International tennis athletes find sense of belonging at Georgia College

International tennis athletes find sense of belonging at Georgia College

D espite typically having the smallest-sized roster among Georgia College’s 11 varsity sports, the Bobcat Men’s and Women’s Tennis Teams typically provide the most diversity for the athletic department, bringing in student-athletes from all over the world for the common goals of on and off the court success. 

Taking a look at the 2021 rosters, the Bobcats have players from Argentina, France, Venezuela, Czech Republic and Germany as well as the Peach State. These are individuals that come together for their love of sport and desire to get an education in the United States.  

A two-time All-Peach Belt selection and 2012 ITA All-American, Jerome Leborgne is now a two-time alumnus of Georgia College getting an undergrad in mathematics with a master’s in business administration. He came to Milledgeville from Coordimanche, France in the fall of 2009, using a tennis placement agency that matched him up with his best options of both scholarship and his competitive level of tennis. Remarkably, the first time he spoke with anyone at Georgia College was when GC Tennis head coach Steve Barsby picked him up at the Atlanta airport for the beginning of the semester.   

“One of my first issues was the language barrier,” said Leborgne. “I hadn’t spoken much English before moving to Georgia. I was really appreciative of the team, they made it really easy. There were a lot of internationals so you can relate to each other. What’s great about sport—even with tennis which is largely an individual sport—you’re used to playing as a team. Coming together as friends off the court as well felt very natural.” 

What’s great about sport—even with tennis which is largely an individual sport—you’re used to playing as a team. Coming together as friends off the court as well felt very natural.
– Jerome Leborgne
For Leborgne some of those relationships off the court were particularly strong, as he met his wife Tracey [Bain] Leborgne, a member of the team in the 2010-11 season and also a Georgia College graduate.  

Current GC Tennis player Matt Rogel took a little different path to get to GC from his native Sautron, France.  

After Rogel finished high school, he spent two years coaching the game locally building up some money to make the move and play collegiate tennis in the States. He landed at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) for two years to develop his academics. After those seasons in Tifton, Rogel came to Georgia College in the Fall of 2018.  

“I really liked how things felt with coach Barsby,” Rogel said. “I met the guys on the team pretty quickly, and I got a good vibe from them when I came on my visit as well. Compared to the other schools I looked at I felt much more confidant that I’d be happy here.” 

He quickly took a liking to the message of Bobcat Athletics, and after already owning his undergrad in management at GC, Rogel will be finishing his master’s in accounting next year while working as a graduate assistant coach for the GC Tennis Program. 

Taking a similar path was Wictor Andersson, who played four years for the Bobcats, beginning in 2009. After getting his undergrad in marketing, the Karlskoga, Sweden native then continued on with an MBA, also joining up as a graduate assistant coach.  

“The move to a new country, with new surroundings and new people with no family for support was a big change but also helped me grow a lot. I had a great experience and was very happy in Milledgeville. I didn’t really want to let go of tennis yet, and I was able to continue to educate myself by adding the master’s. Steve [Barsby] and I had joked since my second semester that I should stick around and be his GA and that came true.” 

The International Education Center (IEC) plays a crucial role in helping these students adjust to the many difficulties that arise from being so far from home. Under the guidance of Dr. James Callaghan, the

We’re a family here. The tennis players are a little harder to reach because of their busy schedule. They get into that athletic family and it becomes their new home.
– Susie Ramage, International Admissions Counselor
Assistant Vice President for International Education, the IEC Staff helps international students navigate the choppy waters of registration and student visas while partnering with the international club for social events.  

A common theme in talking with international student-athletes was gratefulness for the work of international admissions counselor Susie Ramage and Jason Wynn, Assistant Director of International Student & Scholar Services. What stood out the most is how the staff went above and beyond for this population.  

“Susie and Jason helped me through the admissions process. They help me still today when it comes to other confusing paperwork. During the COVID shutdown many of us weren’t able to travel back home, and Susie and Jason helped us get groceries. Anytime there’s something going on, they really try and help. During this year’s quarantine, they delivered meals to all of the new international freshmen as well.” 

Ramage sees her work as more than just your standard 9-to-5. 

“We’re a family here,” she revealed. “The tennis players are a little harder to reach because of their busy schedule. They get into that athletic family and it becomes their new home.” 

“I love working in the IEC. This is the coolest office on campus. Through this office, I enjoy seeing the domestic students get to know the international students. A lot happens here that changes people’s lives and perspectives.”