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Lessons on diversity from cross country trails

Alpena Community College is the hub of higher education for places like Metz, Posen, Lachine, Glennie, and Lincoln.

When it comes to college athletes, you can often add other places around Michigan as well, places like Saginaw, Newberry, or Ludington.

Those all I understand.

But, for the life of me, I can’t explain ACC being a magnet for the countries of Turkey, Liberia, and Japan.

In what certainly has to be a first at ACC, cross country Coach Mark Jacobs has created an internationally diverse team this year, with three of his runners hailing from the countries above.

While Jacobs spends many hours of preparation, research, and scouting into prospective recruiting, he would be the first to tell you that, sometimes, it just boils down to hefty dose of good fortune.

Such was the case with that international trio.

“Actually, they kind of did fall into my lap,” Jacobs answered when asked about how he recruited them.

“Last year, I came upon a young man named Musa Kubbah,” Jacobs said. “Musa, who is from Voinjama, Liberia, was a former foreign exchange student at Alpena High. He enjoyed his experience so much that he wanted to come back to our community and go to college. Musa was a high school soccer player who wanted to get involved in as many activities at ACC as he could. He joined the cross country team and had an outstanding season last year. He has been my international recruiter.”

Jacobs said that, over the summer, Kubbah worked at the college with Runi Demirkol, who is from Istanbul, Turkey. Demirkol’s story of ending up in Alpena is a convincing one as to just how small the world can be at times.

“Runi and his family worked at the Vatican embassy in Istanbul Turkey,” Jacobs said. “Runi got to know Archbishop Paul Fitzpatrick Russell, who is an Alpena native. Russell was instrumental in bringing both Runi and his sister, Mary, to the U.S. to study. Musa persuaded Runi to start running with him and got him interested in joining our team.”

The third piece to the puzzle is Yuki Nishibashi, from Ostu City, Japan. Best friend of the other two, once Nishibashi found out his friends were running, he immediately joined the team, as well. Jacobs said Yuki was a foreign exchange student at Alcona High and still lives with his original host family in Harrisville.

At this time in history, when we all are trying to understand diversity better, what an opportunity those three present to the ACC community.

As Jacobs said about coaching foreign students: “I love learning about their cultures and what makes these kids tick.”

I always have appreciated Jacobs for the life lessons he teaches young athletes. While a solid athletic coach, it is the maturity he instills in young men and women that I find refreshing and important.

And, with his team this year, he has the opportunity to break down many stereotypical barriers on the campus and in the community.

“These guys have brought so much to not only to the team but to the college and community,” he said. “We learn so much from them, not only our differences in cultures, but also our similarities. It goes to show that it doesn’t matter what country you are born in, what color your skin is, or what your primary language is, these guys all have the same hopes and dreams for their futures as my other student athletes.

“They never have excuses and have taken advantage of every opportunity presented to them,” he added. “As a coach, I have very high standards and expectations, and these guys check all the boxes.”

Who would have thought lessons on diversity could come from the trails of a cross country course?

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or bspeer@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.

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