Harwood Union High School’s girls’ basketball team recently got an unexpected opportunity. A few weeks ago, Harwood head coach Tommy Young got a phone call saying that a Texas basketball team had dropped out of a planned trip to Serbia and Croatia with PH International (formerly Project Harmony) of Waitsfield, which has partnered with Youth Leadership through Sport, a U.S. Department of State-funded program, asking if the Harwood team would like to go instead. Having traveled to Ukraine with basketball players from Maine as well as eight or nine girls from Harwood with PH International in 2019, Young jumped at the chance.

A grant will cover all costs of travel, including food, except for passports. Given that fundraising wasn’t involved and PH International would be handling all the logistics, Young received a waiver to give permission for the trip on such short notice (Harwood Unified Union School District superintendent Dr. Mike Leichliter said at the last board meeting that such a trip typically takes about a year to plan).

From April 18 to 28, 2023, 11 of Harwood’s girls’ basketball team’s 12 players will travel (the 12th player had pre-existing April break plans) with chaperones, including Young and his assistant coach Greg Titus, JV coach Bethany Fuller, as well as representatives from PH International and Youth Leadership in Sport. Seven of the 11 players going on the trip are seniors.

The trip will be a mix of 5-on-5 basketball games and cultural activities, Young said. As it is the 100th anniversary of basketball being brought to Serbia by a U.S. missionary, Young said there would be a big celebration of the sport. The group will visit two cities in Croatia -- the capital, Zagreb, and Slavonski Brod -- as well as the Serbian capital, Belgrade. Young said the trip will help students develop an understanding of other cultures, noting he wants them to go on the trip with an open mind, to try new things and bring their learning forward into the future. “You want them to feel empowered by the experience and spread their learning. I want them to see different cultures but also that they are similar.”

He noted that, after the 2019 trip to Ukraine in which students played 3-on-3 games, students brought a 3-on-3 league back to Harwood, which is now a student-led spring league. He hopes this group of students will bring what they learn back to Harwood and wherever they go next.

“They’re all pretty excited,” he said. “No matter how the season ends, we’ll have this positive thing to look forward to.” Harwood’s girls’ basketball team lost 42-23 to North Country Union on Monday, February 27, ending their season. Now they’ll look ahead to preparing for their trip in April. “We’re going to get to have this cool experience as a team and that’s what we’ll remember,” Young said.