Former Toombs County High School head basketball coach Donnie Arrington traveled to Brazil last summer on behalf of the Southeast Georgia Fellowship of Christian Athletes to teach his sport and spread the Gospel to young Brazilans. This summer Arrington has organized two trips to Brazil and on the first one he brought along TCHS head football coach Richie Marsh and former Bulldog head coach Mark Stroud.
“They are very pleased to have an American there to help with basketball and football,” Arrington said. Of course Brazil is best known for excelling world wide in the sport of soccer. However, the country, which has a population of 212 million, has a little basketball history to be proud of. Brazil has won three bronze medals in the Olympics and has produced some players who have excelled in the NBA like Anderson Varejão (Cleveland and Golden State), Tiago Splitter (San Antonio, Atlanta and Philadelphia), Leandro Barbosa (six different teams including Golden State) and Nenê (Denver, Washington and currently with the Houston Rockets).
Y-101 Interviews with the coaches
Coach Donnie Arrington
Coach Richie Marsh talks about Brazil and what his Bulldogs are up to this summer
Coach Mark Stroud talks about the trip and his Calvary Cavaliers
Arrington says the grass roots basketball scene in Brazil is good, “There are some pockets of some really strong basketball there. They have a public sector type of basketball there like the city and the state. The strongest is the clubs. I was able to work with a couple of different clubs including the hometown of Tiago Splitter and they really love basketball.”
Offensive basketball is Arrington’s specialty and that is what he teaches to the young Brazilians, “You try to come in and get some sense of what the skill level is and do some ball handling and some shooting drills and I just try to work on offensive fundamentals for the most part- ball handling, shooting and dribble moves.”
Arrington says the players he works with have a universal goal and that is to play in America. “For many of those kids- boys and girls- their dream would be to come to the United States and play basketball. Sometimes we get a little entitlement with athletics and kids, but I really haven’t seen that there. They are very appreciative and almost in disbelief that someone would come 5,000 miles and work with them in basketball and then we are going through FCA and there is a spiritual side and we are trying to share the Gospel too.”
American Football in a World Football County
Over 10,000 Brazilians play professional football world wide or what Americans call soccer. Brazil, with five World Cup Championships, has won more than any other country. So, it may be hard to imagine there is any interest in American football. However, there is cable TV and that has made it possible for Brazilians to watch NFL games. Apparently, for some once you see a game, you want to play it.
The first match up between two Brazilian American football teams took place in 2008 and by 2014- according to USA Today- there were more than 120 organized American football teams in Brazil. There is even a Brazil Bowl and back in December Galo Futebol Americano rallied to defeat João Pessoa Espectros 17-13 and win Brazil Bowl 9. The hero of the game has a connection to the state of Georgia.
Parris Lee scored two touchdowns including the game-winning TD on an eight -yard run. Lee was a Super 11 Player at Fletcher High School in Jacksonville, Florida. He was signed by Georgia State head coach Bill Curry back in 2009 and played in the first Panther football game and led the team in rushing with 62-yards. He is the answer to a trivia question. Who scored the first Georgia State touchdown? Parris Lee on a four-yard run on the Panther’s first possession against Shorter University in the Georgia Dome. The Panthers won that 2010 game back 41-7.
Marsh has been coaching football as a head and assistant coach for nearly three decades, but he has never coached the sport in a scene like Brazil. “It was definitely different. I didn’t know that Brazil had 300 American football teams. Where we were they had seven teams and then they had a female team. We had a chance to work three of the male teams and the female team twice. They range from 17 to age 35 and they go to work all day and they go out and practice from 10 to midnight and then they wake up and doing it again. They play year around, They don’t play games every week. They may have a couple of weeks between games,” Marsh said.
So, what attracts a Brazalian to football? “Number one their culture is a culture of activity,” Marsh observed. “They are playing volleyball, soccer, football and sand tennis. A lot of people are involved. A lot of their culture is involved in some type of physical activity well after high school. They humble me with the passion they have for the game.”
“Our goal was to go over there and teach them football and share the gospel,” Marsh said. “They are very interested to learn what you have to share with them.” Coach Stroud added, “We were able to offer them some things that were very beneficial to them.”
There were some obstacles to coaching in South America. “You had to communicate slowly sometimes because sometimes you had to have an interpreter,” Stoud said. “Some of the things they could do by observation. We also had to find out exactly what their needs were and what they actually wanted you to do.”
Stroud says the Brazalians like new school American football and not old school. “No one is down there in an I-Formation. A lot of information they are getting is off of youtube, they watch games there. Some have the NFL package. Yea they are just migrating to where football is now in the United States.”
As for the lifestyle in Brazil coach Stroud says it differs greatly from the fast pace in the USA. “Everything seems to built around the family. They always seem to be at a little slower pace then the United States. Where as we are constantly working ourselves to death, They seem to try and enjoy life a little more. Fewer people looking at their phones and more people looking at each other and being a little more engaged. A lot of people were active everywhere you looked. You didn’t see a lot of heavy people walking around (in a city of 1.7 million), you saw a lot of people who looked fit.”
A former Bulldog coach bonds with the current Bulldog coach
Coaches Marsh and Stroud have never coached against each other on the football field. However, they almost did nearly a dozen seasons ago. In 2007- Stroud’s last season at Toombs County- the Bulldogs opened up an 18-0 lead at Savannah Christian in the first of the state playoffs. Had the Bulldogs won that game their second round opponent would have been coach Marsh’s Thomasville team.
“I felt like I knew him my whole life because of the stories that I heard,” Marsh said about Stroud. “I had great respect for him before the trip. I probably talked to him three separate times the three years I have been here and they weren’t long conversations. Getting to spend eight days with him. Oh my gosh. The way he loves the Lord and how simple he is and how humble he is. He told me about how Toombs was in the beginning. I think we went over the whole 15 years while we were on the trip. It was an absolute joy for me.”
Now Stroud on Marsh. “He is an outstanding guy. He is a quality person and very genuine and a very passionate guy. I really enjoyed being around him. I told him the other day there are just a few guys out there that I would work as an assistant for and he would be one of those guys, He is a really good coach and also a very outstanding individual. He is a sharp guy, Toombs County is very fortunate to have him.”