Rattlers’ volleyball team a melting pot

Dominique Washington rising up for the kill. Photo courtesy: FAMU athletics Facebook

Sports have the power to create social change— and they’ve done so throughout time.

As a microcosm of human interactions, sports challenges us to interact with others. And often, those we encounter are quite different in many respects. Diversity in sports involves not only players having different sets of skills but also players having different in beliefs, opinions and experiences.

Florida A&M University’s volleyball team is just that.

The Rattlers’ volleyball team is the glue that brings international students together.

Of the 16 players listed on the 2021 active roster, three hail from beyond the United States.

They are: junior middle hitter Aybuke Kocabiyik, from Istanbul, Turkey; outside hitter Radka Dimitrova, from Sofia, Bulgaria; and freshman setter Irem Ucar, from Izmir, Turkey.

Dominique Washington and Ucar were recently named to the College of Charleston Classic All-Tournament Team as the Rattlers went 2-1 over past weekend. Washington is currently third in the nation with 5.11 kills per set.

The diversity does not stop at the players. Head coach Gokhan Yilmaz is from Istanbul, Turkey.

“What we’re doing in recruiting is trying to bring the best players here that will help the program to move forward. If they’re from Puerto Rico, Bulgaria or Texas, it doesn’t matter to us,” Yilmaz told the Tallahassee Democrat.

“It creates that culture where everybody brings something different and makes it more fun. You’re almost going around the world without traveling. Everybody brings different parts of their culture and they get to learn the American culture as well.”

The transition was not easy, but FAMU students made them feel at home. They learned what FAMU means when it says the university is a “FAMULY.”

“When I came here, I was scared because my English was bad,” Radka said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “People were so nice. I would try to explain, and people said I got you. We don’t have a lot of Black people in Bulgaria. It was different here and I liked that.”

Since accepting the job, Yilmaz has been trying to follow the footsteps of previous coaches by recruiting from all over the country.

“When I got the job we were really international based,” Yilmaz said on football coach Willie Simmons’ live

show.  “A lot of our kids were from eastern Europe or South America, so we focused on recruiting a lot of domestic kids.”