For Scott Nagy, it’s proving easier to get his Wright State basketball team into the NCAA Tournament than to get it to Haiti for an offseason, good-deeds trips.
Last summer – following his first season as the Raiders head coach – Nagy planned to take the WSU team to Haiti for a week to work with people in need. He had done the same thing two years earlier when he was coaching at South Dakota State.
But in early April last year Raiders forward Ryan Custer was left paralyzed in a swimming pool accident and the injury devastated the rest of the team, as well. That prompted the team to table the Haiti trip for a year so it could stay here to be close to Custer.
On August 4th this summer – 4 ½ months after the Raiders played Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament, the program’s first invite to the Big Dance in 11 years – Nagy planned to take the team on that long-awaited humanitarian trip.
But since last Friday, Haiti has been rocked by civil unrest due not only to the government drastically jacking up the price of fuel in the country, but to the long-simmering problems that come with corruption among public officials and the widespread poverty that burdens the nation.
Once the government announced gas prices would rise 38 percent, diesel 47 percent and kerosene 51 percent, there were protests and riots in cities across the country. Some stores were looted and burned, roads were barricaded by civilians and demonstrators tried to storm barricades and get into a hotel in the capital city of Port-au-Prince
On Monday there was more chaos as taxi and mini-bus drivers went on strike.
Over the weekend the United States Embassy in Port-au-Prince warned US citizens, volunteers and missionaries to “stay in place and hunker down.”
Three airlines – American, JetBlue and Spirit– temporarily cancelled all flights to Haiti and Monday the US State Department issued a Level 4: “Do Not Travel” advisory to Haiti.
Nagy said he first learned of the troubles Sunday when he got a text message from WSU athletics director Bob Grant.
“I hadn’t really been paying attention before that, but no, it didn’t surprise me,” said Nagy, who has been to the island twice – including once to adopt his daughter, Naika – and has since stayed committed to helping the people there.
“I wasn’t surprised because when you have that many poor people just stacked on top of each other things are going to happen. They’re not angry at Americans, they’re angry at their own government.”
That said, WSU decided to alter its August plans and late Monday said the team would go to Haiti’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic, instead.
“Things could settle down in Haiti by then, but there is no way of knowing,” Nagy said. “Safety is the most important thing and we just weren’t going to take our guys into that.”
While plans are still being formulated for the Dominican trip – WSU is working with By Grace Alone ministries out of Charlotte, N.C. – Nagy hopes to still help Haitians, as well:
“There are some small pockets of Haitians there who went over to work in the sugarcane fields and they’re kind of stuck. They’re undocumented workers and have no way to get home. We’ll probably go into their communities and serve them if we can.
“The main thing is we don’t want to just go somewhere where (the organizers) create (busy) work for our guys to do. We want them to send us to where there’s a real need and we’ll do that.”
A bond with Haiti
Nagy’s bond with Haiti began when he and his wife Jaime adopted Naika, then 2 ½ , from a Port-au-Prince orphanage. She had been placed there by her birth mother who is said to have wanted her to have a better life.
Nagy and his dad, Dick, initially went to Haiti to help cut through the red tape surrounding Naika’s adoption. When they were there they saw the extreme need of so many kids and that fostered the commitment.
In fact, when Nagy brought his SDSU team to the country in 2015, he sought out his daughter’s birth mother and the connection between them has remained.
Since that first Haitian trip more than a dozen years ago, Nagy as stayed linked to the country through his annual efforts with Samaritan’s Feet, the non-profit organization that aides people around the globe and especially provides them with shoes.
Every season he coaches a game barefoot to raise money and awareness for the organization
The summer trips he takes his teams on are not funded by the schools, but by donations Nagy collects.
He was hoping to raise $40,000 for this year’s weeklong venture. That doesn’t just cover the expenses to transport the team, but enables him, his assistants and his players to bring more shoes, needed goods and even some sports equipment to the people they’ll tend to.
To help the WSU team in this effort, contact Nagy at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Serving other people
Over the years the Nagy family has been recognized nationally for its efforts. Nagy was awarded the National Basketball Coaches Association’s “Guardian of the Game Award” for his humanitarian efforts. And in 2014 the family received the “Angels of Adoption Award” presented by the U.S. Congressional Coalition of Adoption.
And the family was featured on ABC Nightly News and ESPN’s Outside the Lines.
Even so, good luck trying to get Nagy to talk about any of that.
For him, these efforts are about the people of Haiti and about his players.
He thinks it’s important his college athletes don’t just see another side of life, but get involved in it:
“It’s important for them just to have the experience and to have a chance to serve other people. It’s a chance for them not to be the center of attention and, more importantly, to make someone else the that central focus for a while.”
While he figures it doesn’t matter that much to his players whether they go to Haiti or the Dominican Republic, he said the change in venue is disappointing to his family.
Naika and his other daughter Natalie were planning to go with the team to Haiti.
Now 15, Naika – a sophomore cheerleader and budding track star at Bellbrook High School – has never been back to Haiti since she left. She was going to meet with her birth mother on the trip.
“Now, at least at the present, we can’t do any of that so Naika and Natalie probably won’t go on the trip to the Dominican Republic,” Nagy said. “But we’ll still get that trip to Haiti done sometime. It just won’t be in August.”
The way things are going, WSU may have a better shot at another NCAA Tournament bid first.