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Trouble in Paradise
George Dohrmann
August 13, 2007
Two former athletes allegedly murder a drug dealer. An ex-football player is charged with heading a cocaine ring. Montana State is coping with a crime wave--and with Bozemanites who feel the Division I-AA school's recruits from distant cities are endangering their idyllic town
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August 13, 2007

Trouble In Paradise

Two former athletes allegedly murder a drug dealer. An ex-football player is charged with heading a cocaine ring. Montana State is coping with a crime wave--and with Bozemanites who feel the Division I-AA school's recruits from distant cities are endangering their idyllic town

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Rob Ash, a college head coach for 27 years, most recently at Drake, replaced Kramer on June 11. While vowing to implement a culture of accountability, he acknowledges that to remain competitive the Bobcats must recruit in places like California and take transfers. He vows to investigate every recruit. "This summer we were looking at a couple of guys, but we found out that they had been kicked off a team previously," says the 56-year-old Ash. "We also had guys who had qualifying GPAs, but when we looked at the transcripts closer, we found too many nonacademic credits, and we couldn't predict success academically for them here. We didn't take any of them."

Montana State did take Demetrius Crawford from Sacramento City College in July. According to his coach, Mike Clemons, Crawford was available so late in the recruiting cycle because it took him longer than expected to get his associate in arts degree. "He is a smart kid, and he comes from a good family," says Clemons. But then, he also notes, "What coach would tell you one of his players is not a good kid?"

If Montana State continues to bring in black, urban athletes, it must find ways to integrate them into a community that is 95% white, and where, given the events of the last year, even residents like Ashley Kroon believe the town is better off without them. Other schools face similar--if less daunting--challenges. At the NCAA convention last year, several college administrators attending a seminar on athletes and crime pleaded for ways to help athletes adapt to rural surroundings; many inquired about the need to run background checks on recruits. "You could tell that [the school officials] were frustrated," says Richard Ashby, a Southern California police detective of 14 years who spoke at the convention. "Schools are not equipped to deal with some of the athletes they admit. They are shocked when they bring friends with them, people with a criminal history.

"And if these kids, for whatever reason, should no longer have a team to play for, they often revert to what they grew up around, which can be dealing drugs or other criminal behavior. That's what we saw in Bozeman."

Ashby offered a suggestion at the convention that few schools are likely to heed: "If you can't afford to have someone looking after these kids at all times--to monitor whom they are with, to counsel them--if you don't have people who are like them in a place that they can trust, don't recruit them."

When Montana State officials defend their recruitment of inner-city athletes, they point to players like Evin Groves, a senior running back from San Diego. In his hometown, Groves says, "guys get caught for drugs or for something else so often you hardly pay attention." In Bozeman he found a safe haven, though not without enduring a long period of adjustment that began on his first day there. "I walked into the dorm, and someone gave me an envelope with five dollars and said, 'God bless you,' " he says. "I still don't know what the hell that was about. I don't know if they gave it to me because I was black or what."

Groves was lucky to find older teammates who guided him, people he could talk to about the stares he received when Martin Luther King was discussed in history class or when students misunderstood his slang. "A lot of people here think I am a thug just because my jeans aren't as tight as a rancher's," says Groves, who won't play his final season because of a knee injury. A support group called Focus on Motivated Minorities (FAMM), which was started by two black assistant coaches in 2004, aided the acclimation of Groves and others. But when the FAMM coaches told administrators they couldn't continue without funding later that school year, the athletic department allowed the group to fold.

Gamble and Fields have since created One Team, a committee whose long-term goal is a deeper connection between members of the athletic department and the university at large. They believe the town needs to be more accepting as well. "There are some folks who say if we just brought in Montana kids none of this would happen," Gamble says. "But you can't isolate yourself. . . . This is a rapid-growth area, and the Gallatin Valley and the university are going to have to go through some growing pains."

Residents like Kroon have their own radical solution: Athletes who no longer compete for Montana State must leave Bozeman. "But you can't make someone leave," says Fields. "You would assume that they would go home, but they ask themselves, Can I make a living here, or do I want to be confined to an urban setting? We have a good quality of life here."

In other words, what makes Bozeman appealing, what makes residents want to defend it, also makes it vulnerable. Kroon, for one, is still chilled by what she saw two days after Wright's body was found in that wheat field.

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