The trip was part of an America’s Team tour. The organization, whose motto is “Changing lives through sports,” sponsors international tours for teenage teams as a way to use sports to help American teens understand foreign countries, their people, their cultures. They have partnered with the American Council for International Studies to recruit teams using local coaches and do so in a variety of sports, including basketball.
“We went to four cities in Italy: Milan, Rome, Montecatini, and Florence,” said Tayler. “We played four games against Italian teams. We won two of the games.”
The team was coached by Leland & Gray girls’ varsity basketball coach Terry Merrow. This was his second year coaching a team. In 2016, he led an America’s Team from Vermont to London for a series of games and a tour of England.
“Terry contacted me to play,” said Tayler. “He had asked me last year about London, but I wasn’t interested. This year he asked about Italy and I said ‘yes.’”
Tayler said the experience was memorable, both for touring Italy and the connections she made through basketball. The Vermont team spent time getting to know their opponents, and a second team from the United States. “There was another team, from Michigan. We were together 24/7. We also got to talk with the girls from Italy, from the other teams we played. We also had a couple of dinners together.”
Aside from playing the Italian teams, the two America’s Teams squared off against each other. When asked about how the play was, Tayler’s first response was that the gyms they played in were hot. Because of that heat, the girls all saw a lot of playing time. “We rotated every two minutes, because it was so hot there,” said Tayler. “We didn’t really have a set lineup.”
The Vermont team was made up of eight players from Vermont, one from New Hampshire, and one from Arkansas who was a last-minute addition, just before they arrived in Italy.
Merrow said that his experience with the American’s Team program has been nothing but positive.
“They’re a phenomenal organization. They’re very helpful and they take care of you. We stay at five-star hotels, the package includes breakfast and dinner, tours, airfare, everything. There are two organizations that are overseeing your trip, America’s Team and ACIS. They take care of you. It’s a very smooth transaction. I’m glad I got involved.”
Merrow said that America’s Team, based in Kansas, joined with ACIS out of Boston to give student athletes the opportunity to see other countries and play the sport they love.
When asked how he got involved, Merrow said he was skeptical about the program at first.
“I got an email asking if I’d be interested in coaching. At first, I through it was a scam. How do they pick a coach from little D3 Townshend, VT, to travel the world? So I called them and was put in touch with a person named Brigham Joy. My first question was, ‘Is that your real name?’”
But Brigham Joy turned out to be real, as is the program. “He’s been in contact twice a month to see if everything is on track. He’s good at what he does.”
Merrow added that the recruiting process for the team is a long cycle. He’s already started for next year’s trip, having sent information to coaches around the state and started talking to potential players. He also said that he doesn’t work with any of the players during the school year.
“Once high school season is over with we get together twice a month to practice,” Merrow said. “One of the hardest things about practice is you have kids playing spring sports and they are from all over the state. Tayler was the farthest south, and we had kids out of Newport. So we practiced in Chelsea, which was sort of in the middle.”
Merrow said the cost of the package is approximately $4,500. That includes airfare, meals, admission to attractions, and of course, basketball. He and America’s Team help with fundraising and planning, and Merrow and a tour guide chaperone the team.
As for Tayler, she had help from her family and friends fundraising. She had a GoFundMe page, and said family friend Brian Sullivan was a big help.
“It was a great experience,” said Merrow. “I’m going to keep doing this as long as they’ll have me and as long as I keep kids interested. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing to go to another country, to wear USA on your chest, and to play basketball. ”
Tayler had no doubt in her mind the experience was worth it. Among the many things that she recounted from the trip was the visit former Twin Valley exchange student Francesca Pozzi paid her in Milan. She also noted that she really enjoyed Milan, Florence, and the Italian countryside.
“Florence was really nice, it had a nice shopping area. It’s known for leather, and we learned the difference between real leather and fake leather.”
She added that Rome was too big for her liking. But she did have a special experience in Rome, one she’s unlikely to forget.
“In Rome we saw the Pope speak. He was in a window of some building.”
Merrow said that from where they watched outside the Vatican, the Pope looked like he was an inch tall.
Tayler said the trip was memorable, that she would do it again, and that there was another thing about the trip that made a lasting impression on her.
“We saw a lot of cathedrals, and we saw a lot of statues.”
Next summer the Vermont America’s Team girls’ squad will be heading to Spain to play basketball. Any interested high school players are welcome to contact Merrow for more information. He can be reached at (802) 779-7627, (802) 824 3134 or firstname.lastname@example.org.