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Arlington softball players travel to China

ARLINGTON — Three Arlington softball players got to take the trip of a lifetime during their winter break, as they traded the familiar sights of their hometown during the holidays for the landmarks and baseball fields of China.

From Dec. 27 through Jan. 5, the Washington Cultural Exchange’s softball trip to China sent secondbase player Brittany Bovard, pitcher Ronnie Ladines and shortstop Rachel Backlund to Guangzhou as part of a group of 27 high school players from across the state of Washington, so that they could compete against local Chinese players.

According to Kathy Ladines, the mother of 15-year-old sophomore Ronnie and one of the group’s chaperones, the girls were selected for the group by their softball coach based on their “good moral standing” and qualifications as softball players. Each girl was then expected to raise $3,000 to cover the costs of her own transportation.

“We did car washes, asked friends and family, and did a lot of odd jobs,” Bovard said.

“We did a lot of babysitting,” said Backland, who’s a 17-year-old junior like Bovard.

After the girls had arrived in China and been allowed to rest and adjust their biological clocks to their new time zone, which was eight hours removed from home, they were split into three teams for the Guangzhou International Youth Softball Tournament. Their opponents included one team of players aged 12-14 years, another team of players aged 15-17 years, and a team of professional softball players in their 20s and 30s.

“The younger teams weren’t as good,” Bovard said. “Their skills were a little lacking. The pro team was so good, though. Their pitching and fielding was really graceful and smooth.”

“The younger teams were pretty poor,” Kathy Ladines said. “We actually donated some of our gear to them, since they didn’t have as much. The professional team had good hitters and were fast at stealing bases.”

“They hit really far into the outfield,” Backlund said. “They didn’t have any infield hits.”

“Everyone was so disciplined,” Bovard said. “There wasn’t any messing around in the dugout. Everyone was in the zone and focused on the game. There wasn’t any talking.”

The American girls also made time to visit students from the Guangzhou Xiguan Foreign Language School, a local high school, so that both groups of students could visit the city’s museum and other famous sites, including the Five Ram Statue that symbolizes Guangzhou and the Nine Pedestrian Road street-shopping district that showcases traditional Cantonese architecture.

“It wasn’t like the Chinese food at Panda Express,” laughed Bovard, as she recalled dinner at the city’s Lianxianglou Restaurant. “I missed tacos so much.”

Turning serious, all three girls agreed with their chaperone that, while China’s standards of urban cleanliness are different from what they’re used to in the United States, they all appreciated the social courtesies which the Chinese demonstrated.

“They have so much respect for their elders,” Bovard said. “Their players actually bow to the umpire. Players yell at the umpire here.”

“They respected us so much too,” Ronnie Ladines said. “Everyone smiled at us and was so excited to see us.”

“The Chinese were so welcoming that I think they took even more pictures of the girls than the girls took of China,” Kathy Ladines laughed.

Guangzhou was not the only destination on their trip. Once they’d completed the tournament, they traveled to Beijing, with one of their first stops being the Great Wall of China.

“I remember watching ‘Mulan’ as a kid and seeing the Great Wall in that film, but it’s so much bigger in real life than you’d think,” Bovard said. “It’s not tall, but it’s forever long and it’s so curvy that it’s like climbing a mountain.”

Ronnie Ladines got a kick out of visiting the Forbidden City and learning the story behind its 9,999 rooms.

“Nine is a lucky number over there,” Ronnie Ladines said. “If the Emperor chose a wife at the age of 12, and she never spent more than one night in the same room, she still wouldn’t leave until she was 27 years old.”

Both Ronnie and Kathy Ladines also enjoyed seeing the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics, including the “Water Cube” where Michael Phelps won his gold medals. As for Backlund, she reflected on the beauty of the Temple of Heaven, with its gold inlaid carvings.

The girls returned home with a newfound appreciation for American amenities, ranging from drinkable tap water to freedom of speech, but they also reiterated their fondness for the respect that Chinese youths show to their elders.

“We take a lot for granted,” Kathy Ladines said. “America is so young as a country. When you walk along the Great Wall, you realize that you’re walking on the same stones that were once used to protect that country from the Mongolians. Compared to them, we’re just getting started.”

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