WSC Rugby Athletes from South Africa

Kortney Fethkenher, News Writer

Wayne State’s men’s rugby team has a very diverse background, with athletes from South Africa, Ireland, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Portugal, and England just to name a few countries. South Africa, in particular, is home to 13 athletes on the roster.

Ricardo Pretorius, Luke Buchner, Starrion Fenn, Vuyo Mdlalose, and Ethan Van Heerden are five freshmen on the men’s rugby team all from South Africa. What brought them to WSC was the affordability of the college and coach Darrin Barner.

“One USD is 15 South African rands (ZAR), so whatever we pay here in dollars you times that by 15 which is what we’d be paying back at home, so that’s why the price is a big thing for us,” Fenn said.

For Mdlalose, he liked the small-town atmosphere of Wayne and wanted to get away from the big cities, and the financial aspect was a big deciding factor as well.

Van Heerden said Coach Barner was a big deciding factor for him to come to Wayne as he supports them and is everything a coach should be.

“When I met Barner on the phone calls, his energy was just electric,” Pretorius said.

The rugby community is very close-knit, and the team helps the international students immensely. They never have a problem finding a ride or getting help when they need it.

“Barner enjoys making a rugby team a rugby family,” Van Heerden said. “After games he likes for us to get together, sit down, have a meal together, and just bond.”

Buchner said Barner is very big on giving back, passionate about what he does, and an all-around great coach. Earlier this semester they spent a day at Wayne Tower School teaching the kids how to play rugby.

In order to get here, they had to apply for student visas, get covid related logistics sorted out, and arrange flights. Coach Barner went to Omaha to pick them up from the airport when they arrived in the USA. Mdlalose said when they got in the car, Barner played the National Anthem for them, which they got a kick out of. They were surprised by the number of American flags they saw driving from Omaha to Wayne. They tried to keep track, but eventually lost count.

“Back home, you barely see the South African flag,” Mdlalose said.

One of the biggest culture shocks when they arrived in the USA was the food. In particular, the fried food and the number of fast-food restaurants is something that is very different for them compared to back home. However, they are fans of Chick-Fil-A. Another culture shock was driving on the right side of the road. Crime in South Africa is rather high, and coming from the big city of Johannesburg, they were shocked to learn that people here sometimes leave their houses and cars unlocked. In South Africa, every house has a wall around it, and you can’t get to the front door. In addition, houses have a gate, an electric fence, and barbed wire to prevent people from getting in.

Rugby in South Africa and the USA has some differences, one being that here we don’t have medics at the games.

“Back home you can’t have a rugby game without medics because it’s illegal,” Mdlalose said.

Another difference is that rugby in South Africa is a much bigger deal and is comparable to football in the USA. Van Heerden said it’s increasingly becoming more popular for South Africans to come to the USA to study, which not only includes athletes on scholarship but also students coming just for academics. They predict there will be more South Africans coming to not only WSC next year but also other colleges throughout the USA. Amy Albrecht was their contact person for international admissions.

“She was really good about explaining to us what we needed to get to her, how we needed to do it, and she gave us all the links we needed and made the process really simple and easy for us,” Pretorius said.

A common misconception about South Africa is that it is what we stereotype as Africa. However, South Africa has large cities and a fairly large population of white citizens. These guys have seen such misconceptions firsthand. Since being in the USA, Buchner has been asked, “If you’re from Africa, why are you white?” Pretorius was once asked where he learned English, which is another misconception that South Africans don’t speak English.

“A girl asked me if we had the same number of moons as America,” Van Heerden said. Their drinking water in South Africa is supposedly much cleaner and tastes much better compared to the tap water here.

Another common question is how did they wind up in Wayne, America? IAM 360 (International Athlete Management) is an award-winning international student athlete management company that these athletes used to get in contact with WSC. IAM 360 assists students-athletes with their search for scholarships to colleges and universities within the USA and helps them prepare for the transition of studying abroad.

There is a much bigger world outside of America with different cultures than our own. Here at WSC we have the opportunity to broaden our world view if we just look, and we can start with the rugby team.