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
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
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."
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.