The Clark Fork Mountain Cats Boys basketball teams experienced a unique situation this year with five foreign exchange students participating in the sport this season. For some it was the first time they ever held a basketball or stepped onto a court.
Assistant Coach John Petersen spends a lot of his time with the students coaching the junior varsity team. All play JV and one, Wasin Wongwiwat from Thailand, is on the varsity team.
“It’s been super fun and I’ve enjoyed coaching them,” said Petersen. “Sometimes the language barrier gets in the way and some of them have never played basketball before and so it has been a big learning curve. But they’re super smart, eager, and learned the game fast. It’s turned out better than I thought it would.”
SOME OF the students, like Ginwan Jung, (Ethan is what they call him here), has found basketball to be very aggressive compared to sports he played back home in Korea. There he played volleyball, soccer and his favorite sport, badminton. Where badminton and soccer are popular sports, “like basketball, volleyball and football are popular here,” he said.
In a country roughly a third of the size of Montana, sports teams don’t travel to other schools to play. Rather they play games among themselves and then have one big tournament a year where all the school teams compete.
Nhan Hoang (pronounced Young), a junior from Vietnam, was also surprised at the aggressive nature of American basketball, and found himself elbowed in the face several times while on the court.
Despite the more forceful style of play, he really likes basketball and has enjoyed this season, “we have basketball but it’s not a school sport. We have to raise our own funds to play and hire referees for games, it’s not as organized and just for fun. So the coaches here have helped me improve my dribbling and shooting skills. It’s just amazing and I’ll go back more skilled.”
He also likes the school in Alberton, “everyone here is very friendly and they all know each other.” Unlike his school in Vietnam where the student population is approximately 3,000 and basketball teams are broken down into classes. The classes then compete against each other to become the school champions. But that’s where the competition end, there is no traveling to other schools or tournaments. “I like travelling with the team and going to different places, it’s fun,” he said about away games this season.
THE ONLY foreign exchange student to play on varsity this year is Wasin Wongwiwat, who is from Thailand. He also enjoys the travel involved with playing basketball, “I like to see the different communities, it’s a new experience for me.” Back home Wongwiwat played soccer, tennis and other individual sports. Though his school did offer basketball, he chose to play soccer instead. Now, with a season of basketball under his belt, he said he’ll probably play for their team next year.
ANOTHER EXCHANGE Another exchange student on the team who had never played basketball before is Mads Groenlund, a junior from Denmark. He also played football last fall for the Mountain Cats. “It’s a really unique sport, I liked it a lot,” he said, “I really like sports and at home I played soccer, handball and taekwondo.”
In Denmark, sports are not connected to the schools and they have to play on their own. Teams do play each other, “but our country is so small, the furthest we travel is maybe a half-hour away,” he said. “Traveling has been one of my favorite things this year, to see the different school gyms and new areas,” he said.
The other student on the team is sophomore, Yu Hsiang Lin from Tiawan.
The exchange students came to Alberton through the Council for Educational Travel (CETUSA). Their host familes are Salinas Bartel, Amanda Rahmer and Zelma Kromery.
Kromery is the regional director for Montana and worked to place the student in the area. She said another student will be arriving at Alberton School this week is Andreas, who is from Spain. In addition to the basketball players, there is a Chinese girl named Rocky, and another student from Taiwan who is staying with Molly and Michael Davidson.
The local coordinator for CETUSA is Bartel and Kromrey said she is looking for more coordinators to grow the program in the state. People interested in becoming a host or a coordinator can contract her directly at 406-880-2177.