Softball team travels to Cuba over winter break


Simpson College’s softball team traveled to Cuba over winter break, where they did volunteer work and faced off against a Cuban softball team. Courtesy of Simpson Softball

by Belle Ward, Feature Editor

The Simpson College softball team experienced games, service, and gratitude during the winter break trip to Cuba. The 32 players spent a week in the Caribbean island with their family members, making a group of 70 people.

“We had three goals on the trip,” said Head Coach Brent Matthias. “The No. 1 was cultural immersion, the second one was service and then the third goal was team building.”

Since softball players may not have the ability to travel while in college, because the softball season takes place during the summer, Matthias appreciated giving the team the chance to travel abroad during a break.

“I really think learning outside of the classroom is an opportunity for our students to grow,” the coach said.

The team faced a culture shock when arriving in Cuba, as the opposing team shared gloves and often only had two bats for the players to use.

“We realized there was more to this trip than just going to play softball,” Matthias said.

The team also volunteered while in Cuba, which included weeding an organic lettuce farm. This service project helped the team bond and collaborate with one another.

“How do you tackle any challenge? One weed at a time,” Matthias said.

He said the Cubans the group interacted with were genuine and thoughtful and caused the team to think more about their interactions with others.

“Some of the same things, even though we were in Havana, Cuba, related to Simpson College and our mission,” Matthias said. “Helping others grow, being there for each other, and what that looks like maybe in another country.”

Matthias said softball is beginning to grow in popularity in Cuba, making the Simpson softball team’s visit even more significant.

“We’re the very first women’s softball team in Havana to play on a goodwill tour,” Matthias said.

The Cuban team gave the Simpson players a vase to establish friendship between the teams.

“We’re very excited to get that in our trophy case to show people,” he said.

Matthias hopes through participation in the sport and experiences like this trip will help the players become leaders.

“The way to do that is for them to see different cultures, different ways of life, so they can absorb them all and then make their own decisions and base it off of those things,” Matthias said.

Freshman Kayley Thomas learned about the potential to travel to Cuba before she began her first year, which inspired her to attend Simpson. The trip to Cuba widened her worldview, while also allowing her to become closer to her teammates.

“You were not always with the same people that you always hang out with back at college because there was a lot more opportunity for freshmen to be with upperclassmen,” Thomas said.

She also realized how privileged she is to play softball with equipment such as cleats and other necessary gear.

“They only have two bats for their team, and I have my own personal bat,” Thomas said. “They don’t have those, but they are still able to play. I take the game for granted at times.”

Matthias chose Cuba because none of the players nor their families had ever visited.

“We wanted to go somewhere where it was new to not only the players, but new to their relatives as well,” Matthias said.

Senior Ashley Allen was thankful for the opportunity to appreciate her quality of life.

“Even if we don’t think we have the best or the most of something, going down there really showed that we have more than the majority of the world does,” she said.

The change in environment had a big impact on Allen. The fields were grassy and the ground had uneven spots—but that didn’t stop the other team from showing off their talent.

“They were extremely good,” Allen said. “We won three out of our four games, but I’ve thought about it a lot, that if they had the state-of-the-art equipment like we did, they could have competed with almost anybody in the United States.”

Allen was placed in the catching position with the best pitcher in Havana.

“I had two innings where I got to catch for her, and we had to have a translator come over to us and she would tell him what pitches she threw. And then she let me come up with the calling signals for us to communicate,” Allen said.

Even though there was a language barrier, she enjoyed playing with the pitcher.

“If she came back to the United States to play, she would be one of the top pitchers in our conference,” Allen said.

Since the Cuban teams did not have the same equipment, the Simpson team did not hesitate in helping them out.

“We donated a bag of helmets, some bats, a bucket of balls, and catching gear,” senior Kayla Reusche said. “We all took our cleats right off our feet and just handed them to them. They were so thankful for it. Some of them were getting emotional, and started to cry.”

“That was really cool, to see how thankful they are for shoes,” she added.

Reusche also said she was inspired by the team’s ability to split up and play the game.

“On the last game that we had, we combined and mixed teams. Some of the Cubans came over to our dugout, and some of us went over into the Cuban’s dugout, so we were all playing right next to each other,” Reusche said.

Although the culture shock was startling, the team was quickly able to work together.

“I think we all came together a lot more because there wasn’t any cell service, or Wi-Fi, so nobody was on their phones and we had to actually talk to each other,” Reusche said.