Richard Bearskin will undoubtedly have some interesting stories to tell of how he spent a portion of his summer holidays.
The 15-year-old baseball player, who lives in Villa Park, Calif., has been selected to represent the United States in a People to People Sports Ambassador Program.
As part of the program, Bearskin, Wyandotte, will take part in a 10-day youth friendship tournament in Vienna, Austria.
Bearskin, who is completing ninth grade at Villa Park High School, will head overseas July 4.
“I haven’t been to Europe before,” said Bearskin, a member of the Orange County Diablos, a year-round travel team that primarily features players over 16. “But I think the best experience will be playing against guys from all over the world.”
Though he had to go through an interview process before being named to the American team, Bearskin and his family still don’t know who nominated him.
“It came out of the blue for us,” said Bearskin’s mother, Judy.
She guessed maybe a current or former coach or teacher nominated him, but nobody ever notified the family of the nomination.
And an effort to find out proved fruitless.
“We will never know,” Judy said. “(Program organizers) don’t give out that kind of information.”
Bearskin and his family members have been to various orientation meetings regarding the trip. “We have never seen anybody that we know there,” Judy said.
The People to People programs have been operating since 1956. Events have been staged on all seven continents.
And it’s not just sports ambassador programs that are run. People to People also operates programs for student ambassadors and citizen ambassadors as well as leadership programs.
This year’s Vienna ambassador program is expected to attract about 6,000 athletes in various sports.
The international educational sports opportunities are offered to students in grades 5 – 12.
Bearskin was one of 13 baseball players chosen for the American team. And he’s one of only two players from California on the squad.
He will not get to meet all his teammates until the trip. Yet he’s confident the U.S. side will fare rather well once it starts playing games, in part because of how well American squads have fared in previous international baseball competitions.
“I think we’ll probably win it,” said Bearskin, whose grandfather, Leaford Bearskin, is the chief of Oklahoma’s Wyandotte tribe. “I’ve met a couple of the players and I think we’ll have great chemistry.”
Bearskin believes the baseball competition will features as many as 25 countries. In order to play a few games per day, he said participants have been told to expect shortened matches, perhaps with a five inning maximum.
Regardless of how long the games are, Bearskin will in all likelihood be a rather tough player to go up against.
He’s regarded as an athlete worth keeping an eye on. That’s because, despite his age, he has an 80 mile an hour fastball.
“I’m one of the few (my age) that can throw that hard,” said Bearskin, who is hoping to graduate to the professional ranks.
But it’s only been within the past year that the velocity of his fastball has dramatically increased.
“I started going to pitching lessons. It went from 60 to 80 in four to five months.”
Bearskin has been taking weekly private lessons with Ken Luckham, a former professional pitcher, who toiled in the minor leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros.
“He taught me how to keep my body in one fluid motion and how to control my arm speed and my arm slot,” Bearskin said.
As for the Austrian trip, Bearskin will practice for a few days with his American teammates before they actually play a game.
Besides socializing with other sports ambassadors from around the world, Bearskin and other members of the U.S. squad will also have time for some sightseeing and opportunities to experience Viennese culture.
“It’s kind of a learning experience,” Bearskin said.
The sports ambassadors will also get to march in with their teammates during the event’s opening ceremonies.
People to People mandates include helping young people build self-confidence, establish lasting friendships and gain a better understanding of people and cultures from around the world.