An exchange of ideas: German native learning basketball with Oxbow girls

  • Varsity basketball players Sarah Kuge, second from right, and Maggi Ellsworth, second from left, talk to their team, from left, Brooklyn Chaffee, 10, Kayleigh Davis, 12, and Annabell Longmoore, 12, before a scrimmage during a basketball clinic at Oxbow High School in Bradford, Vt., on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. Kuge, a German exchange student, had no experience playing basketball before moving to the U.S. and joining the team at Oxbow. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news / report for america — Alex Driehaus

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Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/21/2022 9:26:46 PM
Modified: 1/21/2022 9:25:41 PM

BRADFORD, Vt. — Sarah Kuge hadn’t stepped on the basketball court during a game all season when Barry Emerson called her name.

Kuge, a German exchange student with the Oxbow High girls basketball team, had remained on the bench throughout each of the Olympians’ first six games. But with four minutes to go and Oxbow (4-4) on its way to a blowout win over Randolph on Dec. 30, her head coach finally looked Kuge’s way.

When Emerson told Kuge she was going in for the rest of the game, she could hardly believe it.

“She’s like, ‘Four minutes?!’ ” Emerson said.

Kuge did not score a point that evening, and she hasn’t appeared in a game since. But in coming to the United States for her senior year of high school, she fulfilled what had been a dream of hers since age 10, after she began watching movies that romanticized the American high school experience.

A native of Leipzig, in eastern Germany, Kuge had never played basketball before this year. German schools typically do not field sports teams, and Kuge was a dancer back home. But her host parents, who live in East Corinth, coach basketball in White River Junction, and several of her friends at Oxbow were on the team.

“It’s hard. I learn something new every time,” Kuge said. “It was hard to understand in the beginning, because I had no idea what is a layup, what is shooting, all the vocabulary about basketball.”

When Emerson was explaining the Olympians’ offensive and defensive sets — they sometimes run a version of the famous triangle offense, and their man-to-man defense is called 55 — Kuge spoke up and said she didn’t realize there was so much math in basketball, with the shapes and numbers.

“Everyone is super supportive,” Kuge said. “Even though I don’t shoot really well, everyone supports me and helps me to get better.

“I was confused (the first time I got into a game). I had no idea what I was doing, so I just tried to pretend I knew.”

Kuge is still helping coach local third through sixth graders in Oxbow’s Saturday morning clinics, even though many of the kids have more basketball experience than she does. She said those sessions are helping her learn more about the game as well by allowing her to step into a coaching role.

“She needs community service for her exchange program, so that helps, but it’s not the only motivation,” Emerson said. “She’s very insecure about basketball, but the rest of the time she’s very outgoing.”

Later this winter, Kuge will travel to California with a few other students in her program, and she wanted to make sure Emerson was OK with her missing games. Emerson seemed amused that Kuge felt she needed to ask permission, saying it showed her dedication to the team.

Kuge has one more year of secondary school to complete back in Germany, but said she wants to return to Vermont so her actual parents can meet her host parents. In the mean time, Emerson said Kuge brings energy to the team that only a newcomer can provide.’

“Sometimes, kids who have been playing here since they were in third grade get bogged down,” Emerson said. “They don’t always like it, but it’s something for them to do and keeps them out of trouble.

“And Sarah brings an attitude, like, ‘Hey, we get to go to practice!’ So that’s cool. She’s always energetic and happy.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at or 603-727-3302.

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