 p.m. – The guys are once again fooling around on the field before the pre-game walk-through and clinic takes place. Andre Creighton and Jeffrey Dubose race in a 40. Dubose takes gold by a healthy two strides. I think Creighton pulled a Michael Johnson towards the end of the race. For some reason, the hogs believe they are the best athletes in pre-practice. Donte Green is all of a sudden a quarterback who thinks he can pull off the run-and-shoot offense.
Nyhus got some of the guys jacked up with a comment before practice – you REDS will like this. Logan Becker and I asked Pedro, Peter is known as Pedro in Cancun, if he were a RED at Gustavus. He replied, “Let the bulldog growl again boys!” All the players love it and laughed out loud, let the storytelling begin.
Since I can only take so many pictures of the guys before my camera breaks, I decided to walk about four blocks away to a stadium that is located near the practice facility. The stadium turned out to be a beautiful baseball park named Beto Ávila Stadium, home to the Tigres de Quintana Roo. I wikipedia’d the Tigres when I got back to the hotel and found out that they are a minor league team that is a part of the Mexican Baseball League. Adjacent to the baseball field was a huge soccer stadium that is the home field of the Club de Fútbol Atlante. I had asked one of the bartenders yesterday whether there was a professional soccer team in Cancun. He actually told me that the Atlante were his favorite team and that they had just moved up to division one, the premier futbol division. The stadium, Estadio Andrés Quintana Roo, was a little more locked down than the baseball field, so I wasn’t able to get in and snap any pictures. On my way back to the practice field, I stopped to take in some little league baseball at a gorgeous little park. My first love has always been baseball, so seeing little guys and girls playing ball was a treat. There were no parents screaming at umpires, or complaining about playing time, just people enjoying watching their kids play – the way it should be.
5:35 p.m. – The second day of the youth camp is set to begin and already I can sense that both the players and campers have a new found energy. The visit to the orphanage is still fresh in the back of the guys’ minds and they are ready to go.
I heard offensive coordinator Charlie Cosgrove say yesterday that he was making real headway with the older players, and given more opportunity to work with them, we would see a massive improvement. I have to say Chuck, the impact you and the rest of the staff and players made in one day was recognized by everyone.
All of the campers showed up ready to take in a lot of information and put into practice what they learned yesterday. Logan Becker has been working with a 16-year old quarterback over the past two days. The kid has busted his you-know-what for Logan during that time, and already we have seen huge improvement in his footwork and throwing motion. Logan is a nursing major, but he might be on to something here. All of the players were such good listeners and all of the Gusties did their best to make the information easy to understand. One of the young qb’s, probably in sixth grade, overthrew his receiver on a fly at one point, putting too much air under the ball. I knelt down and told him to throw the ball fast and hard, rapido y duramente, on a line at his facemask next time. What does he do on his next throw? He puts an absolute BB on his receiver’s mask.
I can’t say enough of how proud the team was of the young Mexican players’ effort throughout the clinic. Towards the end of practice, it was time for a little fun. The wide receivers took on the defensive backs in one-on-ones, and even the defensive linemen got into it with the scoop and score drill. Coach Corey Shae put one stipulation on the drill, the campers had to show off their best endzone celebration after they scored – that was a sight to see. Our 16-year old quarterback capped off the camp by hitting his receiver on the sidelines for a 35-yard TD. I swear these kids are watching either Ocho or T.O. because he caught the pass with one hand.
With the whole group together, Peter Haugen thanked all the campers for their hard work, telling them to work hard in school because education will be a key to their success in life. One more round of the Gustie Rouser and Lagartos Rousers and we were back taking pictures and loading up the bus. Another great camp day, I think the guys are going to miss that dirt field…maybe.
6:50 p.m. – We got back to the hotel and quick freshened up because Pedro and his wife Nancy were taking coach Dennis Baldus, graduate athletic trainer Angie Koich, and I out to eat near the club district of Cancun. They were taking us to a restaurant where a friend of theirs named Sarah Stinnett was singing. Sarah is an Oklahoma native and a graduate of Oklahoma State University. She moved to Cancun after graduating and has been in the city for roughly five years. Currently, she is a sales rep for a company called Novo Cancun, and was actually the person who sold the Nyhus’ their Cancun Condo, thus the connection. The dinner was superb and Sarah was a sensational singer. We listened to Pedro and Nancy tell stories for a couple of hours and it was back to the hotel. The guy needs to write a book about his life in connection to Gustavus.
10:30 p.m. – I am trying to finish today’s blog up and get it out tonight, but I keep falling asleep after every (yawn)……sentence. An emotional day to say the least. Forget the pools, the food, the bikinis, what the team will take away most from this trip is the impact they have made on the lives of the orphans, campers, and others here in Cancun. The guys will be getting to bed early tonight because it is game time tomorrow.