Wanting to be a part of a successful winning culture, Chambers became a T-Bird. (Photo courtesy of MCC Athletic Department)

Thunderbirds away from the nest

The melting pot of the Arizona population is evident when you take a drive around one of its great cities and glance at the license plates that surround you. California, Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico; it seems as though finding an Arizona native might be like finding a needle in a haystack. 

The Grand Canyon State has been rapidly growing for the last decade. According to the Census Bureau, Arizona ranked third in numeric growth from July 2020-July 2021. During that time, the state saw a net growth of slightly over 98,000 people. 

People come to Arizona for many reasons. From job opportunities and retirement, to a fresh start and enjoying the great weather. For many, they come to the state to take advantage of the outstanding athletic and academic college programs housed here at all levels.

The Arizona Community College Athletic Conference has over 75 out-of-state athletes, and Mesa Community College itself has over 40 out-of-state athletes that compete for their respective sports. Some athletes come to MCC from neighboring states like California or Colorado, while others come from as far away as Nigeria and New Zealand.

With Arizona having one of the most sought after climates in the country, it’s easy to understand why people would want to migrate to the valley of the sun. With almost no natural disasters, and winters that seem to last for a few months, it’s no wonder Arizona is the 5th fastest growing state in the country.

For MCC golfer Jolie Guyette, Arizona was high on her list of states to call home for college. One reason was due to the amazing weather we get here year round and the advantage it gives her to play golf year round.

“I wanted to go somewhere south so that I could golf year round, that was a big part of it and to just be able to enjoy the nice weather year round,” said Guyette.

Guyette is originally from Wisconsin, where typically, you are only able to play a round from late March to October before the cold temperatures make it difficult. Coming to the valley was something she was looking forward to in order to perfect her craft no matter the time of year. 

She has liked living here so much she is also considering calling Arizona her home after college.

“I’m definitely not going back north, I’m going to go somewhere warm after my time at MCC. I do like Arizona weather and would definitely consider living here once I’m done with school,” said Guyette. 

Guyette’s teammate Abby Schmidt is also from the northern part of the country and found the climate in Arizona much more attractive than back home

“I just fell in love with the state. When I was in high school, I was talking with my high school golf coach because I like the weather and I liked it better down here,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt is from North Dakota, but was introduced to Arizona early in life due to her grandparents owning a home in Fountain Hills. She frequented the valley for family vacations, and Arizona was always a spot she was interested in making more than just a vacation spot.

It seems like even in Arizona, everyone has connections to each other despite the state being as big as it is. It certainly is the case with how Schmidt ended up golfing for MCC. A connection between her high school coach and MCC golfing coach John Guerrero sparked Schmidt’s journey to becoming a Thunderbird. 

Schmidt’s high school golf coach was familiar with Coach Guerrero from when he coached at a junior college in Bismarck, North Dakota. Her high school coach recommended Schmidt attend MCC due to Guerrero and the program at MCC.

MCC is a school of longtime success when it comes to athletics. One of the most successful sports in the schoo’s lineage is the men’s basketball program. 

Under recently retired head coach Sam Ballard, from 2008-2020, the team finished top 5 in the conference every season except for one. They also won two regional championships during that time. 

For basketball forward Justin Chambers, the success of the program was a draw for him to want to become a T-Bird. In early  2020, Justin and a friend began talking about playing basketball. Chambers wanted to play for a successful program like MCC, and as luck would have it, his friend was a member of the team.

“We were just talking and I told him I want to go to MCC, they have a really good program I want to get into,” Chambers said.

His friend was able to connect the coach and Chambers for a workout, which earned Chambers a spot on the team. Chambers is originally from the state of Michigan, but bounced around from Georgia and Washington state before coming to Arizona.

Playing for a successful program was also a draw for Guyette and Schmidt. Coach Guerrero is well known in the junior college community. With the success he has led the MCC golf program to since he took over in 2005, golfers from all over look at MCC as a school to attend in order to continue and improve their golf career.

Being so far from home for such a long period of time makes it easy to get a little homesick. 

People have different ways to get over that feeling, and for Chambers, it is listening to a song that reminds him of his childhood which his grandmother used to sing. Whenever he misses home or his family who are so far from him, he just plays the song that brings back only good memories.

“It’s this song I listen to, my grandma used to sing it every time she used to clean up or have a relaxation day,” said Chambers, “She would play the song and that song reminds me of when I was a kid in Michigan.”

For women’s basketball forward Christabel Longe, her way of coping with the distance falls in line with the sport she loves. 

“Basketball plays a huge role. When I start to think about my family back home and how I don’t get to see them, basketball takes my mind off it,” said Longe,  “It also takes up so much of my time so I don’t have a lot of time to think about them.”

Longe, growing up in Nigeria until the age of nine, moved here in order to achieve a better lifestyle. The drastic change in cultures was evident when Longe first came to the states, but due to her mother, she was still able to have a connection to home by being involved with her Nigerian culture.

“There’s a lot of Nigerians here in Arizona and my mom has a lot of connections to them here in Arizona. It gives me a bigger sense of home. It’s almost like nothing has changed, just the environment,” said Longe, “So the same way they raised us over in Nigeria not much has changed so we still have to stick to the same Nigerian culture we did as kids.”

 MCC prides itself on the diversity it creates within the campus and community. The draw the college has to not only those in the state, but the entire country is palpable. However, when it comes to the growing number of out-of-state athletes, no matter the distance they’ve traveled, or the cultures they come from, they all are Mesa Thunderbirds.