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Midwestern ski teams work to make international visitors feel at home

By Angel Idowu
September 6, 2014

Ward Baxter doesn’t speak German, so he gets his wife and mother-in-law to help him communicate with the Belgian skiers the Rockford Ski Broncs are hosting for the 2014 World Water Ski show Tournament.

“So that doesn’t make it too difficult. We provide them with anything they may need, and answer whatever questions they have,” Baxter said.

He is Belgium’s host director.

“We’ll be having a show for them before the championships in Loves Park,” Baxter said. “We want them to get that practice in of performing with an audience. We want to make everything for them as easy as possible.”

Midwestern ski teams are hosting teams for the tournament:

—Mad City Ski Team in Madison, Wisconsin, and Rock Aqua Jays in Janesville, Wisconsin, hosting the United States team.

—Webfooters in Fremont, Wisconsin, hosting the Chinese team.

—Wonder Lake Water Ski Show Team in Wonder Lake, Illinois, hosting the Canadian team.

—The Rockford Ski Broncs in Rockford, Illinois, hosting the Belgian team.

—The Backwater Gamblers in Rock Island, Illinois, hosting the Australian team.

Host duties include providing necessary ski equipment and organizing housing, food and transportation.

Other host duties are dependent upon the specific needs of each individual team.

“Hosting team USA with the Rock Aqua Jays doesn’t require too much,” Matt Heilman, of the Mad-City Ski team said. “We just provide them with extra ski equipment and make a donation towards their team. That’s pretty much it.”

Hosts for the international teams, however, have a different experience.


With a language barrier thrown into the mix, hosting takes a lot of planning and special attention to detail.

“We are really in depth and hands on with them,” Melissa Hanser, liaison for team China said. “We’ve got a really intense language barrier, so we have to spend extra time working with them and planning to make sure they understand everything. The rules and how they will be judged is different from China, so they’re not as familiar as the other teams.”

“They have an interpreter, but she doesn’t understand water skiing, so communicating with them requires a lot of extra work.”

The two teams stayed connected through social media before the Chinese team arrived.

“When USA teams ski in China, there is a particular contact person we have who has helped me a lot with hosting China this year,” Hanser said. “Their coach also speaks pretty good English, so I talk with her a lot.”

Even with the language barrier, the Webfooters are thrilled to be hosting team China a second time.

“They’ll get in some practicing time on the site beforehand,” Hanser said. “That way, we can answer any questions they may have, or just do what is needed. We serve as a resource.”

The Webfooters will take them grocery shopping and stay in the same hotel in case of any of problems.

“We want them to be comfortable,” Hanser said. “This is awesome to be a part of, so we will do whatever we can do to keep them comfy and coming back.”


One of the closest international relationships is between members of the Backwater Gamblers and team Australia.

“One of the Backwater Gamblers and a member from team Australia are actually getting married, so it just kind of worked out,” said Gail Burrill, liaison to team Australia. “We really love having them back again this year.”

“One of the families from the team has skied with us here in the past,” Burrill said. “Then, back in 2012, they asked us to host them, and the relationship just grew.”

“It’s a lot of sacrifice,” Burrill said. “It takes a lot of time, effort, energy, planning, everything to prepare for this, but we do it because it’s fun.”

“We love having them,” Burrill said. “Both teams are happy to get to interact with one another again.”

While there are no wedding bells between team China and the Webfooters, a bond is growing.

“We’re always talking on social media. Constantly staying connected has really developed a strong relationship between us,” Hanser, China host coordinator, said.

The Webfooters also plan to have a cookout for anyone on the team interested in meeting members from team China.

“We want the bond to expand and grow,” Hanser said.

The connection between Wonder Lake Water Ski Show Team and team Canada has roots in Asia.

“My brother skied in Malaysia with Canada’s team leader,” said Todd Rishling, head of sponsorship for the Canadian team. “So that relationship was already there, it just massively expanded once we started hosting them.”

“We’re always in touch,” Rishling said. “Wonder Lake is known for being pretty rowdy, but the Canada team beats us there. So we have a really great time when we’re together.”

Wonder Lake plans to host a cookout when team Canada arrives.

“We want them to feel welcome,” Rishling said. “We’re glad to have them back.”

The Ski Broncs share a similar story as they step up as first-year hosts for team Belgium.

“One of my friends skied with a Belgium team member, so when they were here in 2012, we provided them with additional support, even though we weren’t hosting them,” Baxter said.

“They asked us to host them this year, and we are thrilled,” Baxter said. “We’re going to have a big cookout and bring the teams together so we can all get to know each other better.”

Ramon Horton, Australia’s team manager, was team manager for Australia in 2012, too, and said the world tournament is not something to be missed.

“It’s the only time you get the collection of the best show skiers from around the world all at one time,” Horton said.

“People that couldn’t make it in 2012 made sure they didn’t miss out on this year’s tournament. I can see this year’s turnout being even better than before.”