BY MIKE URSERY
Harrisburg High School hosted an event last week that is becoming an annual tradition.
Harrisburg boys basketball coach Kyle Fisher and Harrisburg girls basketball coach Ryan Richardson, along with other members of the Harrisburg staff, played hosts to the Belgium Youth Sports Exchange. The Belgium Youth Sports Lions, the name for both the boys and girls basketball teams that visited Harrisburg on July 12, played in the Harrisburg gym for a fifth straight year.
“Some years ago, the former chairman brought us in contact with people from Harrisburg,” Koen Van Herzeele, current chairman for the Youth Sports Lions, said. “Because of the good experiences, good games and nice people here, we are coming back every year.”
The boys basketball Youth Sports Lions played two scrimmages, one against Harrisburg and one against Fayette. They defeated Harrisburg 58-32, behind a combination of accurate shooting, timely passes and stiff defense.
“They really put it to us this year,” Fisher said. “They’re a great team, and they’re not going to come all the way over here and play a bunch of teams from Missouri if they can’t play. That first part of the second half, they really came out hot, and we just couldn’t get anything going offensively and struggled with their pressure a little bit.”
Fisher said his team hadn’t played for a month when they took the court against the Lions. The Bulldogs were worn down by Belgium’s physicality in the second half, he said.
“I think that’s the biggest thing, basketball-wise, to learn to play against a team that’s so physical and so aggressive,” Fisher said.
Fisher said that the scrimmage between Harrisburg and the Lions is turning into a friendly rivalry. His players ask every summer when they will play against Belgium, he said.
“It’s just a great experience for both their kids and our kids,” Fisher said. “If you’re from Harrisburg, you don’t get to meet a bunch of people from Europe. (It’s good) getting to meet people from a different culture, and being able to experience that. They have great kids and we have great kids. After the game, win or lose, there’s no bitterness from either team. There’s good camaraderie from our guys and their guys. It’s good for our guys to experience people from a different culture.”
Fayette played a scrimmage against the Lions, losing 66-64 in a thriller that took regulation plus three overtimes to decide. The Falcons took advantage of Belgium’s aggressiveness, getting to the free throw line often.
The Lions knocked down eight 3-pointers in the first half, but Fayette continually found an answer for their hot shooting.
“Obviously, we showed a lot of heart,” Fayette head coach Jon Bishop said. “We have some pretty good players. We have to get some things working on the right side and being able to play a little bit better together, and gel a little bit. We had a good summer. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them, and they’ve enjoyed getting to know me a little bit.”
Bishop was named the new head coach for the Falcons last May. He spent 10 seasons as the head coach of the Higbee Tigers before accepting the head coaching job at Fayette.
The Harrisburg Lady Bulldogs played a scrimmage game during the day, losing 45-18.
“It’s a really unique opportunity for us,” Richardson said. “They play a totally different style than what 99 percent of teams in the US play. They’re really, really good at fundamentals. They’re good at getting the ball down the court and being fluid with the ball. That’s not something we see very often.”
Herzeele said the main reason for the Youth Sports Lions to travel to the United States is to play basketball, but they arrange time for sightseeing, shopping and fun. He said that the players spent eight nights with American families in Hermann, Missouri.
It’s a full experience for them,” Herzeele said. “We play against some very good teams. I see a lot of our players, when they go back home you see that they learned something, that they play the next season better.”
Herzeele said the sightseeing tour began in Chicago. The players were able to take a tour of the United Center where they Chicago Bulls play. They also were able to see the Bulls’ practice facility.
The players also went ziplining in Alton, Illinois. They made time to see the Arch in St. Louis, as well.
“We also have one family day while we’re staying with the host families,” Herzeele said. “The families take them to several places for enjoyment.
Herzeele said the boys played 10 games while in the United States, while the girls played nine games. They started in Seneca, Illinois, followed by games in Troy, Illinois.
The tour continued with several stops in Missouri. They played games in Hermann, Washington, Union, St. Clair and Harrisburg.