“G’day” – and night

Published 7:28 pm Monday, January 6, 2014

WINDSOR – There’s a saying that one stranger’s best impression of America just might be you.

If that was the case here Friday night then Bertie High School probably made a good one.

A touring Australian girls and boys basketball team visited the school for an exhibition game and shared not only one of America’s favorite sports, but also a bit of international goodwill.

The Keystone Cougars are an Australian youth basketball team from the Keysborough suburb of Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city. The team of six girls and fifteen boys are part of an eight-game exhibition tour through Virginia and the Carolinas and is taking place during what is summer break in the southern hemisphere.

The team arrived in New York just prior to Christmas and played in the Boo Williams Holiday Tournament in Hampton, VA last week before continuing South.  They arrived in Windsor late Friday evening for games with the Bertie jayvee, girls, and varsity boys basketball teams.

“We’re a club (amateur) team back home,” said Cougars coach John Constance in his finest Australian accent. “We’re touring over here playing an arrangement of high schools.”

One adjustment for the Australians wasn’t on the basketball court.  Instead it was getting used to American winter.

“It was a hundred degrees back home the other day,” said Australian assistant coach Nathan Vogt. “So it was quite a shock for us to be in New York and have our flight delayed with all the snow.”

Because a late sudden illness depleted their ranks down to four players, the girl’s exhibition did not take place but that did not deter Falcons girls coach Alice Lyons from playing ‘ambassador’ for the night.

Lyons arranged a gift exchange with the help of the Windsor Chamber of Commerce and even had special T-shirts made that said “Bertie-Australia” on the front.  The Australian team members received Chamber of Commerce shopping bags filled with small gifts, including Bertie County Peanuts, among other items. The Bertie folks received a small Koala bear doll in exchange.

Lyons, who has visited ‘down under’ and helped arrange the exhibition, didn’t have to put her unbeaten 13-0 record on the line; and because of high school rules Bertie still picked up a forfeit win. Nonetheless she still had all her Bertie girls players courtside.

“I am the reason they are here,” said Lyons, proudly. “I got an e-mail from Australia asking to play against us and I accepted.”

Lyons went on to say she wanted the other Bertie teams to get in on what she felt would be fun.

“I asked my coaches if they wanted to (participate), and they were a little hesitant at first,” she added. “But by me being overseas before, I knew we could beat them so I told them to come on.”

Bertie athletic director Randy Whitaker then went to work helping make the arrangements stateside, including getting the game sanctioned by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association in order to protect the Bertie players’ amateur status.

Meanwhile, coach Lyons agrees that while American basketball is still superior on the court in many ways, the rest of the international community is catching up quickly.

“Basketball is world-wide,” Lyons declared. “And that’s on all levels.”

In the absence of a girls game, Bertie’s boy’s junior varsity played four, eight minute quarters instead of six minutes each. Coach Chris Jordan’s team trailed by a pair at halftime to the group from Oz, 25-23, but the Falcon jayvee went on to post a 57-48 win.

“It was a good experience for my kids,” said Jordan after the game. “For them this is the first time this has ever happened and we really enjoyed the game.”

Jordan also drew comparisons and said he came away impressed with the Australians’ knowledge of the fundamentals of the game.

“They start out and learn the fundamentals early and it shows,” he added. “I told my kids they were going to make their cuts, pass the ball, and shoot well which they did.”

Bertie varsity coach Kelvin Hayes’ team made it a sweep on the night with a 62-37 victory in the second game.

“For the most part some of them had never really met any Australians before so that was a pretty neat experience,” Hayes said.

Following the games, all of the teams, girls and boys,  assembled in the middle of Bertie’s floor for a group photo as Smartphone flashes went off all over the gym.

As the building cleared one young Australian, Austin Tureat, stood by the bleachers chatting with his newfound American ‘friends’.

“I’d like to go to college somewhere over here someday,” he said with a wide smile. “Maybe this will be my start.”