Happy campers all the way from Italy Exchange visitors get fill at Park School

July 28, 1992|By Marc Bouchard | Marc Bouchard,Staff Writer

Eating cheeseburgers, showing off in front of female lifeguards and playing hoops. A typical summer for many U.S. high school boys.

And typical for 13 Italians sampling U.S. culture and participating in a basketball camp at the Park School this summer.

They came here through a program called Sport For Understanding International Exchange, a private, non-profit organization "dedicated to international understanding and cross-cultural learning."

Web Johnson, varsity coach at Park, recruited families to serve as hosts to the players, organized sightseeing trips and ran the basketball camp.

"The idea is they basically do three things," Johnson said. "They do something with their sport, they stay with an American family to sample American culture and they do some sightseeing.

"Every other day, we've had some sort of sightseeing event. We took them to Annapolis for the day. We took them to Washington for the day. They spent two days in Dewey Beach, Del. And on the days off, theywould do something with the families they're staying with."

Most of the Italian players are from the Varese Club, one of the most successful basketball clubs in Europe. Former NBA player Reggie Theus plays for the Varese senior team, which has won 10 Italian Cups and five European Cups.

"Monday through Thursday nights, they would come out to the camp from 5:30 to 9:30," said Johnson. "In addition, they played Loyola High School [and Gilman], and the Maccabian team from Baltimore. They also participated in [last weekend's] Hoop It Up. So, their time has been well structured. They're pretty tired.

"I think they've all improved at the camp. I stress decision making, and I think they all are thinking better."

How do the Italians compare with their Baltimore peers?

"All of the [exchange] players are solid," said Johnson. "They could all play for me [in the Maryland Scholastic Association's C Conference] and some could play at an [MSA A Conference] level."

The visitors said the biggest difference between basketball here and in Italy is the officiating.

"The referee calls more," said Davide Macchi, 16, rolling his arms in the international motion for the traveling violation. "And there are less fouls called.

"I played with good players. The experience here was very good."

The Italians try to pattern their game after NBA and NCAA standouts.

"We get 14 hours of American sports on television in Italy every day," said Stefano Lazzati, 17. "I love basketball, and the Americans invented it. In Italy, there are no players as [popular] or as good as, say, Michael Jordan."

The Varese players seem to have gotten as much out of their leisure time as their time at the camp.

"They basically like to do two things: chase girls and shop," said Johnson. "And they're big eaters, too. Lots of cheeseburgers.

"They went to a pool party, and one of the lifeguards was really cute. The whole team jumped into the pool at once and pretended to drown. Then they got out and, in unison, began singing 'Pretty Woman'. It's really been a lot of fun."

And did the Park School players learn anything from the Italians?

"The language barrier gets easier as you go along," said Joe Pierce, a freshman at Park whose family played host to one of the players. "I'm not learning any Italian, and he's not learning any more English, but as you get to know each other it gets easier to understand what they're feeling."

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