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International Athletes Swing into American Culture

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ZEBULON — Dozens ofSpecial Olympicsathletes spent the evening in a different stadium Tuesday night. They caught a whiff of hot dogs, heard the crack of the bat and cheered as loud as they wanted.

For many athletes, America is the nation of dreams, so what better place to visit than a field of dreams at Five County Stadium?

Zebulon, North Carolina, is one place that delegates from countries like Singapore, Croatia and Israel never thought they would visit, but that is where they spent their first full evening in the United States enjoying America's favorite pastime.

Special Olympics athletes hit the playing field under the bright lights of Five County Stadium, but they are not competing in the World Games yet.

Baseball fans welcomed Special Olympics delegates to a Carolina Mudcats game. Most of them have never seen a baseball game before.

"Some of them saw it on the TV, but they are very excited and curious about it," said Israeli delegate Adadi Jaeger. "It's something new and it's not that familiar in Israel."

The game may be new to them, but they were quick studies. More than 100 athletes are staying in nearby host towns soaking up the local culture, and enjoying the warm Southern welcome.

"They are very nice," says Singapore athlete Joanne Chua. "You know everybody says, 'Hi, how are you?' I think they are very friendly and nice."

They were spectators at the baseball game, but in a few days the athletes will be competing in the World Games, and their host families will be in the stands cheering for them.

"After you are with them for a very short period of time, you develop a certain attachment to them," says Granville County host Tim McKelly. "These are people from some other country that you think are going to be a whole lot different than yourself, but really they are quite similar, and have a lot of the same interests we do, and you just develop an attachment to them."

The athletes spent the afternoon engaging in another favorite American pastime -- shopping. They went to Wal-Mart, and Wednesday they are heading to Crabtree Valley Mall.


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