November 8, 2013

A ‘big thing’ for the community

College athletics impact Dalton

By Christopher Smith

— Alyne Bianchi remembered getting on a plane in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a few years ago with no guarantees she would find “her dream” in America.

Bianchi, now a student athlete at Dalton State College, said she was hoping to pursue both athletics and academics after high school, something unheard of in Brazil.

 Bianchi spoke to local community members Thursday afternoon during a Share the Vision luncheon at the trade center sponsored by the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce.

In Brazil, Bianchi said, there are professional sports and college. The two didn’t intersect, putting her in situation where she had to pick one passion over the other, she said.

Then she learned she could do both in the United States.

“That’s my dream,” she said. “I can do both things.”

She started playing volleyball at Frank Phillips College, a junior college in Texas, but stopped after she said her coach was fired.

“It was hard to think about transferring,” she said. “I was thinking of going back home. I just wanted to cry. I was thinking, ‘I came here for nothing.’”

That’s until she learned about Dalton State College’s efforts to grow their athletic department under Athletic Director Derek Waugh. The college’s sports program had been dormant for about three decades until this year when Dalton State became a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

As the program formed, Bianchi made a connection with volleyball coach Bruna Langner, who is also from Brazil.

“She was so excited when we talked,” Bianchi said. “She said, ‘You’re going to love it here.’ So I believed her and she was right.”

Bianchi has been playing Roadrunner volleyball ever since. The team went 10-14 this year in what Langner called a “great momentum-builder” for next season.

Bianchi told members of the community they should find ways to support athletic programs because it helped her find “her dream.”

“I love this school, I love this community,” she said.

Waugh said the program will not only let students pursue their athletic passions but will also have economic impact on the local community. Using a estimator provided by the Dalton Convention and Visitors Bureau which calculates spending by travelers visiting the area, Waugh said sporting events that bring in students and families from other colleges could fetch $500,000 a year for hotels, restaurants and tax revenue.

Another economic peg “the whole community can hang their hats on” is that about 700 season tickets to men’s basketball have been sold to date. The first home game was Thursday night. Waugh said the college is third in the state in men’s basketball season ticket sells, behind the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.

Waugh said Kennesaw State University’s athletic program is an example of how college athletics impact and “add life” to local communities.

In 2005, Kennesaw State gained membership to NCAA Division I athletics and brought roughly $122 million to Cobb County, Waugh said, adding that in 2013, that number was about $926 million.

Waugh said he believes Dalton State will be NCAA members eventually given “the success” of athletics this year, adding that it could bring anywhere from $112 million to $250 million to the community next year.

Natalie Espinoza-Hensley, a Dalton State student who came from Ringgold and joined the women’s cross country team this year, said she was “very thankful” the program is taking off.

“We’re just one, big, weird, happy family,” she joked.

Bianchi agreed.

“I can call the athletic director (by his first name) Derek,” she said. “ I can call my coach Bruna. Isn’t that amazing?”