After three years of watching Wilson’s baseball team enjoy annual spring break trips to the Dominican Republic, the seniors on the Tigers softball team wanted a similar experience.
“All of the seniors went to coach [Mitch] Gore and said that it was really unfair that the boys had a trip and we didn’t,” said Wilson senior Pearl Strand.
After a few conversations with the Tigers’ athletics director — who had connections to a Wilson grad who works for a non-government organization focused on U.S.-Cuba relations — the team decided to set up a trip to Cuba.
“We were all super excited about the idea,” said senior pitcher Nora Parisi. “We didn’t really know much about softball in Cuba, and getting more of a feel for what we were doing, it was going to really connect to softball. This was the trial year so we didn’t play as much softball, but it can expand in the future.”
The trip was spearheaded by the players, who worked tirelessly to raise funds for the trip and also to donate equipment to groups in Cuba.
“They started the conversation about making a trip,” Tigers coach Kelsey Curran said. “They advocated for themselves.”
The parents and school also helped with efforts, but for the players, Krispy Kreme doughnuts proved to be their ticket to Cuba. “We sold more than 2,000 doughnuts,” Strand said.
The logistics of traveling to Cuba proved to be tricky. “Going into it, a lot of the itinerary was not set in stone because of a lot of the travel plans and the culture of Cuba with how things that are planned aren’t as structured,” said Curran. “The girls were a little nervous. But everything exceeded my expectations and went smooth. It was worth the hassle, planning and fundraising.”
In addition, the trip — which started on April 15 and ended Friday — was the first of its kind for the team, whose players hadn’t generally socialized much off the diamond.
“Putting 12 high school girls in very close quarters and being around each other 24/7, I was really worried,” the coach joked. “The girls always get along really well, but they had said too that they don’t typically hang out outside of school or softball, so it was a really interesting transformation. They went into it being acquaintances, and they came out of it really good friends and really good teammates. They have a really strong connection and now feel they can rely on each other more.”
The bonding experience started on the very first night when the team went to a salsa lesson.
“It wasn’t a very formal lesson,” Curran said. “The instructor just lined us up, talked in Spanish and had us following along. It was a good time.”
The team also discovered that Aleisha Hopkins was the best dancer of the bunch.
“It was fun to see the girls outside of their comfort zone,” said Parisi. “It was really a great way to start it.”
The team spent the rest of their trip attending high-level softball games and meeting with a very talented high school team.
“We watched a lot of softball,” said Parisi. “We saw a championship game — the regional sports high school league. It was really interesting to see how good they are and how much they practice — they practice three hours a day, five days a week, which is crazy for high school students.”
Curran joked: “They looked at me with a side-eye when their coach said that.”
In addition the team spent time working with boys and girls clubs and conveying softball equipment donations to the needy.
“We spent a few months collecting items,” said senior Sarah Thompson. “Coach Gore went to Leveling the Playing Field and picked up equipment to take.”
With only four players fluent enough in Spanish to translate when the team’s guide wasn’t around, Curran said, “the girls had to trust and rely on each other” — one lesson among many that the team benefited from during its time in Cuba.
“We were working together as a team, compromising,” said Curran. “It was really cool to show the girls that sports provide life lessons. It was a positive experience, and I encourage any team, if they have the chance, to go on a trip together.”
For the players, it was a trip of a lifetime.
“It really bonded us as a team — trying new things together and experiencing all of these weird new things as a team,” said Thompson. “We spent a whole week nonstop together. We all got along so well the whole time and have a lot of inside jokes now.”
That close connection showed as Parisi finished Thompson’s thought. “It was the most fun we have ever had,” said Parisi. “We were all really upset to leave. It was a memorable experience, and we would all do it again in a heartbeat.”
While Thompson, Parisi and the other Wilson seniors won’t be along to push for a trip next year, Curran believes this could be the start of a new tradition.
“After being there and the people that we met and just seeing how happy and excited the girls were, I think it is something that will continue if the girls continue to put in the work to do it and we have a lot of parent support,” the coach said.
This article has been updated to correctly attribute two quotes to senior Pearl Strand.