University of Maine softball head coach Mike Coutts (left) congratulates senior catcher Janelle Bouchard after she reached third base during a recent game. Coutts has made a successful transition from coaching college baseball to directing the Black Bears softball program. Credit: Peter Buehner | UMaine athletics

The University of Maine softball team will join the list of Black Bear athletics programs going abroad in 2019 when it travels to Cuba during Thanksgiving break to play softball and enjoy a cultural exchange.

The UMaine men’s basketball team recently traveled to Costa Rica and the women’s basketball team visited Italy in 2015 and is going to Greece next May. The UMaine men’s hockey team played in a tournament in Northern Ireland last season.

Under NCAA rules, athletic teams are allowed to take a competitive trip abroad every four years.

The United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations for the first time in 54 years on July 20, 2015.

“I had been looking for a place to go. I think it will be a good educational trip for the kids,” UMaine head softball coach Mike Coutts said. “Albany [softball team] went to Cuba and they said it was a great trip. This will give us a chance to learn about a new country and a new culture.

“I have never done anything like this. Even when I was coaching baseball here with coach [John] Winkin, we didn’t do anything like this,” said Coutts, who spent 11 seasons as an assistant to the late Maine Sports Hall of Fame coach during the 1980s and early ’90s.

The trip will be for five days and four nights during the Thanksgiving break.

“That’s about the only time we could do it,” Coutts said.

A number of activities will be lined up for the team although the specifics are still being ironed out.

“There’s a lot of historical things to see down there,” Coutts said. “This is probably not a trip many people have thought about doing.”

UMaine will play a couple of games against Cuban teams and will put on some clinics.

“We want to help people down there,” Coutts said.

Coutts said the players and their parents will have to do some fundraising in order to make the trip. Parents and fans will be able to accompany the team.

UMaine fundraisers also will help pay for the trip.

“It will also be a good bonding trip. We have 10 freshmen this year and we’re bringing in four or five next year,” Coutts said. “And it will give us an opportunity to go to another country and represent the University of Maine.”

Coutts said they will be staying in villas on the beach.

The players are excited about it.

“I love being able to explore a new place with the team,” said sophomore outfielder Shanna Scribner of Bedford, New Hampshire. “Culture-wise, it’s going to be really inspirational for us. It looks beautiful.

“Staying in villas on the beach sounds amazing. It’s going to be very cool.”

“It’s going to be a really good experience for us,” said sophomore pitcher Kyleigh O’Donnell of Abington, Massachusetts. “We’ll get to learn about a different lifestyle and pick up some new things softball-wise.

“I probably never would have gone to Cuba in my lifetime,” she added.

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