Note: This article appears in the Fall 2010 issue of NCAA Champion magazine.
By Michelle Brutlag Hosick
Drake football coach Chris Creighton nearly burst from excitement before the first team meeting in January 2010. He couldn’t help himself as he told some of his players that the meeting was “going to be big.”
Many of them speculated that perhaps Athletics Director Sandy Hatfield Clubb had secured a matchup with nearby Iowa State. But Creighton’s news was bigger than a date on the fall schedule. His news, he hoped, would change their lives.
He told them that in May 2011, the entire team would go to Tanzania, Africa, and would play the first American football game on that continent. They would help build an addition to an orphanage. And they would climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
After several seconds of silence, the team erupted.
The trip is just the kind of thing Creighton has devoted his career to providing for his student-athletes. His goal is to make playing Drake football one of the most exceptional experiences of his players’ lives.
“I know this trip is meant to be,” Creighton said. “I want it to be a microcosm of their time in our program; I want it to be an incredible experience. I just want to get our team over to Africa. The rest of it will unfold in incredible ways.”
The trip was made possible through a series of almost unbelievable connections, beginning with Clubb. In the early 1990s, she and her father reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. She knew the possibilities and believed in Creighton’s vision. As a university, Drake is working to bring athletics into the heart of the university, making it less of an extracurricular activity and more of an experience-based learning activity. The trip to Africa is a perfect example.
The team will work with a faculty member with expertise in African culture, customs and politics during the spring semester, and the professor will travel with the team in May. Several years ago, Clubb’s family worked with a Des Moines organization that brings youth from Tanzania to Iowa for one academic year and then requires those youngsters to work in their community upon their return to Tanzania. It was through that group, the Iowa Resource for International Service, that Clubb found the orphanage that needed help.
The Bulldogs’ opponent, a team from in and around Mexico City, was arranged through Global Football, a group that organized Creighton’s previous trips abroad when he coached at NAIA and Division III schools. The Mexican team, Clubb said, was “all in” from the beginning.
“They were not interested in just a football game. They wanted to share our total experience,” she said. “We found kindred spirits.”
When team members arrive in Moshi, Tanzania, they will begin the experience with football clinics for local youth. The game will be played at a stadium at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro outfitted for soccer. Some adjustments will be made for American-style football. Then the Mexican and American teams will spend three days working with the orphanage and doing other types of community service in Moshi. Creighton said the entire experience in the city will be influential.
“One of the greatest experiences you can have is serving others, and especially in a developing country where our worlds will be rocked. We wanted to spend time with Tanzanians, not just go and sit in a hotel, play a game and then climb a mountain,” he said. “We will be there fully. We will learn from them.”
The last six days will be the opportunity for both teams to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Clubb, who plans to take the trip herself, said she will advise the student-athletes to soak up the rich experience.
“I was there in 1993, and it still affects me today,” she said. “The tribal culture is so beautiful. It’s great for teams to go see that selflessness. It’s really neat for Americans to experience it.”
Just the kind of experience Creighton is aiming to create.