His home is over 3,800 miles away, but freshman Ben McClurg jumped at the opportunity to play in the states and wanted to “put pen to paper as soon as possible.”
McClurg, a business major with a minor in marketing, hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland and is in his first year on the GC tennis team.
Before McClurg chose GC he had other options in Illinois, Detroit and Michigan. However, going up North was not ideal, so when he got connected to the players and coach of the men’s tennis team here, McClurg did his research.
He was able to speak to some of the players and other GC students to learn about the team as well as the college campus. He said that talking to them made his choice much easier because they told him how good it is here and helped ease his doubts.
“I didn’t really fancy going up North,” McClurg said. “Whereas coach [Barsby] then came up after and started to speak to me, and I researched the area, I researched Milledgeville. It was nice, I spoke to some guys on the team beforehand, and I spoke to some Americans beforehand, and they kind of sold it to me. They told me how good it was.”
Men’s tennis coach Steve Barsby found McClurg through the recruiting service after an email from McClurg put him on the radar.
“We just got to talking back and forth,” Barsby said about the beginning of the recruitment process. “I think we Skyped twice, and I enjoyed the conversation and thought he’d fit in well with us. You’re trying to find someone who fits into the model because there are some guys who come and all they care about is tennis, and there’s some guys who all they care about is school, and we always want someone who does both.”
Barsby said that McClurg is the right fit for the team.
“He’s come here, and he’s brought a great attitude,” Barsby said. “I’ve never caught him in a bad mood, and that’s going to help you in life more than anything.
and that’s going to help you in life more than anything. I really enjoy him on the bus, with the team and at all the events; he’s what we want in a player right now.”
McClurg said that he had been to Georgia before visiting family friends that live in Peachtree City, so he was looking forward to coming to the state and was already accustomed to drastic changes in weather.
“When it got close to Christmas, it was better because it was just getting colder, and I was used to it,” McClurg said about the weather in Milledgeville. “The weather now is like perfect because it’s cold and it’s wet, it’s kind of like home. The weather and the heat was the biggest thing for me to get used to.”
McClurg first picked up a racket and played tennis around the age of six, but he did not begin to play seriously until he was nine.
“It was kind of a babysitting thing,” McClurg said. “My parents worked, and they had to give me something to do while they were in the office, so they just sent me off to play tennis. I went to tennis camps over the summer, and I enjoyed it, so I kept it up.”
The heat is turned up in the states compared to the competition back in McClurg’s hometown. He said that competition and the level here is 10 times higher as well as more professional. The weight rooms, facilities and tennis courts were all on a much bigger scale than what he was used to.
McClurg also faced other major changes and adjustments in moving from Ireland to the U.S.. He said that everyone in the South is very nice and “accommodating,” but that the food here is not as great as back home because of the high amount of fast food restaurants.
One of the biggest differences he has noticed was the means of transportation.
“I hate the lack of public transportation,” McClurg said. “I used to be able to get a bus or a train anywhere I wanted to go back home whereas here I have to walk everywhere or rely on other people for a lift.”
McClurg said that his hometown was very quiet and similar in size to Milledgeville. He lived right outside of Belfast, where went to school and traveled to often with friends.
“I hung out with my friends all the time,” McClurg said about his free time. “We went into town, and we went out, just enjoyed ourselves. The usual things that a teenager would do. We played all different types of sports like soccer and rugby.”
When McClurg first got to the state, he said the first thing he did was go to Burger King and ask for a large Coke, and he said that he did not expect the drink to be so big. He also has adapted the habit of saying “y’all.”
McClurg said he tries to go home to see his friends and family as often as he can, but an ocean and a 25-hour-trip back can make it difficult. McClurg went home for Christmas break and plans to go back home over summer, but for spring break, he plans to go to Florida with some of the other tennis players.
Nathan Connelly, a third-year mass communication student, has gotten to know McClurg through the tennis team.
“He’s a good teammate, and he’s fun off the court as well,” Connelly said. “We have fun outside of athletics.”
For freshmen tennis players, it is tradition that they get their heads shaved usually before they take their headshots for the website. Connelly said his funniest memory of McClurg was getting to shave his head and watch his reaction.
“He wasn’t too happy about it, but he knew it had to happen,” Connelly said. “He’s always just joking around and having fun. It’s been fun so far getting to know him.”
Top photo courtesy of GC Sports Information
Bottom photo courtesy of Ben Mclurg