Soccer program builds bridge to Germany

The term “football” means something else in Germany, and recently the eyes of high school sports fans in Montabaur, Germany have been on Columbia, South Carolina, where soccer matches have taken place between Americans and Germans.   They weren’t professional players, and they weren’t men. The teams are made up of teenage girls, learning about each other’s cultures through an exchange program, which allows a group of German teenagers to come to South Carolina for ten days each year to play soccer tournaments. American teens are treated to the same, every other year.The program has been in place for six years, and the American team has won the final tournament most of those. The winner of the tournament receives the coveted Alfred Mueller Cup, named after the program’s German founder, who has been in Columbia in recent weeks. Mueller had a giant smile on his face when he was presented last week with a gold-framed copy of a resolution passed by the South Carolina House, honoring him for his efforts and those of the soccer exchange program. He said the program is about more than soccer. Mueller says it’s about two cultures learning about each other, and people becoming friends for life, even though their homes are separated by many miles.
Coach Paul Amstrong of Columbia says it shouldn’t be surprising that Columbia girls have done well over the years in tournament play against their European friends. He says even though soccer is very popular in Germany, American soccer programs for girls are as strong as any in the world. Armstrong says soccer has been a passion of his, and the program is as well. He says it gives teens an unforgettable experience.   “They get to be exposed to new cultures, different ways of life.  And they learn that people are people everywhere.  They’re staying in the homes of Americans, and our players will stay in the homes of Germans when they go to Germany next year.” 
Michelle Loeder(LOAD-der) is a striking German teen, who not only plays soccer but speaks English like an articulate American, and even interprets for the whole group when that’s needed occasionally. She enjoyed a chance to play baseball, and she really likes South Carolina.  “It’s a beautiful state.  I love it, and I like the weather a lot, of course.  And there’s lots of history here.  The school system is very different.  The classrooms are more disciplined from what we’ve seen this week.  But teens are the same, talking about the same things, I think internationally the same.”
Loeder lived with her family in the U.S. near Washington, D.C. for some years, and had actually been to Myrtle Beach on a previous trip to the Palmetto State.
Next year, a group of South Carolina teens and some of their families will travel to Germany to continue Mueller’s dream.
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