With the departure of last year’s stellar men’s basketball lineup, there is a certain amount of uncertainty for this year’s basketball program. However, the Ephs will kick off the new season in a promising manner when they take on the Universidad Americana Jaguars, a Nicaraguan team, in an exhibition match at 7:30 p.m. on Friday in Chandler Gym.
According to Director of Athletics Robert Peck, Williams hopes to use this match as an opportunity to raise money for relief efforts to help those in Nicaragua whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Mitch last week.
Peck has been working since the summer to bring the Nicaraguan team to the United States. “Since the hurricane and the tremendous need for disaster relief, we decided to try and raise some money to help,” Peck said.
Peck explained that the Jaguars, who are three-time national champions in Nicaragua, are coming to Williams as part of a six-game tour that will lead them throughout the Northeast. He said admission to the event will be free, but there will be ushers collecting a suggested voluntary donation at the door with the money going to the “Cruz Roja Nicaraguense” (Nicaraguan Red Cross).
Peck has a long-standing relationship with Nicaragua and has been bringing Nicaraguan basketball teams to the United States since 1985. On a visit to Nicaragua last summer, Peck arranged with former Williams assistant coach Flavior Morano to bring a Nicaraguan team to the Northeast.
Peck said the Jaguars arrived in the U.S. last Saturday and have already played games against the Connecticut College and Coast Guard Academy basketball teams. The team plays at Trinity College tonight and Amherst College on Thursday before facing off against the Ephs on Friday.
After a final match against Springfield on Sunday, the team will head back to Nicaragua.
After hearing about the disastrous events that have taken place in Nicaragua, Peck said he decided to take advantage of the opportunity to combine Friday’s game with an effort to raise money for the Nicaraguan Red Cross. All of the money that is collected at the gate will be donated in the form of a bank check to assist the relief effort. Peck has also alerted the other schools that the Jaguars will be visiting of his efforts, with the hope that they will also use this as an opportunity to make a financial donation.
Peck spent time living in Nicaragua in 1981 and returned in 1984 with a group called Witness for Peace to protest the U.S. policy of the time in support of the Contras.
Peck explained one of the reasons that he took an early interest in Nicaragua: “I’ve been involved in Nicaragua since 1972. There was an earthquake in ’72 that really destroyed Managua and it has never really been built back up.”
Peck has also assisted with the establishment of a new university on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. Specifically, he has worked to provide the new school with athletic equipment gathered from schools all across the country. Peck said he also trying to encourage Williams to donate excess books and computers to the new University.
The Eph basketball team began this season with high expectations after having made two consecutive NCAA Division III Final Four appearances in the last two years. Men’s basketball coach Harry Sheehy is entering his 16th season as head coach and is only 17 wins away from earning the most wins of any coach in Williams history.
This year, co-captains Jim Frew ’99 and Matt Hunt ’99 were left big shoes to fill by last year’s trifecta of Mike Nogelo, Grant Farmer and Brendan McGuire. “We know that one person can’t replace a three-time All-American and Div. III player of the year,” said Frew. “However, if we all raise the level of our individual games, we can be just as competitive. We may not have the talent level that we had in the past, but we will outwork every team that we play.”
Peck encourages all members of the Williams and local community to come out this Friday, not just to support the basketball team, but also to help out with the relief effort. He sums up his hopes this way: “It’s humanitarian, it’s basketball and it could be fun.”