FARMINGTON — Longtime area softball coach Darrin Wright has had his sights set on sending a team to Italy for more than a year. Last week, that dream finally came to fruition.
A team chock full of junior varsity and varsity players from Farmington, Aztec, Navajo Prep and Piedra Vista was picked by Wright to fly to Italy. There, Team USA, or, America's Team, faced off against native softball players ranging in age from 25 to 50 years old.
"This last year, I took time away from coaching and circled these dates on my calendar to take this group to Italy," Wright said. "I turned down the opportunity to coach a team from the United States a couple times, and then the guy called me last year and asked me to really look at it, so I re-applied and was selected."
Brigham Joy of the American Council of International Studies urged Wright to be the coach and group leader of the team.
Representing America's Team on behalf of San Juan County were CheyAnne Simkins, Ashlynn Bradley, Paige Adair and Lexie Drake of Aztec; Lu Fentiman and Alex Frazier of Farmington; Gabrielle Noon and Tisharae Tsosie of Navajo Prep, and Alexis Shay of Piedra Vista. Emily Kimbrough, formerly of Navajo Prep, also made the trip. Players from Arizona filled out the rest of the roster.
Wright, who has made head coaching stops at Farmington High and Navajo Prep, said his criteria for choosing the players was simple.
"I picked a group of girls that I not only thought would be fun to vacation with, but who could play softball," Wright said. "The girls I picked were excellent role models and ambassadors for New Mexico. I had coached a handful of them in the past and knew what they were about."
The team left Monday, June 15 and returned on Wednesday. The eight days spent in Italy were designed for sightseeing as much as they were for softball.
America's Team visited Rome, Tuscany and Milan, and played in Lazio, Arezzo and Bolita. PV's Shay said leaving the United States was an amazing experience.
"I was super excited about this because I've never been outside of the country before," she said. "When my dad was young, he got picked to play football in Australia, so I thought it was cool to do the same thing."
Shay, who is heading into her junior year, said she enjoyed learning more about Italian culture.
"History's my favorite subject in school, so it was fun to see the coliseums in Rome — something we learned a lot about," Shay said. "Seeing how they drink wine with their meals and the way they dress and just learning more about the people there was definitely a great experience."
Noon, another girl heading into her junior year, was comforted by the aid of two other girls she has played with at Navajo Prep in Kimbrough and Tsosie. She said playing alongside some of her high school rivals was a lot of fun.
"It wasn't awkward, it was actually a lot of fun," she said. "Seeing all the historical places and stuff together helped us bond, and we really played great as a team."
The girls competed in three doubleheaders spread out over three days. In two of those six games, Team USA and the Italian teams of S.S. Lazio and Arezzo split up and meshed with each other to form two intrasquad teams.
"I was a little nervous (when we split teams) because the coaches didn't really speak any English, so it was tough to communicate," Shay said. "The girls were all really nice. There was never any problem with them."
By the time the trip came to a close, Wright said he had learned a lot about his players.
"You learn a lot about the girls' educational backgrounds and their varying interests in history," he said. "So you get to see their growth in education. I came in knowing they were all special softball players, but getting to see them interact and learn off the diamond was really special for me."
Discounting the intrasquad exhibitions, America's Team went 1-2-1 in Italy.