By Jim Manion | Correspondent
ost adults have some very fond memories of childhood and teenage years spent growing up and maturing.
For Ravenna's Michael Boltz, his memories and his experiences are a once in a lifetime events that not many teenagers will ever get the opportunity to cherish.
After Boltz's family hosted Joseba Estalayo, a foreign-exchange student from Spain two years ago, Michael spent last year residing with the Estalayo family in Leioa, Spain. While in Ravenna, Estalayo found himself a home on the Ravens' basketball court and Boltz found the same while in Leioa.
Boltz returned in July, although several pounds lighter than when he departed, the 6-foot-8 Raven is ready to begin what he hopes is an exciting senior season on the Ravenna hardwood. However, before he returns to school, he continues to experience his Spanish relationships at his home, especially on the driveway basketball court.
Several of Michael's teammates from Spain arrived in Ravenna to spend their August with the Boltz family on Rosedale Avenue. The floodlights get clicked on at dusk as friends battle it out on what seems like a 24-7 game with no ending.
Returning to his second home in Ravenna to spend time with his brother is Estalayo. The relationship between Joseba and Michael is a brotherhood that was formed over two years ago when they began Internet Skyping before meeting for the first time at the airport. The pair can't remember ever having a serious argument, but do admit to friendly disagreements about basketball issues.
Joining Estalayo and Boltz are Borja Vidal and Unai Celaya, who are both making their first trip to the United States. While Estalayo and Boltz are looking forward to their senior year of high school, Vidal and Celaya have both graduated high school and will be attending their first year of college when they return to their homeland. Unai is an accomplished violin player and plans to major in music, while Borja believes his future is to be an architect.
Vidal and Celaya admitted they were really surprised when Michael made the invitation back in March about coming to Ravenna as part of their summer vacation. They both attended a different high school than Estalayo and Boltz, but were members of the same basketball team (Leioa SBT) and established a quick friendship with the American.
Basketball in Spain is not a high school sport, but a club sport much like the AAU season in the United States. Michael participated on two teams and was then named to a select team which totaled over 60 games while in Spain. Boltz, who averaged close to a double-double, reports that basketball in Spain is a seven day a week experience.
In addition to his roundball experience, Michael adapted a new lifestyle after several months and was speaking fluid Spanish. He learned to accept Spanish cuisine and realized you walk everywhere even if it takes 45 minutes to get to basketball practice.
Michael was a scholar athlete carrying over a 3.5 grade-point average as a sophomore at Ravenna, but found himself struggling to keep up with his studies in Spain.
"It was a lot to get used to in the beginning," admitted Boltz. "There was a point when I called home and told my parents that I better come home. I was really falling behind, but everyone worked with me and I spent sometimes three hours a night studying with my father."
Michael's parents, Roger and Marla, spent Christmas in Spain and once they saw the love the Estalayo family had for their son, they felt much more at ease in leaving their only child so far from home.
"We knew that Michael was in good hands," said Marla. "I think Michael would agree that he has learned some real life lessons and matured beyond his years because of this experience."
Michael is quick to talk about eating healthy now and how much more responsible around the house he is because of his Spanish experience. He believes his study habits overseas will help him this senior year and at the college level.
He also believes he is much more confident on the basketball court and looks forward to this season.
"I am in much better shape, and I really received a lot of individual coaching over there," said Boltz. "I had assistant coaches working on my game at almost every practice."
Boltz talked about how learning the language was tough even though he had two years of Spanish before arriving. Before departing for his return trip to the states, Michael was speaking Spanish 100 percent of the time. Michael laughed about an experience on the plane ride home.
"I was so used to speaking Spanish that a lady next to me was talking, and I was answering her in Spanish. She would look at me real funny and then I would realize I had to repeat my answers in English."
Michael is now attempting to adapt back to the American way of life in Ravenna, even though he still has a couple more weeks to enjoy his Spanish teammates.
The last man off the court needs to turn off the driveway floodlights.