This article is part of series highlighting different organizations within NVTBL. We will be posting new articles each week.
After spending three summers traveling the world with America’s Team, an organization that takes youth sports teams to compete in different countries, Mark “Pudge” Gjormand had an idea to bring the same opportunity to Northern Virginia.
In 2011, MVP International was founded under the leadership of Gjormand and former Madison High School and Virginia Tech catcher Matt Foley and that summer took a group of local high school players to Germany for the first time. Since then, the program has sent teams from nine different sports to over 20 different countries.
This summer, Gjormand is excited to announce over 24 different international trips for baseball, softball, soccer, boys and girls basketball, lacrosse, golf, field hockey and ice hockey teams. Destinations include Belgium, Holland, Australia, Puerto Rico, Italy and other Central European countries. The program will also send a team to Japan for the first time this summer.
“Here I am seeing the world through baseball. It was unbelievable and I just wanted to share our experience and I knew we could really make a difference internationally.,” Gjormand said. “[MVP International] has really turned into something special and something we are proud of.”
Along with playing five or six games against native competition, players and their families will experience the best of the local culture over the course of eight days. All travel itineraries are handled by the organization's travel agent and are based on recommendations from prior trips.
“Our goal is simple. We want to make it the best experience a family has had,” Gjormand said. “It’s more than just baseball. You are seeing the world.”
Before getting on the plane to head overseas, Gjormand makes sure his team is ready represent the United States. The team will hold intense practices every day for two weeks leading up to departure, focusing on fundamentals and doing things the right way.
“We want to bring a group together in those practices and make it look like they have been playing together for 4 months because we are wearing the U.S. on our jerseys and we are representing Northern Virginia and our families.”
Shane and Jake Stiehl have gone on MVP International trips together every summer for the past four years, and know all too well how challenging those practices can be. They also understand the significance of what they are representing.
“The baseball is important but representing ourselves and the U.S. to the best of our ability is what’s most important. Every practice, [Pudge] stresses that to us and that is why we never have any problems. We respect ourselves and hold each other to a higher standard.”
This summer, Shane and Jake will play together on the same team for the first time since Little League representing the United States in Belgium. For both brothers, the memories that stick out are the ones away from the ball field like jumping down waterfalls in the Dominican Republic or sharing a delicious meal with newly acquainted friends from Italy.
“The best part is getting to bond with your new team. We don’t go to the same high school but we still talk on a weekly basis. It’s making those bonds with your family too,” Shane said. “I’ve tried stuff I never thought I would have before! And just seeing the world. I never thought I would be able to do that.”
“Parents have a very small window with their kids because once they get past high school, they really don’t want to go with Europe with mom and dad,” Gjormand said. “Our biggest thing is making memories. That’s one of the greatest things I get to do.”
For more information on MVP International, visit their website at www.mvp-intl.com.
Photos provided by MVP International