'A perfect day'
Even the weather was perfect.
On Friday, July 16, Park High School and the city of Cottage Grove put their best foot forward as they hosted a group of 17 girls basketball players from Uppsala, Sweden.
The Swedish basketball team comprised of 13- and 14-year old girls from Granbyskolan, a junior high school in Uppsala, Sweden, spent two hours scrimmaging a group of girls from Cottage Grove at the Park High School Activity Center. Amid sunny skies and warm temperatures, the Swedish team also spent the day in Cottage Grove, enjoying a pool party, a barbecue and taking in a couple of movies at the Cottage View Drive-In.
Park 1987 grads Steve Hoffman -- the Cottage Grove Athletic Association's girls traveling basketball director -- and Jeff Schmitz -- the coach of the Granbyskolan girls team -- were responsible for the Swedish team's visit.
Both said the trip couldn't have gone much better.
"My hope was that this would be a chance for the girls to hang out with girls from a different culture and get to know them," Hoffman said. "The girls did bond really well and we had a perfect day. I think it exceeded any expectations I had. It actually came together really, really well. It was awesome."
Schmitz said he was most impressed with two things -- the Activity Center at his alma mater and the way his hometown welcomed his family and his team.
"It was really fun," Schmitz said. "To be so warmly received by everyone meant so much. And what a great facility. The parents were commenting how much they'd like to have something like this back home. Just one of these halls for the entire city of Uppsala would mean so much to basketball."
Before the scrimmage, the Cottage Grove and Granbyskolan players were treated to doughnuts and juice by SuperMoms. After the games, Park Activities Director Phil Kuemmel and the CGAA presented the Swedish team with Cottage Grove basketball keychains, T-shirts and jerseys.
"It just makes me proud to be from Minnesota and from Cottage Grove," Schmitz said. "It's been really neat."
Hoffman said everybody pitched in and that he was impressed by the way the Cottage Grove kids interacted with the Swedish girls.
"What I was really hoping for was that the girls would really welcome them here and that they'd be excited for this event," Hoffman said. "I think they really were."
In addition to the scrimmage and other festivities in Cottage Grove on Friday, the team from Granbyskolan, which arrived in Minnesota on July 9 and departed on July 18, took part in the well-known Janet Karvonen basketball camp in Champlin Park, scrimmaged a team from Hopkins, went to a Twins Game at Target Field and a Lynx game at Target Center and visited Valley Fair, the Como Zoo and the Mall of America.
"It was kind of like going to Disney World, when you want to ride all the rides in one day," Schmitz said. "But, we tried to make sure we took some breaks and had a couple of hours where we just took it easy. We've been able to do so many different activities and so many people have been just ridiculously good to us."
Basketball isn't nearly as big of a sport in Sweden as it is in the United States and ranks well behind the country's favorite sports -- soccer and hockey, respectively.
However, Hoffman said he and others were impressed by the play of the Granbyskolan girls.
"I wasn't sure how it was going to be, but they seemed very comparable to us or any other middle school team in Minnesota," Hoffman said. "We weren't keeping score and don't know who won or lost -- that wasn't the goal -- but the quality of play was really good. The girls played really hard against each other."
The scrimmage against Cottage Grove was the final basketball event of the week for Granbyskolan. Hoffman said he felt the players, coaches and families enjoyed the "downtime" in Cottage Grove.
"They had been running pretty much all week," Hoffman said. "It was nice for them to be able to enjoy the pool party and the drive-in -- just relaxing and hanging out."
A big portion of the trip was the cultural experience between the two communities.
Both Schmitz and Hoffman said the girls from the two nations got along well and bonded in the brief time they had together.
"Kids always seem to bond near the end of the event," Hoffman said. "At the drive-in, once they knew they were leaving you couldn't get them apart from each other. We heard a lot of them talking about Facebook and exchanging emails and stuff like that. One of their coaches was asking about foreign exchange programs."
There will be links to Granbyskolan's team page on the CGAA basketball website.
Also, Hoffman said he had informal preliminary discussions with the Granbyskolan coaches about a possible return trip to Sweden in the future. However, he was clear it would be quite a feat -- both logistically and financially.
In order to make it to the United States, Granbyskolan had to get over large financial hurdles.
Schmitz estimated the total cost for his entire team to come to the U.S. at 300,000 Swedish crowns, which is about $35,000 to $37,000.
However, through fundraising and sponsorships, each players' family has only had to put forward roughly 3,000 crowns or about $350 to $370 per child, according to Schmitz.
"Who knows what is going to happen in the future," Hoffman said. "I know they'd do pretty much anything for us, because of the hospitality we showed them. That's exciting to know. Whether we do anything with it, who knows? It's not a small trip."