Eric Rodine ventured into the unknown nearly five years ago when he left his post as athletic director at Prior Lake High School for a new job in West Africa.

Looking back, he wouldn't change a thing.

"The experience moving overseas has been incredible to say the least," said Rodine, who spent seven years running the Lakers' activities office before stepping down in the summer of 2015.

"First and foremost is the travel," he said, with vacations throughout Europe since the move. "We have truly seen parts of the world we could only dream of if we still lived in the States."

Rodine and his wife and kids settled into their new home in Senegal, a small country where the most common languages are French and the native Wolof. Rodine became the athletic director at the International School of Dakar, which has an enrollment of 700 students kindergarten through 12th grade.

Rodine spent four years there before taking the same position last July at the American International School of Lagos in Nigeria, further south on Africa's west coast. He said he moved for a change in culture.

"Many people in international schools don't necessarily stay in one place," Rodine said. "They like to move and see different parts of the world. I know it looks like a close move, but mileage-wise, this move would be like going across the contiguous United States.

"The culture in Nigeria is much different than Senegal," Rodine added. "Nigeria is a much more developed country. We live in a city of 20 million people. Victoria Island, where the school is located, is like the Manhattan of Lagos. To experience the two different cultures is night and day."

At Prior Lake, Rodine was instrumental in helping elevate the Lakers' sports programs. When he started, the Lakers were in the now-defunct Missota Conference. He helped get the South Suburban Conference started in the 2010-11 season.

Rodine also helped the Lakers' upgrade their facilities with a brand new weight room, a new turf field at Dan Patch Stadium and a $500,000 state-of-the art scoreboard.

Sports in Africa

In Senegal, Rodine said sports are much different. The school offered soccer, basketball, swimming and volleyball.

Rodine said academics take priority. Teams practice three times a week in high school, two times for the middle school.

"Last year in Dakar, our setter on the boys volleyball team was named as an all-star of the tournament; ISD won the (conference) championship," Rodine said. "The next weekend, he was the lead in the school play."

Is the talent level any different in Africa than at Prior Lake or the other SSC schools? In soccer, Rodine said there's a close comparison.

"Most of our students in this conference could go and compete in the SSC," Rodine said. "In volleyball and basketball, there are a few kids who could maybe make teams.

"In swimming, a couple of schools run year-round programs," Rodine continued. "Those participants would fit right in at an American high school. Other schools just have swimming in the fall. Those times are much slower."

Rodine said the competition level is different in Dakar than it was Lagos. In Dakar, there were more club teams, and high schools didn't compete in sports.

In Lagos there are more high schools, so there's more a competitive balance. It's more of a European model.

"The problem with competing with clubs was you did not know what you were going to get," Rodine said. "Sometimes we would play the 16U team. The next time, they would bring the 18U team. The club teams were more about winning at all costs."

Not just sports

Through sports, Rodine's kids have competed in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal. However, athletics is just one part of the experience for Rodine and his family. 

Rodine said one of the best experiences in Senegal was the Week Without Walls, a program designed to give students the experiences that will inspire them to become caring global citizens. Students engage in sustainable service to help gain awareness of issues that transcend national borders.

"The students and teachers would travel out to the villages and work with the students on their on projects," Rodine said. "It's amazing to see the different lifestyles from around West Africa."

One of the toughest barriers for the family was learning the language when they first got to Senegal. It took some time and some help from his youngest son, Ty. But the Rodines were able to communicate pretty well.

"We went there not knowing any French or Wolof," Rodine said. "Our younger two children benefited the most. Ty is fluent in French. I learned quite a bit of Wolof as well. It was fun to experience that challenge.

"Everyone of my kids said they wished we would have made the move to international life sooner," Rodine said. "My daughter is studying photojournalism and documentary photography in the U.K. She will probably not move back to the USA. It has changed our perspective on life.

"To meet so many people from around the world is amazing," Rodine added. "The move has opened my eyes to people and societies and a true love of human life. No matter where I go and what country I'm in, it is about building quality relationships with the people."

Coronavirus impact

The coronavirus pandemic is also having the same affect in Nigeria as it is in Prior Lake. Rodine said his school moved to online learning.

Many of the teachers have evacuated back to the U.S. and Canada. The last evacuation flight left April 7, but the Rodines decided to stay. That may change when international flights begin again, but right now Rodine said they feel safe.

They have access to food and amenities, since they live on campus. Just like in the U.S., all competitions have been cancelled.

"For the high school seniors, I feel bad that they did not have any closure to their seasons," Rodine said. "It will be interesting to see when we get going again with school.

"As a continent, Africa does not have the amount of cases that North America has to this point," Rodine continued. "The governments here have been quicker to shut down the borders and put the residence in quarantine. I just don’t know if we will have the spread like in the U.S.A. It's kind of a waiting game."

Tom Schardin covers sports for Savage and Prior Lake. He is dependable, sarcastic and always joking around. Tom enjoys running and swimming and is often busy coaching his two kids' sports teams.

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