The seventh annual NJCAA Day’s theme is “A Million Reasons Why,” which highlights the opportunities afforded by junior college athletics. When it comes to supporting student-athletes at the two-year level, perhaps no one has a greater “why” than the head coaches.
Polk State’s five head coaches come from different backgrounds and different countries. Despite that, the desire to make a difference for the athletes is the same as NJCAA Day is celebrated throughout the nation on Thursday.
“Watching them grow as people is really exciting,” said Polk State Head Soccer Coach Dee Shivraman. “I’ve had three pilots, many teachers, lawyers, moms, and to know that you played a little part in their growth is an amazing thing.”
While all the Polk State head coaches want to make a difference in the lives of their athletes, their motivations vary. For Brandon Giles, Head Basketball Coach, he’s carrying on a legacy. His late father Josh Giles coached what was then Polk Community College from 1987 to 2000, leading the program to its only three FCSAA titles.
“I get a sense of comfort and familiarity having grown up here,” Giles noted. “There’s a sense of empowerment. It helps me maneuver on a daily basis.”
Head Baseball Coach Al Corbeil and Head Volleyball Coach Dayanna Barbosa were once accomplished junior college athletes themselves. Having that firsthand experience helps when it comes to molding players to be better athletes and better people.
“I just love working with this level of players,” Corbeil said. “You really get to see the seed start to sprout. To watch them mature right before your very eyes is an enjoyable process.”
As a player, Corbeil spent two years at State College of Florida-Manatee where he was a two-time All-FCSAA selection. He helped the program win the 1999 FCSAA title and finish third at the JUCO World Series. Corbeil went on to conclude his collegiate career at Florida International University and Florida Southern College before playing professionally for seven years.
“You get to see them grow mentally and physically and blossom into what you think they’re capable of becoming,” Corbeil added. “There’s a lot of life lessons that come with this. It better prepares them for their next stop and the real world.”
Barbosa’s collegiate playing career began at Polk State where she helped the program reach the NJCAA Tournament for the first time ever as a freshman in 2014. An All-Suncoast Conference selection in 2015, Barbosa helped the Eagles make a return trip before going on to finish her career at Columbus State University and Mars Hill University – both NCAA Division II institutions.
“I find myself through volleyball,” Barbosa explained. “My whole life, I thought I’d be a professional athlete. My body didn’t make it, but as a coach, I hope to help others find that opportunity.”
A native of Brazil, Barbosa’s passion for the game keeps her going.
“Volleyball is a game of perfection,” she said. “One mistake is a point for the other team. You have to be disciplined and at your best every day. I think that’s what makes it different.”
A former standout guard at Western Carolina University before a brief professional career in Germany, Giles echoed similar sentiments about the game of basketball.
“I love basketball,” he said. “Every day, I get to do the thing I’ve loved my whole life. Basketball has been part of my life essentially since the minute I got out of my mother’s womb.”
Shivraman is in his first season at Polk State but was an accomplished junior college coach at Schoolcraft College in Michigan. Shivraman noted that at two-year schools, coaches have an opportunity to encounter more players and impact more lives. Earlier this week, he said, a former player texted him to tell him that she had just given birth to a baby girl.
“It’s exciting that there’s this constant revolution of players,” he said. “Things stay fresh for coaches and players. At four-year programs, things can get stale. Here, you’re recruiting all the time and trying to make the greatest impact you can while they’re here.”
At the junior college level, coaches are forced to wear many hats and perform many tasks, including recruiting, managing budgets, serving as parental figures, and finding housing for athletes. Polk State’s coaches, however, say the rewards make it worth it.
“Kids here are often underrecruited and sometimes, we’re their only offer,” Corbeil said. “You look up two years later and they have multiple D-I offers and an education. A lot are just late bloomers. You get the calls or text when they leave that say, ‘hey Coach, I just graduated from here or I signed with this team; thank you for everything you’ve done or I’m grateful for the opportunity I got’ – it’s rewarding.”
Giles said that the opportunity to coach has not only allowed him to impact lives, but also to create a circle of influential people who provide mentorship and, in some cases, job opportunities or internships for the athletes. He noted that the skills necessary for success in the game translate off the court as well.
“We’d all love to be millionaires playing basketball, but the odds of that are slim,” Giles noted. “You can, however, do that through basketball by developing relationships, strengthening your mind, learning to overcome adversity, and communicating. If you can take those skills, you can be molded into the right person and make a good life for yourself.”
For Polk State’s volleyball and soccer programs, coaches must recruit players from all over the world and bring them together to stay competitive. Combined, the two programs have players from 11 countries and one U.S. territory.
“It’s a truly inclusive sport,” Shivraman said of soccer. “It’s inexpensive and that’s why it’s so popular all around the world. Our team is a great example. We won a lot at Schoolcraft and we’re going to win here, too, but to have so many players from so many backgrounds and countries is really neat.”
For Polk State Volleyball, every returning sophomore has had a better statistical season this year than last. Last season, the Eagles finished 11-14 and with a fourth-place finish at the FCSAA Tournament. With one match remaining in the regular season, Polk State is ranked in the top 15 nationally and guaranteed a winning season.
“To see the growth of your players and their growth as people is the best thing,” Barbosa said. “Seeing where some of our kids were last year to where they are this year, you can tell we’re making a difference.”
To show the far-reaching impact of two-year collegiate athletics, all current and former NJCAA student-athletes, coaches, administrators, or supporters are encouraged to give $1 to the NJCAA Foundation on this year’s NJCAA Day. The NJCAA’s goal is to raise $1 million to support future opportunities for student-athletes.
“Coaching junior college is about more than coaching,” Barbosa concluded. “The mental part of the game is as important as the technique. People don’t always realize the responsibilities the athletes have or that we have as coaches.”