Learning On The Run: New Zealand’s Phoebe Stephenson

By Jeremy McDonald

jeremymcdonald73@gmail.com

SCIO, Ore.–Auckland, New Zealand is the biggest city in the country with about 1.5 million people in it’s city limits.

Phoebe Stephenson calls Auckland her hometown and where she goes to school, though most of her family lives just outside of the major cities limits in a little agricultural town similar to the one she currently is in, Scio.

The little towns like the Stephenson’s family is from have a variety of Maori-language towns like Wakimauku and Otahuhu as Maori is the second-most spoken language in the country behind English to the English-named towns like Massey and Glen Eden. So the small-town life like a Scio isn’t too much of an issue for the New Zealand-native.

“I think Auckland as my home because that’s where my friends is, that’s where my school is. I’ll say it’s a pretty busy place, very welcoming and warm,” said Stephenson. “Those little suburbs are like Scio, so it’s kind of isolated by itself. People don’t really use cars, we get around through Public Transport.

“Where my family is from, it’s very agricultural. Everyone’s very friendly, it kind of sounds like a country-song town.”

When you watch in practice, in games even, Stephenson is always cheering her teammates. Her personality friendly, after interviewing her I found myself talking to her for five minutes about random things about New Zealand and accidently keeping her away from practice.

She jokes about Australia, that near-by country that shares the English Commonwealth and are like siblings to New Zealand.

“We love Australia…Everything in Australia wants to kill you. You don’t want to go there,” smiled and joked Stephenson who was born in Perth, Australia *cough, cough*.

The weather in New Zealand can feature snow to the south of the country to the tropical up towards the north of the country island.

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Stephenson going up for a lay-up in practice (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

At the start of this current school year, Stephenson came to America as a foreign exchange student and the 16-year-old was surprised in the cultural differences when it came to parents and the patriotism.

“In New Zealand, when you turn about my age you stop depending on your parents,” “Stop telling them where your going, your suppose to catch public transport, you don’t have to let them know where you are and coming here it’s been a super big thing. Everyone cares about you, wants to know where you are.

“The patriotism here is a big thing. In New Zealand, when you do something right you play it off, ‘ah it’s good man it isn’t me. It’s a bunch of people’. In America, people are so proud of their country, they’re proud of their teammates. The flag, we have nothing like that and I love that culture here and it’s the greatest country in the world and I love it, that’s something I would love to have in New Zealand.”

Another thing she mentioned was school spirit. Back home, there’s next to no school spirit, you go to school and you learn. Same with college sports with the exception of Rugby which is a National Sport and the All Blacks Rugby team honors the Maori Heritage with the performance of The Haka. YouTube it.

But for Stephenson, back home she took advantage of the vast quantity of water by swimming marathons, i.e. 5K’s, 10K’s, etc. So it made it difficult for her to take full advantage of the water here Stateside outside of a possible swim team which Scio doesn’t have one, but she’ll go to the pool on occasion to log some time in the water to train.

So Stephenson did Volleyball and fellow foreign exchange student, Lukas Binau of Denmark, convinced her to try basketball.

“A huge one,” laughed Stephenson on learning basketball. “For one the rules of basketball, that was great. A couple of the other foreign (exchange students) are also playing basketball. Especially Lukas, he’s the tall Danish-looking one, he plays and he’s really good and he’s like, ‘Phoebe, you got to do this sport’ and I was like, ‘ok’.

“I did Volleyball, I didn’t think I was going to do any sports, but I did volleyball and I loved the team-bonding and seeing the team and it’s so addictive. Like, ‘I’m so proud of this, everyone’s doing awesome’ and everyone’s like, ‘Phoebe, you got to do basketball now’, and I was ‘oh I’m going to be absolute crap’.”

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Varsity Head Coach Jim White (second from the left) talking to the Varsity squad during practice Thursday (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

Head Varsity Coach Jim White was taking back when he heard that Stephenson, with no prior knowledge or experience of basketball, wanted to come out and play for him during this season; but is impressed with how Stephenson has slowly picked up the game on the run as she has.

“When she first came out we heard we had a foreign exchange student, it’s ‘oh can she play basketball?’. She came out and she really can’t and she said she was studying on YouTube and all that kind of stuff,” described White the first time Stephenson came out for the team. “But if you saw her when she first came onto the court to now, she’s so much better. She wants to learn, she’s always asking questions.

“he doesn’t play very much, but when she’s on the bench and stuff, she’s always cheering her teammates on and I told her I want her on Varsity because we could be losing by 30 points on JV and you would never know that you’re down with her because she’s always cheering. I think she’s been a great addition to us.”

White mentioned about Stephenson having nerves whenever she gets called upon to enter the game, but For Stephenson, she sees the love for the game around her that she doesn’t want to mess it up for those around her.

“I think it’s that love for the sport and that intense team, ‘hey we’re going to win this’ I think it’s a little apprehensive for me. I don’t want to mess up for people because the dedication to the sport is amazing,” said Stephenson. “But when I do play, it’s really fun, it’s a really good feeling to have some control over something and it’s really good; plus I’m kind of getting Rugby withdrawals and seeing the girls shoving each other off it’s like, ‘hell yeah’.”

Through traveling with the team, to schools like Chemawa Indian School in Keizer, Oregon or Blanchet Catholic, Salem Academy in Salem or Gervais just north of Salem, the fact people are coming up to her and trying to get to know her and her culture that she grew up around has been something amazing.

“It’s really been amazing, I don’t know if it’s the whole being foreign thing but every school I’ve gone and every person I’ve met so far in this entire league have been super interesting in my culture and been interesting in me. It’s ‘oh your the girl with the accent’ and been so nice, it’s actually lovely,” said Stephenson with a grin.

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Stephanson talking her turn at the free throw-line at the end of practice with the team watching to the left off camera shot (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

As the season begins to wind-down with the Lady Crusaders Friday night, Jefferson Tuesday at Jefferson and Colton at Scio next Thursday before closing out the season versus the Lady Cavaliers of Blanchet Saturday and the Lady Braves of Chemawa the following Tuesday; the basketball journey of Stephenson is coming to an end, but maybe she’ll take to the track to run the 800 meter, 1,500 meter and 3,000 meter races for the Lady Loggers in the Spring.

“Even though I love the sport, I love it. I think it’s just the community around the sport in Scio which is going to make me do sport in the spring. Every time I’m like, ‘ah no, this is the last time I’m going to play sport’, but I said that for Volleyball,” starts Stephenson. “I’m thinking about trying long-distance for track because it can’t be anymore different than from (swimming) marathons. It’s the same mental mindset.”

“I took a look at baseball, but I saw a girl come in during the first week with a bruise that big (pointing to a softball-size spot on her calf) and I was like, ‘ah no thank you, I’m going to take a solid pass on that one,” she added with a laugh.

As for the American Experience overall, she’s enjoying it even though she said that one thing she was expecting more of that the rest of us here in America dreads and that is more homework.

“I like it, it’s different, I have sisters here for the first-time, I got brothers back in New Zealand,” said Stephenson. “A host family that’s amazing, a school that’s amazing. The education is a little wack, I was expecting a lot more homework.”

Photos from practice (Photos by Jeremy McDonald)

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