Meet Annalisa Baono< < Back to
Asti, Italy is a long way from Pomeroy, Ohio. That did not stop 17-year-old Annalisa Baono from venturing from her life in Italy to come to a small town in southeastern Ohio to spend a year of her life learning and growing in a new culture. She has immersed herself into extracurriculars at Eastern High School in Reedsville, Ohio, specifically in sports.
Back in Italy, Baono explained that the sports culture is different. “In Italy, you don’t have sports at school. So if you want to play a sport, you go to a club. And you only play one sport.”
Now that she is in the United States, she has taken advantage of the small town high school sports culture. She excelled at volleyball back in the fall, and this winter she decided to give basketball a try and play for the Lady Eagles of Eastern High School.
“I think it’s cool. I like playing sports. This is the first year I’ve actually played basketball. In Italy I played volleyball and some track so this is the first time I’ve picked up a basketball.”
Baono helped lead the Eagles to a district title in volleyball this past season before they fell to Waterford in the first round of the regional tournament. Baono’s host family said they have a new love for volleyball after seeing the way she plays the game.
“I played basketball and volleyball when I was in school, but after watching her play I have a greater appreciation for it,” said Micah Rees, Baono’s host mom. “It’s hard to watch someone who is so good at something and not enjoy it.”
Although she may have not picked up a basketball before coming to America, she has picked up on it fast.
“At first, she didn’t know offense from defense,” said Micah. “And she’s going up against girls who have been playing their whole lives.”
Baono has noticed her play has improved too. “Before, I couldn’t even touch a basketball. Now I can shoot the ball and run some plays. I can run and dribble too.”
Baono laughed recalling the first time she saw action in a varsity game this year. “I remember I got the ball, and some girl ran by and take the ball, and I was like, no I had the ball, you can’t take it from me like that.”
That competitive nature shows on the court. She shows hustle on every play and can outrun almost every girl she plays against. She glides down the court like a gazelle. Her speed is just one of her many athletic abilities. She wants to put her running skills to use this spring to run track at Eastern.
“I think I’ll do track because I can actually run and jump,” said Baono. “I’ve never played softball but that’s because I’ve never heard of it. The softball coach asked me to play for them because they think I can do something for the running part of the game.”
Outside of school and sports, Baono said she spends her time at home with the Rees or hanging out with friends. You can tell Baono is comfortable with the Rees family. She said when she first thought about coming to the United States, she thought the city she went to would be most important, but after thinking about it she is glad that she ended up with a genuine family over the big-city experience.
“Me and my mom fought about coming here,” Baono said. “She wanted me closer, like New York or Boston or California. She was kind of upset I was here in the countryside in Ohio. After a while she understood the family was really good so fortunately I started thinking the family was the most important too.”
The family experience was important for the Rees as well.
“I’m an only child, and I missed out on having that sibling relationship, and I wanted (my son) to have that relationship,” Micah explained. “Each one has been like his sister.”
Baono is the third foreign exchange student the Rees family has hosted, all who have been girls. Their first came from Spain, and the other from Germany. Each one has played sports, and that’s something that the Rees look for when choosing who they are going to host.
“When I look at applications, I look at who plays sports. I know where I live, and in our town that’s all we have,” said Micah. “One of the girls said she loved shopping all the time and enjoyed other big city stuff so I figured she wouldn’t be as happy here.”
Micah also said that each girl has felt like they are really part of the family. “Thanksgiving, Christmas, whatever it is, they are truly part of the family. (Baono) talked about being close to her family, and I think that’s one of the things we have in common.”
And family is literally close for the Rees’s. Micah’s parents live on the same plot of land as her and her family. They own horses, and Micah says that Baono is a great rider, just another way she shows off her athletic ability.
“Give her six weeks and she’ll be great at anything,” Micah said, referencing about Annalisa riding horses and her athletic skill in general.
Although Baono will be back in Italy after this school year, she will never truly leave Micah and David, Annalisa’s host father.
“I don’t know how people did this 20 years ago,” Micah said, talking about when the exchange students leave. “It used to be just a letter after they left, but now she may be gone but she’s not really gone. I can pick up the phone and text her if I want to talk.”
This may not be the last that America sees of Annalisa. “I would like to come back,” said Annalisa, explaining her plans for after high school. “Only way I can do that is if I get scholarship.”
No matter where Baono ends up, she will always have a place to call home here in southeastern Ohio with Micah and David.