Suffolk’s sports stars go global

Published 10:10 pm Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I don’t know if Suffolk is unique in this category compared to other spots around the country but it’s become equal parts impressive and amusing to do my best to keep up with Suffolk youngsters “taking their talents” all over the nation and even around the world.

The trend has been noticeable recently among hockey players of both the field and ice varieties, some of whom are already in Europe and others of whom will travel across the Atlantic soon.

Last spring, Nansemond River (now James Madison) goalkeeper Stephanie Tarafas was on the U.S. U-19 field hockey team for a tour in Argentina and Lakeland (soon-to-be Old Dominion) midfielder Kelsey Smither was with the U-17 U.S. team in Uruguay. Smither’s currently with the U-21 U.S. team in Ireland and Germany this week.


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Travel north a while along I-95 or to any city with an NHL franchise and say “hockey,” and a sports fan will assume you mean “ice hockey,” perhaps barely even knowing such a thing as “field hockey” exists.

For most people in the area, ice hockey represents only an entertaining way to spend a Friday night, with the Norfolk Admirals playing some random minor league team or another. But for King’s Fork middle-schooler Ben Shapiro, the game will send him to Europe in April, where he will play goalie for an elite select, team during a three-nation, six-match tour.

Youth baseball and softball squads from Suffolk hit the road, seemingly headed all over the country, from spring to fall.

I would’ve been smart to set up a Suffolk News-Herald bureau office in a Starbucks in Omaha, Neb. for about 10 days last July. Suffolk had a select softball club, the Virginia Skyliners, in a national tournament and a father-son golf team, George and Harris Fischer, playing in the Special Olympics National Games, both in Nebraska, of all places, at basically the same time.

Suffolk AAU basketball teams, or Boo Williams teams with one or two Suffolk standouts on them, spend lots of the summer in Las Vegas, California and Florida.

Then I could go on to collegiate student-athletes. Just to limit it to the last couple weeks, King’s Fork and Nansemond River combined for four “March Madness” participants.

Former KF shortstop Leigh Sexton, now a junior at Longwood, and the Lady Lancer softball team were in Hawaii at the time of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The Lancers spent a night in an emergency shelter as the island was under a tsunami warning that fortunately came and went.

Great athletic feats and interesting stories can just as easily take place close to home, but sport is a unique vehicle, and an ever-faster one, for making the world seem smaller.