Auburn University and USA Team Handball teams struck a deal in 2013 to establish a residency program in Auburn. Both the men’s and women’s national teams practice, train, work and attend school in Auburn in hopes of qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. (Photo, left: Madeline Johnson (R) helps Liz Hartnett, women's national team player, after practice.)
How did the decision makers choose Auburn, Alabama of all places? Many thanks to Reita Clanton, a former basketball, volleyball and softball athlete for Auburn University. Clanton played on the USA women’s handball team in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles where the team placed fourth.
The opportunity to become an Olympic training site has been beneficial to Auburn students and the community alike. Two Auburn University students gained internships through the program to assist their degrees.
“From my experience as an intern working with the team athletic trainer, I am able to learn a lot from him. I observe a lot of his work and collaboration with the athletes,” said Michala Kucharova, a former Auburn University women’s tennis player who is an athletics trainer intern for the USA Team Handball team.
Madeline Johnson, a senior majoring in kinesiology-fitness, conditioning, and performance, is also an intern for the athletic trainer. In addition to the knowledge she has received from her internship, Johnson believes the program is great for the community. (Photo, right: Farida Abou-Zeida, Auburn alumni and women's national team player, signs ball.)
“I think it has a very positive effect on Auburn's campus. Because of the team, we have become an official Olympic training site, which will help in recruiting elite athletes to our athletics department. Also, I think it brings a sense of unity and patriotism to have Olympic hopefuls training at our school as well as doing research and teaching classes,” said Johnson.
Because team handball is a small sport, they receive no funding from the U.S. Olympic Committee. The residency program relies heavily on the Auburn community and donations from outside to fund the program. Head coach of women’s national team, Christian Latulippe, has been pleased with the support of the Auburn businesses.
“When we talked to the people at Auburn and Opelika Tourism Bureau, they were very excited and financially have given us support to continue this adventure. Lately, East Alabama Medical Center has become a good sponsor for us. They have guaranteed the continuity of the program until 2020,” said Latulippe. RehabWorks partnered with the team from the start providing medical services and athletic trainers.
Latulippe acknowledges the sport of team handball is less known and does not receive the same media exposure as bigger sports like basketball or football. However, the Auburn family has taken both teams under their wing.
Auburn alumni and national team player Farida Abou-Zeida can attest to that. “In the 2 years we’ve been at Auburn as a team, we have been hosted at many events, local restaurants, family tailgates, and everywhere we go people are so helpful and excited for us, always trying to help us with whatever goal we’re trying to reach,” said Abou-Zeida.
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