San Antonio sports teams have always embodied the minority majority nature of the city they occupy. While the Spurs with their nine international players and coaches are often seen as the poster children for the move to a truly world game, they actually aren’t the most diverse team in their own city.
Often forgotten because of its d-III status and its hidden campus, Trinity University has been dominating men’s college soccer for years. While UTSA and Incarnate Word might be bigger, and the San Antonio Scorpions professional, it is Trinity that arguably boasts the best soccer teams in the city.
Trinity Men’s soccer has been a hidden gem in San Antonio sports crown since the 1980s. The team is a perennial top 20 contender in the NCAA's D-III rankings, longtime head coach Paul McGinlay is the winningest soccer coach among all active coaches at all NCAA levels with a 369-63-29 record built over 23 years. That includes a national title and several runner-up campaigns over the past decade.
While this on-field success is impressive, especially for a university lauded for its academic standing that does not award athletic scholarships, one of the team's standout qualities is the international flair its players bring to the game, the campus and the city.
This year's team includes 17 international players from England, Mexico, Colombia, Sweden, Brazil, Honduras, Australia, Scotland, and Zimbabwe. At time the field chatter during a match is a medley of players calling to one another in languages from three continents. Somehow it all works.
“Trinity has always had an international presence," McGinlay, himself a native of England, said. "The world’s game is soccer, so in order to recruit academically qualified students from around the globe, we needed to commit to speaking their language.”
That's a serious challenge for McGinlay and the school. Finding good soccer players in other countries is one thing. Finding good athletes who also can compete as top students is another matter.
Trinity always has recruited globally, but more recently the university has been capitalizing on its international success by using technology to draw even more students to the campus and eyes to the city.
“Social media has helped. The world has gotten smaller for sure. Many of these current players were recruited on Skype, Viber, and Facebook. It is kind of the means by which we have an appeal to them on the other side of the world,” McGinlay said. In general, “it takes internationals to get internationals ... It allows me to turn to other players and say, look, you are not alone, there are 17 players from all corners of the globe here.”
Although the current roster was recruited using social media, their talent is what Trinity hopes drives even more overseas players to campus.
A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to watch Trinity host the San Antonio Scorpions, a professional team, in the company of Trinity President Dr. Dennis Ahlburg, a native Australian and huge football fan. He mentioned that each home game is now live streamed around the globe for family members of players.
“We ran a scrimmage last Friday and it was watched in nine countries," Ahlburg said. "We have parents, former students and fans of the University that are able to keep in touch with Trinity and are watching us. It's terrific. While we have a lot of fans across the country, this is really the first time we’ve been able to capture such a large global audience.”
Eleven percent of Trinity's student body is international, and the men's soccer team is the embodiment of that diversity. Some graduating players move up to the next level, playing with the Scorpions or other North American Soccer League teams, to the top pro level in the U.S., Major Soccer League (MLS), and even the US national team.
McGinlay says he runs an English-only locker room in order to make sure everyone is on the same page.
“I never thought I would have to make our locker room English-only, but with Spanish and Portuguese, Swedish, and English, and even as some of our kids point out, Scottish, we have to speak the same language in order to understand each other.”
Players who come from countries with stronger socccer traditions than the U.S. often bring national level experience to their play at Trinity. Claudio Calistri, a junior engineering major from Honduras, was a member of that nation's under-17 national team before applying to Trinity' engineering program.
“I actually didn’t apply to Trinity as a soccer player," Calistri said. "I just applied to several programs for engineering and then Paul (McGinlay) just started calling because he saw I was a soccer player, too.”
Players like Calistri embody the true nature of the scholar athlete. I had the chance to speak with several members of the team and each said their primary goal was to graduate and move on in their field. One former Trinity player, Kyle Altman (’07) is playing all home games for the San Antonio Scorpions while attending medical school at the University of Texas San Antonio Health Science Center at the same time.
In the game I recently attended, Trinity's team got off to a fast start against the pro Scorpions, taking a first period 1-0 lead in a light rain.
“Tonight we played against a full blown professional squad and went a goal up and down 2-1 at the half- we really hung with them”, said McGinlay. “We played them in the fall and even beat them once. We have a great relationship with the Scorpions and a city our size to have that close relationship is really a benefit for everyone.
The Scorpions size, speed and professional experience eventually overwhelmed Trinity, which ended up losing 4-1. It's hard to attend classes fulltime and compete against pros, but it's a great tradition for the two San Antonio teams to meet each year for a "friendly".
Trinity was ranked eighth in the nation pre-season. I asked McGinlay if his team was the Scorpions’ biggest competition in town
“Yeah, I mean certainly Incarnate Ward might take issue with that, but it will be settled when we play them in October," he said. "All I know is, with the national final being in Scorpion Stadium we are the closest of 420 D-III schools in the nation, so we have to get there. “
Whether Trinity makes Scorpion Stadium or not, one thing’s for sure: with so many international players on the squad, they will have a global fan base cheering them on as they try.
For more information on the Trinity soccer team, check out the team's website: www.trinitytigers.com
For those interested in attending a game, click here to view a schedule of upcoming games.
John Burnam is an independent consultant currently working with San Antonio Christian Dental Clinic, The Louise Batz Foundation for Bedside Advocacy, I Care San Antonio, and Xenex Disinfection Services. He works in patient safety, community health and well-being, nonprofit development, copywriting and strategic planning. He graduated from Trinity University with a Bachelors in Art History and Classics and from Vanderbilt University with a Master’s degree in Theological Studies. Interested parties can check him out at www.johnburnamconsulting.com.
(Full disclosure: The Arsenal Group has performed consulting services for Trinity University, but does not publish sponsored stories.)