Fox Sports stars kick it in Hohenfels
June 6, 2012
By Mark Iacampo
HOHENFELS, Germany -- Soccer players and fans got a triple treat when three international soccer stars visited Hohenfels to kick some goals, offer some tips, and sign autographs, last month.
In conjunction with Fox Sports coverage of the Champions League Finals between Bayern Munich of the German Bundesliga and Chelsea of the English Premier League held in Munich May 19, Fox sports analyst Rob Stone, former U.S. National Team members Eric Wynalda and Brad Friedel, and former English National Team member Warren Barton stopped off in Hohenfels to spend some time with Soldiers and family members.
The day kicked off with some friendly skirmishes between the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, and the garrison teams inside the School Age Services gym, with the visitors acting as coaches and referees. It didn't take long, though, before the Fox team took to the field and played alongside the Soldiers.
Barton said the Fox team was very excited for the opportunity to visit Hohenfels and support the troops.
"Everybody very positively wanted to come over and spend some time. These people give their lives for their country so it's the least we can do to come down, have a little bit of fun, join in with some soccer, or football as we call it. So it was a good opportunity to let them know that people do care, do think about what they're doing, and do respect what they're doing as well. It's a big honor for us," he said.
Many of the Soldiers expressed the thrill of sharing the field with players of such high caliber.
"Getting to see that kind of skill up close, how they handle the ball, was really impressive," said Spc. James C. Davis. "I never got to see anything like that before."
"It was an honor to play with hall of famers," said Spc. Luis Rodriguez. "It's something I'll remember forever. I'm going to remember Sgt. (Josh) Stephens getting scored on twice by Eric Wynalda!"
The pro's seemed equally impressed with the skill of the Soldiers.
"They were awesome," said Wynalda, who was the all-time leading goal scorer for the United States National Team until 2008. "Honestly, there are some guys that scored some great goals, and we had a lot of fun."
Friedel said it felt really good to meet the Soldiers and get a taste of life from their perspective.
"This is obviously a part of life if you weren't in the service you wouldn't know much about it," he said. "So it's really good to come and see everyone. I think a lot of times being a professional soccer player, people don't see us as human beings, and I think it's likewise with the Armed Services folk. When you come and meet all the guys and the girls that are involved, when you get to sort of let your hair down, so to speak, and get to have a bit of fun, that's when you get to really meet some people."
In the afternoon, the Fox team attended soccer practice at the Hohenfels Middle/High School. While Barton ran drills with the girls' team, Friedel, dubbed "the human wall" by fans during the 2002 World Cup and who currently plays goalkeeper for the Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, leant his expertise to the Tigers' goalkeepers. Wynalda skirmished with the boys' team.
"It's such a great opportunity for such a small school to have such big people come and help us out," said Principal Daniel Mendoza. "These guys are taking their time to come over here and help our Soldiers and help our kids; this is a moment that they'll never forget, having these soccer stars and trainers out here."
"And for General (Mark) Hertling to say, 'let's let Hohenfels do it', it's just a gift, and we're really appreciative of it," added Kathlene Clemmons, HMHS athletic director.
As practice wound down, Friedel decided to put his coaching skills to the test by putting his students in the goal against Wynalda. The students blocked the majority of the shots, and Wynalda good-naturedly performed push-ups as his payment of the bet.
"I learned a lot in just one day, things I should do different from what I've been doing all my life while playing goalie," said 11th grader Kevin White. "I'm glad I got to get that experience."
"I was pretty nervous," White admitted on playing keeper against Hall of Famer Wynalda. "I didn't know if he was going to kick it hard or if he was just playing around. But the shots were on target and hard. But I'm glad I kept some, because it's an honor to keep against players like that."
The Fox team posed for photographs with the students, signed some soccer balls, and said they truly enjoyed their visit to Hohenfels.
"We've learned a lot about what happens in this town, and it makes us very proud to be Americans," said Wynalda. "It was an honor for us to be here."