Breaking Barriers program brings together Elon student-athletes, Latin American ballplayers 

Assistant Professor of Sport Management Mark Cryan has directed a summer program the past two years that provides cultural and language exchange events for Latin American players with the Burlington Royals. 

As an assistant professor in the Sport Management Department, Mark Cryan has led three Winter Term classes to the Dominican Republic to study baseball, tourism and issues regarding to social justice and globalization. The three-week course allows Elon students a glimpse of life in the Caribbean nation.

Members of the Elon football program and Burlington Royals players from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela enjoy a meal and conversation at the Graham Soda Shop this summer. All photos courtesy of Mark Cryan.
Understanding the many benefits of examining a culture up close, Cryan sought to provide similar educational opportunities for Latin American ballplayers playing for the Burlington Royals. As a result, he created a program called Breaking Barriers, which hosts a series of cultural and language exchange events each summer and provides opportunities for Elon students to interact with the players from Latin America.

During the past two years, Cryan has orchestrated informal gatherings for these Burlington Royals players to better understand American culture. It is an offshoot of Elon University’s growing relationship with the Kansas City Royals and the franchise’s academy in the Dominican Republic. In fact, a recent Elon graduate, Grant Flick ’17, started working for the Royals in the Dominican Republic this summer.

This year’s cultural program consisted of three informal events, beginning with a gathering at the Graham Soda Shop, where a dozen Royals players from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela shared a meal with Elon football players. The conversation included sports topics as well as details about their respective hometowns, their families and other relatable subjects.

Royals player Denicher Carrasco tries on police equipment while visiting the Burlington Police Department.
“Our relationship with the Royals began with a class visit to their complex when I was leading a study abroad class to the Dominican Republic with the Elon baseball team, and I got to know Jeff Diskin, the Royals’ coordinator of cultural development. Our partnership grew to include our students interning at the academy for the summer,” Cryan said. “Two years ago, we added the Breaking Barriers program to help the Latin American players learn more about U.S. culture and improve their language skills. The players’ lives in the U.S. often involve little more than traveling from the team hotel to the stadium and back, and the goal was to expand their horizons – or ‘break the barriers’ that bounded their days.”

The program’s second event involved a visit to the Burlington Police Department, where the professional ballplayers learned about policing practices in the United States, witnessed a K-9 unit demonstration, and had a chance to handle police equipment.

Lastly, the baseball players visited and toured Elon’s campus, which included a stop at the volleyball team’s practice. Afterward, the female student-athletes met with the Royals for lunch. “Coach Mary Tendler and her players were great hosts, introducing themselves by year, major and position, and the Royals players, in turn, introduced themselves in English,” Cryan said.

The growing bond between Elon and the Royals isn’t limited to the Dominican Republic and Burlington. This summer, Elon junior Andrew Scarlata interned with the Idaho Falls Chukars, the Royals’ Rookie League affiliate. Scarlata’s work included a version of the Breaking Barriers program, with language and culture programming available for the club’s Latin American players.

During a visit to Elon’s campus, Burlington Royals players ate lunch with members of the Elon volleyball team in the Lakeside Dining Hall.
Cryan noted the Breaking Barriers program has received great support from Elon Athletics and said football staff members James Ferguson and Matt Merritt were a big help in coordinating this summer’s event in Graham. 

“For the student-athletes, it’s an opportunity to break their summer routines, learn about other cultures, and participate in conversations they wouldn’t normally get a chance to have,” Cryan said. “And the Royals are very eager to have their players experience life in the U.S. outside the ‘baseball bubble,’ and this is part of that effort. Coincidentally, this effort begins with language instruction at the D.R. academy — which Grant is now managing.”

Added Diskin,“the relationship that we have developed with Dr. Cryan has played a big role in helping us to develop one of the top educational programs in the Dominican Summer League, and the Breaking Barriers program has now extended those efforts to our U.S.-based teams.”