MANLIUS — Bureau Valley Storm basketball has taken on an international flavor this season.
The boys and girls teams each have a foreign exchange student playing this year. For the boys, Lennard Winnrich hails from Bad Oeynhausen, Germany. The girls team has Helena Osk Arnadottir from Njardvik, Iceland.
Throw in manager Veronica (Roni) Riggen of Guadalajara, Mexico and it’s become a real global affair at Bureau Valley this school year.
Winnrich, 16, arrived in Bureau County on Aug. 10. His host family is the Lee and Kirsten Johnston family of Walnut, which includes BVHS junior, Tommy. Kirsten Johnston certainly has her hands full feeding the two of them.
“He eats fast and I eat a lot,” Winnrich said with a smile.
Bad Oeynhausen, which is located 223 miles west of Berlin, is known as a spa town for having the world’s highest carbonated, thermal saltwater fountain, the Jordan Sprudel. Its population is about 50,000, which Winnrich said really doesn’t “appear that big if you live there. Compared to here, it’s bigger.”
Arnadottir, 17, was originally supposed to spend the school year in Houston, but at the last minute, her host mother got a job relocation to California. After scrambling, Arnadottir was able to find a home with the Marcus and Bobi Throneburg family of Sheffield, who were already planning to host Riggen.
“I didn’t even know what Illinois was,” Arnadottir said. “I would tell people at home it’s a lot of farms. You drive and it’s just farms.”
“I would agree there’s a lot of flat land here. We have more hills and stuff in Germany,” Winnrich said.
Being 3,018 miles from home, Arnadottir said it’s nice to have Riggen living in the same house. They have become fast friends, speaking English while teaching the other a word or two in their native tongues — Icelandic and Spanish. The new sisters have cover photos together on their Facebook pages.
Likewise, Winnrich enjoys having Tommy Johnston on the BV football and basketball teams.
“It’s cool. He helps me out with a lot of stuff. We can talk after practice and all that. It’s nice to have someone to talk to,” he said.
Njardvik is a town in south-western Iceland on the Reykjanes peninsula. It merged with two neighboring communities to form the municipality of Reykjanesbae, which has a population is 14,000. While Bureau County residents may think of Iceland as being a cold place, Arnadottir said it’s really not as bad as its name might suggests. It has an average high of 35 and an average low of 28 for the month of January.
“It gets colder here and hotter here. We have more balance. Our winters are a lot longer,” she said.
After enduring the recent polar vortex and its sub -40 wind chills that blasted Bureau County, Arnadottir admitted, “that was cold for me.”
Winnrich had never played football, but gave it a try last fall. Arnadottir had never run cross country before, but became a quick study, earning All-BCR first team honors. She plans to run track this spring.
Basketball is their game, each with playing experience in their homeland. They do not play for their schools, however. Arnadottir has played eight years with her town’s team and Winnrich for three seasons for a club team, the Bad Oeynhausen Baskets. The competition includes players their own age and a little older, they said.
Both have found the American game to be essentially the same as from their homeland, with some twists. For instance, they play with the international shot clock of 24 seconds and the three-point line is a little farther out.
Arnadottir said the officials here call the game much, much tighter. She says she is still getting used to that.
The slick senior guard has been a Godsend for the Storm girls basketball team, playing the two guard and providing both scoring (8 ppg) and ball handling (team-high 2.5 assists). She recently had game-highs of 20 points against Newman and 19 points vs. Erie.
“Helena has been such a pleasant surprise for our program. She was the perfect fit for us,” BV coach Tiffany Gonigam said. “She understands the game, is an experienced player, and plays aggressively. She has started playing at a very high level against our conference teams.”
Winnrich is a welcome addition for the Storm boys as a 6-4 post player. Storm coach Jason Marquis said he has fit right in with the Storm and has been a fast learner.
“He’s a great kid, with a great attitude who gets along well with his teammates,” Marquis said “He’s one of the smartest kids I have ever been around. He has picked up on the style of the game here. We are thrilled to have a kid like him around ... you can’t teach how to be 6-4.”
“I feel I’ve learned a lot. I’m still not as good as the ballplayers here, but I feel like my ball handling has improved a lot,” Winnrich said.
Both enjoy the family atmosphere of the sports teams at Bureau Valley, Arnadottir is appreciative of how the parents would have food for the cross country team.
“I’m pretty glad I’m on that team. It’s like a family, I get a long with everyone and that was not the way in Germany,” he said. “We practice every day here. We usually practiced three days a week in Germany just because it’s kind of hard to practice if it’s not at the school.”
Both visitors have found the Bureau Valley community to be very friendly and welcoming.
“Honestly, I thought out would be hard at first being a foreign exchange student. But the people made it very easy for me,” Winnrich said. “I met a lot of people in football and they became friends and get along even though I never played football before.”
“They’re very open about a new person coming. They talk to you and show you around. I feel like they’re friendly,” Arnadottir said.
Maybe a little too friendly. The foreign exchange students haven’t quite got used to the ways of rural Illinois where everyone knows everyone.
“Everyone leaves their doors open. Nobody ever locks their doors,” Winnrich said.
“Oh yeah, that’s weird. People keep their car keys in their cars. I would never do that,” Arnadottir said with a laugh.
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