Baseball in Bhutan!

Bhutan 278 We had an extraordinary morning at the Jigme Namgyal Lower Secondary School in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. We arrived a the school in time for their morning assembly, which included all 1,295 students. The school’s principal, Tshering Dupka, invited us to address the student body, which was a real honor. It was so impressive to see all these great kids dressed in the standard clothing of the Bhutanese.

Bhutan 153 After the assembly, the principal of the school gave us an overview of his school and the status of education in his country. Bhutan realizes that it’s behind much of the world in education and commerce, and is making a real push to develop world-class education. It’s free for all children in the country, and most children go to school for at least ten grades. The principal said that most of the children in his school go on to college, and almost 50% attend a college in another country. Also, this school has more girls than boys attending, which isn’t the norm for much of Asia.

Bhutan 171 Our advance baseball “scouting report” on the children at this school was that they are good athletes, but had only played baseball once before. I was a little nervous about working with kids with limited experience, so I brought some whiffle balls. I’ve seen the damage a hard baseball can do to the uninitiated, and figured whiffle balls would be safe. Well, once the kids started playing, it was evident that they had great baseball talent, and the whiffle balls never came out!!!

Bhutan 210 Boy, these kids could hit. And hit. And hit. I’ve never seen so many pounded balls in my life. They hit as though they spent hours each week in a batting cage (and, trust me, there are NO batting cages within thousands of miles of Bhutan). I asked if they played lots of cricket, but their main sports are basketball and football (our soccer). Maybe it’s something in the drinking water in Bhutan, but the batters just sent pitch after pitch deep into the outfield. And, given that I was doing the pitching, I felt lucky to come through without a baseball planted in my forehead! Their throwing and catching isn’t nearly so far along, but I was stunned to see kids with little baseball experience so good at something as difficult as batting.

Bhutan 212 The school is committed to athletics for its students, and is planning to add baseball to the sports programs it sponsors. This team will immediately be the best in their nation! The kids were so enthusiastic about baseball, and it’s great that the school gives them encouragement and support for sports. We brought them a full set of baseball equipment (bats, balls, bases, catcher’s gear, batting helmets, and gloves) so they have the means to develop their skills. Our box with Red Sox hats didn’t arrive in time for the morning’s baseball, but somehow made it to Thimpu that afternoon, and we delivered them the next morning (see picture below, where I’m giving hats to Head of School Tshering Dupka.

Bhutan 297 While there is lots of enthusiasm for baseball at the school, their athletic director, Pema Dorji understandably has no baseball background. He made a suggestion which I’m going to think hard about. He asked if there would ever be the possibility that someone like him could attend a program to train coaches. He clearly is excited about baseball, but knows he needs more experience at running a baseball program. The idea of bringing a good-sized group of overseas coaches (many of whom we’re meeting this year) for a week-long program on coaching skills, perhaps tossing in attending a Major League Baseball game, is very intriguing.

Bhutan 205 I want to express special thanks to our friend and colleague, Kristie Jochmann, who somehow found this great school in Bhutan and organized a baseball get together for us. She is so creative, but also so amazing at making these things happen. Also, we got great support from a terrific non-profit in Philadelphia, Pitch In for Baseball, who helped us get baseball equipment to the school. I could go on for ten pages on the challenges posed by in shipping things to these countries and getting them through customs. Somehow, it ought to be easy for Americans traveling abroad to give things to children in the countries we visit, but that’s not the case today.

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