Top players from both the North Hardin Lady Trojans and Central Hardin Lady Bruins will play volleyball together this week during a mission trip to Belize.
North Hardin coach Jessica Gunby organized the crew, which will spend a week touring Belize as they play nightly matches, share devotionals at their hotel and experience a new culture.
“There was a need there to bring a volleyball team down, so I want to go there, take a group of girls and share devotionals with them each night and hopefully see my kid grow in their faith, as well as be able to go over there and share the love of God with the people in Belize,” Gunby said.
The students on the trip are Jaylyn Lyons, Chelsey Davis, Taylor Mather, Taylor McGaugh, Caroline Vowels and Kat Kennedy from North Hardin, and Maddie Ford, Alex Lanz and Tori Steele from Central Hardin.
Gunby and North Hardin graduate Amanda Patterson will coach.
“It’s a good experience for me to go as a coach and hopefully share with these girls, and witness to these girls, and show them love and hopefully see them grow in their relationship with Christ,” Gunby said.
The trip was organized by Sports Reach, which executive director Robby Speers said has sent groups to more than 25 countries and around the U.S.
Speer said Sports Reach has organized several trips to Belize, which boarders Mexico on the gulf coast, including basketball, baseball and softball.
Gunby was coach on a Sports Reach softball trip to Puerto Rico.
For several of the players, this will be the first mission trip and first time out of the country.
Vowels, entering her junior year, is one.
She said she’s gotten advice from her grandma, who has done mission trips to Honduras and India.
“She said it’s sometimes scary, but to be strong in my faith,” Vowels said. “I hope in that week to spread Christianity and hope to change lives while we’re down there.”
Steele, entering her senior year, has done domestic mission trips with College Heights United Methodist, but never been outside the country.
“I’m kinda nervous, being my first time out of the country and going on a long plane ride, but other than that I’m pretty excited,” Steele said.
The trip will prioritize both Christianity and volleyball. Opponents for the nightly matches are still unknown, but past groups in other sports have competed against national teams, Speer said.
The Hardin County team practiced together before the trip, to get their volleyball in sync and to get to know one another.
Most of the players had some familiarity, either from competing during the high school season or from club teams, but the union of North Hardin and Central Hardin players will be the first time they’ve competed together.
Steele said she’s looking forward to learning new techniques, from her teammates and from the teams they challenge while in Belize, and to sharing her love for the sport in a new country.
It will likely be very different than they’re used.
The team grew up playing in air-conditioned gyms, with wooden floors and new nets. Their matches in Belize will likely be in open-air venues on less-forgiving surfaces.
Belize is special because of those difference. Speer said there won’t be any American fast-food restaurants to visit during the trip, and many of the queries he fielded during a question-and-answer session with parents and players recently involved the dining options during the trip.
He recommended they travel with plenty of snacks.
“Everything is theirs,” Speer said of the Belizean infrastructure. “Tourism is ecotourism. It’s about the water and about the trees. It’s a pretty place, but it’s a sloooow pace … don’t hurry about anything.”
The team will spend days visiting schools and children’s homes, playing matches in the evening and visiting tourist locations in the country.
They will also learn about themselves, the greater world and their faith.