The men’s basketball team at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
All Abroad: Ford Teams Travel to Argentina and Ireland
Imagine going to a foreign country with a planeload of your closest friends, no real responsibilities, just the opportunity to soak up another culture and play the sport you love.
Sounds like a blast, doesn’t it?
Now add a packed sightseeing schedule, a few community service projects, the watchful eyes of coaches and trainers, and some grueling competition –all on precious little sleep.
Welcome to preseason training abroad for Haverford College’s women’s field hockey team and men’s basketball team.
The women’s field hockey team spent nine days in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in August, the first time a Haverford women’s team has traveled abroad. The men’s basketball team went to
Northern Ireland for eight days in October, continuing a long tradition of international travel for Haverford’s men’s teams.
Haverford strongly encourages students to pursue international travel experiences and, despite their playing schedules, student-athletes are no exception. “It’s an opportunity for a group of student-athletes to immerse them-selves in a different culture through athletics, community service and educational sessions,” notes Director of Athletics Wendy Smith. “The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) allows teams to take a foreign trip once every three years, so Haverford coaches are taking advantage of the opportunity to create a unique educational experience for student athletes.”
TAKING THE FIELD
Field hockey head coach Colleen Quinn Fink’s main concern about taking her team abroad for the first time was that the players would not get enough practice. The field hockey season, after all, runs only from mid-August to mid-November, so there was no time to waste. But Fink found she had no reason to worry on that account.
Argentina is serious about field hockey—the country’s women’s field hockey team won the bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics last year. Fink’s players trained with a former Olympian-turned-national team coach and faced highly competitive players in three matches, including one against the “under-18” women’s national team. Although the team did not win their matches, the high level of competition was an invaluable training experience, Fink pointed out.
Perhaps even more valuable than the competition, according to Fink: Spending every waking moment together bonded the team in a way that regular practice back at Haverford never could. Of the 18 field hockey players, eight were freshmen. “Basically, half the team didn’t know each other,” notes Alex Waleko, a sophomore center midfielder. Normally, it would have taken time to integrate the new players into the group. Not in Argentina. Within 24 hours, the team was commandeering the microphone on the tour bus to sing karaoke together, Waleko says.
In addition to training and playing matches, the field hockey team also toured the sights of Buenos Aires, such as the grave of Eva Peron, went horseback riding at a ranchero, took tango lessons, went shopping, and a took a day trip to Colonia, Uruguay. [For more details, visit junior Ariel Herm’s blog about the trip at http://news.haverford.edu/blogs/fieldhockey/.]
Sobering for the team members were the glimpses they caught of some of the extreme poverty that exists in Argentina. “There were times on the bus when everyone fell silent, just taking it all in,” Fink recalls.
Community service was also part of the itinerary. The team spent time at a school in Buenos Aires helping students practice their English and running a field hockey clinic. Working with the Argentinian students was one of the best parts of the trip, Waleko says.
“You’re not going to remember the games and the scores, but you are going to remember the experiences.” That’s what men’s basketball head coach Michael Mucci tells players preparing to go abroad. Mucci, who plans an international trip every four years, accompanied 18 players and five others to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in October.
The basketball team played four highly competitive games against college and club teams and won two. But basketball was a relatively small part of what the team did on the trip, says Greg Rosnick, a senior and the basketball team’s captain. [See Rosnick’s blog about the trip at: http://news.haverford.edu/blogs/basketballm/.]
“It really was a bonding experience,” says Rosnick. “It’s one thing to go on a family vacation—and they’re great—but it’s another to go on a trip with a group of your best friends.”
The men’s basketball team’s itinerary included trips to Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway, and Dublin, where they visited Trinity College. Community service was also part of the trip. The team conducted a basketball clinic for nearly 60 students, ages eight to 16, outside Belfast.
The team learned much about the history of the violent conflicts in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles.” In the north, the team saw countless murals and memorials commemorating the tragic struggle and talked with people who lived through it. “I’m not a history person,” admits sophomore forward Sam Permutt. But, he says, seeing the places and monuments they had read and heard about was a moving experience. “I didn’t realize how much it would affect me.”
One of the team’s best sources of history was Tom Foley, the CEO of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross. Foley, who played basketball in Northern Ireland himself while doing volunteer work in college, heard about the Haverford trip from a coworker who is a Haverford alumna. He promptly volunteered to be a resource to Coach Mucci in planning the trip.
Foley started out by assigning pre-trip historical readings and imparting his knowledge of Northern Ireland to the team. He found he enjoyed it so much that he and his son, Andrew, a high school senior, decided to join the group. Foley saw first-hand how the Northern Ireland experience in particular broadened the Haverford students’ horizons. “Most of the students already had an informed world view and a trip like this gives students an even more informed view of modern conflict,” he notes.
THE TRAVEL FUND
For Haverford sports teams, the cost of travel depends on the destination, the duration of the trip, and the activities planned. Teams typically hold fundraisers to help pay for their trips. Students have held T-shirt sales, auctions, and golf outings to raise money. Part of an anonymous donor’s gift to the athletic department was used to finance the men’s basketball trip to Ireland.
Haverford is now calling on former student-athletes to help out. The College has established the Athletic Travel Fund to help student-athletes pay for their overnight trips. The fund will help address the increasing cost of travel and the demands placed on teams and parents to fund such trips. It will also help provide comparable travel opportunities for both men’s and women’s teams. The Athletic Department recently sent an appeal letter to 3,800 alumni who played a sport at Haverford to help finance these experiences.
Samantha Drake is a freelance writer based in Lansdowne, Pa. She interviewed Angela (Walker) Ballard ’95 and Dustin Ballard ’94 about their book A Blistered Kind of Love for the Winter 2009 issue.