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Wildfire touring through country
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The Camden Valley boys team offers up boomarangs from their native Australia before tipoff against Bulloch Academy Monday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff



    For some teams, traveling to play an out of region or out of state game can be difficult. The late nights and long travel hours aren’t for the faint of heart. However, the Wildfire youth basketball team of New South Wales, Australia took travel to an entirely new level for their 2015-2016 season.
Wildfire parents, players and coaches made the nearly 9,000-plus mile trip to the United States in order to experience American culture, and of course, American basketball. Monday afternoon, Bulloch Academy hosted teams from Camden Valley School In Australia.
The Gators middle school, junior varsity and varsity teams squared off against their international foes, but the experience goes deeper than basketball.
“I thought it would be fun for our kids to do. To lineup and hear both national anthems. We truly haven’t played an international team until tonight and I think it will be good for our kids to see how other kids do stuff and how they play the game of basketball,” said Bulloch Academy boys basketball coach Chandler Dennard. “The game of basketball is truly an international sport. These guys come over, and these guys can play.”
For the Wildfire, it’s the first time the team traveled to play other high school teams across the United States, said Wildfire head coach Michael Riberovsk.
    Although playing the game of basketball against U.S. teams is the main draw, the experience is more than lessons learned on the hardwood.
The team spent four days in Charlotte, North Carolina to see the Charlotte Hornets and Carolina Panthers play. For almost all of the players on the Wildfire, it was their first time attending a professional American football game.
    “It was our first time watching an NFL game and to see the Carolina Panthers play was just amazing. The stadium is unbelievable. It’s completely different in Australia,” Riberovsk said. “We have big stadiums in Australia, but nothing like the atmosphere here. Tthe part we loved to see is Cam Newton give a touchdown ball to the kids in the stand. That’s something we don’t do in Australia, but it’s something we need to learn.”
    After Monday’s games against Bulloch Academy, the Wildfire are scheduled to play Augusta Christian in Augusta tonight, then will travel to play at Frederica College. From there, the Wildfire will be back on the road and head to Orlando where they plan on spending some time at Universal Studios.
The Wildfire will spend a total of 16 days together on the road in America.
“We’ve been talking about doing this for many years. We wanted to do this for our kids,” Riberovsk said. “We have 79 people here and four teams so this was a great experience for all of us.”
Considering the amount of travel players and coaches have gone through for the Wildfire in the past few days, it’s no wonder the “Aussies” have gravitated towards one of America’s most popular cuisines—burgers.
    “We love the burgers,” said Jayden Riberovsk,17, a shooting guard on the Wildfire. “We really like that and the steaks. The steaks are really good.”
Jayden Riberovsk said coming to America and playing against tougher, more physical teams has made the Wildfire closer as a group.
The nearly 6-foot guard said the overall experience has been tiring, but well worth it.
“It’s a lot of fun. We can muck around and have a bit more fun and stay up late every night. Spending a couple of weeks together has definitely made us closer. We learn more about each other so it’s been very good,” Jayden Riberovsk said.
    The Wildfire travel by bus to take around 80 people from city to city and with all the sights and sounds the team has taken in, Coach Riberovsk said he won’t forget his experience at Bulloch Academy.
“The hospital is great. In fact, when I walked in the door (at Bulloch Academy) the lady at the front had a chat with me and she was just lovely. She was so pleased for us to come here and play,” Riberovsk said.
Riberovsk’s son had some similar sentiments.
    “People are so polite. They hold the door open and wait for the people behind them. I’ve enjoyed little things like that,” Jayden said.
    As a parting gift, the Gators staff treated the Wildfire and Wildfire family members to a post-game dinner.

    Horace Holloman may be reached at (912) 489-9408.