Paratroopers referee American football game in Latvia
By Sgt. Michael T. CrawfordJuly 16, 2014
UPESCIEMS, Latvia (July 16, 2014) -- Paratroopers with 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, guest refereed an amateur league American football game between the Riga Lions and Tartu Titans from Estonia, at Upesciems Stadium here July 5.
"This was probably one of the best refereed games we've had," said William Timrots, a player for the Riga Lions. "Usually the referees are still learning themselves. This time we had people with experience."
Approximately 600 paratroopers from the brigade are in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland as part of an unscheduled land-forces exercise to demonstrate commitment to NATO obligations and sustain interoperability with allied forces.
In addition to training with Latvian soldiers in Adazi while here, paratroopers are active participants in various community events, such as volunteer refereeing.
"It's a much more playable game when the referees know what they're doing," said Kristaps Balodis, a coach for the Riga Lions. "The players don't have to tell the referees what to do, so it was nice."
Starting five years ago as friendly pick-up games in a local park, the Lions have now been competing in the amateur league for three years. Twice a week, the players practice for two-and-a-half hours.
"It started with touch football, then flag football, then we played contact football without any equipment," said Balodis, a native of Riga. "We're a new team just trying our best to make this sport happen in Latvia."
Pfc. Kevin Gould, a paratrooper with 1st Sqdn., 91st Cav. Regt., which is based at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, had seen many soccer and baseball games back in Germany, but never American football. Despite being an uncommon game in Europe, the Lions and Titans impressed paratroopers with their knowledge of the sport.
"We didn't have to explain too much," said Gould, a native of Philadelphia. "They spoke good English and they understood the fouls they were committing. I'd like to see this more often."
Second Lt. Ryan Miller, assistant logistics officer for 1st Sqdn., 91st Cav. Regt., echoed his comrades' statements and was impressed with the teams' play.
"When I first found out about it, I was actually a little shocked," said Miller, a native of Batesville, Indiana. "Once we got here, and started seeing them play, [I realized] they know the basics and fundamentals they need to get through it."
Timrots, a native of Baltezers, Latvia, found his love for the game nearly a decade ago.
"I went on an exchange program in the United States to Fremont, Indiana, in 2005," said Timrots. "I went to a practice the second day I was there."
The game ended with a 6-20 loss to Estonia. With no big-money contracts or lucrative endorsement deals, love of the sport keeps the Riga Lions driving forward.