Yale Athletics prioritizes travel opportunities

Though most students opt to travel abroad during the summer months, student-athletes on the men’s basketball and hockey teams journeyed across the world to compete this fall.

For the players on the teams, the trips were about more than just the competitions. When abroad, the Bulldogs paired their time on the court and in the rink with tours around cities and visits to cultural and educational sights. This fall, the men’s basketball and hockey teams visited China and Ireland, respectively. Though the trips pose logistical challenges for sports administrators, including the newly appointed Director of Athletics Vicky Chun, they hope to facilitate opportunities for Yale’s teams to travel internationally.

“Traveling abroad is important for our student-athletes, both because it allows them to forge stronger bonds with their teammates, and also because of the educational and cultural experience [that these trips] provide,” Chun told the News during an interview last month. “It is one of my goals for student-athletes to get the same opportunities that are presented to Yale students who are not athletes. I want our student-athletes to be able to experience the world, just like other students do during their years here.”

The hockey team returned home on Sunday after its six-day trip to Dublin and Belfast, which culminated in a third-place finish at the Northern Irish Connections Friendship Four Tournament. The tournament, founded in 2015, annually hosts four NCAA Division I hockey teams who compete for the Belpot Trophy. This year, the Bulldogs battled against Boston University, UConn and No. 11 Union College for the coveted trophy.

But when off the rink, members of the team attended a reception with the mayor of Belfast and participated in tours of the Belfast City Hall and the Guinness storehouse. The players also visited the Fleming Fulton School, where they played games with the younger students and answered their questions about the student-athlete experience at Yale. On Thanksgiving Day, the Bulldogs feasted at a Thanksgiving dinner gala complete with local delicacies and handcrafted ginger ale.

Hockey players interviewed by the News expressed excitement about the educational and cultural opportunities that the trip provided. Forward Ted Hart ’19 said that it was “refreshing” to practice outside of New Haven and  visit historic sites and monuments. Defender Brian Matthews ’21 agreed that the trip was a “great overall experience to learn about the culture in Ireland” and an opportunity to compete in front of an avid fan base in Belfast.

“We all really enjoyed the trip, and found it to be a great experience to travel to Ireland,” Matthews said. “We had the opportunity to do a guided tour in Dublin, which was really fun to learn about some of Dublin’s history and see the area. My favorite part was visiting the Crumlin Road Gaol, a prison in Belfast that [has been converted into] a museum, where we got a tour of the jail and were able to hear the history of some of the people who were once incarcerated there.”

Both Matthews and Hart told the News that they thought other teams should also get the chance to travel abroad.

Director of Sports Publicity Steve Conn, who accompanied the hockey team to Belfast, told the News that it is not uncommon for Yale’s teams to travel abroad. Conn added that the crew and track and field teams regularly travel to England for competitions. In addition to the teams that travelled this year, the field hockey, golf and women’s lacrosse teams have also ventured to foreign countries.

Earlier this fall, the basketball team traveled to China to compete in the Pac-12 China Game. The team toured the Alibaba headquarters, enjoyed a riverbend cruise and visited museums during its one-week trip, which included stops in Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai. Before the trip, basketball players participated in language and culture classes as well as weekly workshops where they learned about Chinese history and practiced basic Chinese phrases.

“The trip was a tremendous learning experience for the team,” Assistant Director of Athletics Timothy Bennett, who helped plan the trip, told the News. “It was about more than basketball. The players were exposed to and educated on Chinese history, culture and economics. In addition, it was an opportunity for them and the Yale administrators on the trip to share with the Chinese people the value of education and athletics.”

According to both Chun and Deputy Director of Athletics Ann-Marie Guglieri, it is more challenging for winter sport teams —including the basketball and hockey teams — to travel abroad because their competitions extend over two academic semesters. Other Yale teams only compete over a single academic semester.

Still, Chun told the News that one of her priorities is to ensure that winter teams receive the same opportunities to travel abroad as Yale’s teams that compete in the fall and spring. Chun added that she would “love” for all student-athletes to travel abroad once in their Yale careers, regardless of whether or not the trip takes place with a team.

“I am always in communication with our coaches regarding all aspects of their program, [which also] includes a possibility of going abroad,” Chun said. 

The men’s soccer team visited Italy in the spring.

Lorenzo Arvanitis | lorenzo.arvanitis@yale.edu

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