By Wendy Brown, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsJune 16, 2019
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (June 17, 2019) -- During their two-week tour of military bases in Japan and Guam, topflight soccer players Shannon MacMillan, Saskia Webber, Staci Wilson and Nikki Serlenga have had some slightly awkward moments when it comes to accepting thanks.
"Every night when we go home, we talk about this: how many people thank us," said Serlenga, a silver medalist with the 2000 women's U.S. Olympic soccer team. "It seems so backwards, because for us, [we're thinking], 'What are you thanking us for? We thank you for coming over here.' These families that are making sacrifices, the Soldiers … what we're able to do is because of them."
The quartet held two soccer clinics at Camp Zama June 14, one with middle and high school students and another with elementary school students. All four are Olympic medalists and two of them were on the famed 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup championship team, among other accomplishments. Armed Forces Entertainment, in conjunction with Pro Sports MVP, organized the tour to coincide with the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France, said Bre Burgesser, tour manager.
About 30 student players attended each session, and they said they had fun while learning new techniques.
"It was a cool experience, because overseas, you don't get to meet Olympic players, and it was just fun to learn from them and to play with them," said Fabiola Ayala-Rivera, a member of the Zama Middle High School girls' team that won the Far East Tournament championship this year.
Justyn Seraphin, who just graduated from ZHMS and played soccer throughout high school, said he found the clinic informative.
"I got to learn some new moves at the start of the practice: changing direction and changing speed," Seraphin said. "It was really interesting. It was things you don't learn from regular coaches at school."
Likewise, the players found the soccer skills at Camp Zama advanced. After about 20 minutes, they shifted gears from the basic drills they had planned and went on to more complicated drills and playing.
Staci Wilson, who won three championship rings at the University of North Carolina, played on the national team and won a gold medal in the Olympics in 1996, said the youths impressed her with their skills and manners.
"Today we did a little more what you might do with competitive kids, and the kids weren't overwhelmed," Wilson said. "They were taking it all in. It's just been great."
MacMillan, a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame who played for 12 years on the U.S. women's team, was on the 1999 World Cup championship team and won gold and silver medals in the Olympics, said she was thankful for the opportunity to hold the clinics.
"We're blown away with how mature and respectful the kids are--how thoughtful they are--as well as the troops," MacMillan said. "When we show up, they just give us their full, undivided attention, and they're so excited to show us what they do. We've gotten a tour of a submarine; we saw a K9 unit; we saw the Black Hawk helicopters. I mean, all this stuff, it's just to us super exciting."
The trip is also special to her, MacMillan said, because several of her family members are in the military and she believes she likely would have joined the military if it hadn't been for soccer.
Saskia Webber, a gold medalist at the 1996 Olympics and also a member of the 1999 World Cup championship team, said all four of the players are extremely grateful for the military and the opportunity to come to Japan and work with military children.
"We wouldn't be allowed to do what we do without the military doing what they do and giving us our freedom," Webber said. "I've said they are the real-world champions, and that's how we look at it, truly."