Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ready to Go!

After a year of preparation, the team finally left Southern Maryland today, headed for the World Games! A large crowd of family and friends sent the team off with lots of loud cheering.
Leaving Home! Go Team USA!
The squad then arrived at the TEAM USA hotel, where they received yet another pair of shoes for the turf fields in Greece, thanks again in part to our friends at Rockville Soccer. Then the guys were greeted by the Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders, the Baltimore Orioles mascot, and well wishes from many of the pro golfers competing at the US Open in Washington this weekend! After a dinner for the whole American delegation (where the guys all had to wear the best-looking shorts we were given), the guys went back to their rooms for their last night's sleep in America!  
At the the shorts, guys!

TEAM USA send-off dinner

For family and friends, here is the latest update on the team's schedule tomorrow:

8am Wake-up
8:30am Breakfast
10am Light training session
1pm Lunch
2pm Leave for airport
4pm Flight departs
9:30pm Land in Shannon, Ireland
12:30am Depart Shannon for Rhodes, Greece
5:00am (12 noon Greece time) Land in Rhodes

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Final Preparations

The team's final week of practice prior to departure has been outstanding! But to get a full sense of the improvement, let's set the stage with a little background:

Last Wednesday, the team played a co-ed squad from Leonardtown High School's boys and girls teams. Playing in 95-degree heat, the team was slow to start, trailed 3-0 early on, and lost 7-1. As a result, this week's preparations have focused on staying positive and sticking with our game plan, regardless of the score. A team dinner on Monday night renewed the players' sense of opportunity, friendship, and excitement, and good practices focused on recovering to play strong defense whenever we lost the ball.

Yesterday, the team's final session in America was a rematch against Leonardtown. This time, it was team USA that caught Leonardtown taking it easy, and jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead on two goals from Larry Mills and one from Terrell Nowlin, along with solid defense from everyone and the best game yet from goalkeeper Alan Hill. Leonardtown regrouped, but Team USA still won the first match 4-3. In the second match, Leonardtown came out strong and took a 3-0 lead, but this time Team USA continued to work hard, closing the score to 4-2 at halftime. The game was even closer, at 5-4, with just five minutes left, but Leonardtown caught Team USA on a counter-attack and scored, winning the second match 6-4, and winning the overall score 9-8.

Still, this was the team's best performance so far, and with key players Wes Thompson and Steven Summerfelt beginning to run around, dribble, and even kick the ball a bit, the team will leave America on Sunday confident in its chances at the World Games!

Please check in for daily updates starting this Saturday, June 18.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Greece Makes News In Other Ways

Greece made world news today, and it had nothing to do with the World Games, as central Athens erupted with demonstrations against the Government's cutbacks in spending. These demonstrations have been occurring every few months for the last two years, ever since the recession combined with Greece's national debt to make Greece's economy the worst in Europe. In addition to similar concerns about state spending that face almost every country in the world right now, Greece remained heavily in debt due to spending on facilities for the 2004 Olympics -- including the stadium that will host our soccer matches at the Special Olympics World Games. In return for a loan to keep the government running, Greece had to agree to immediately and severely cut back its state spending. The government promised to raise the retirement age and reduce pension payments for state workers, as well as reduce a variety of programs that assist the Greek population in general. All this is happening while Greece faces almost 15% unemployment (the United States is at 9%), so many Greeks are worried about whether they will be able to pay their rent, and many more are worried about how they will be able to plan for the future since they will not be able to expect the same state system their parents had. For more details on the demonstrations, see this story, and this one.
picture of a protest in Athens on June 15
The result of all this concern has been a series of demonstrations. However, it is important to note that the violence at these demonstrations has been minimal, no tourists or foreign visitors have been targeted, and the demonstrations have been focused around the Parliament building in central Athens, which is nowhere near our residence or our stadium. Some museums and bus lines have been closed temporarily, but there is no reason to expect that this disturbance will affect the team's experience in any important way. Greeks recognize that tourism is an important part of their economy and livelihood, and so we will receive the usual and famous Greek hospitality, even if the Greeks are arguing with each other while we are there.

UPDATE (6/18): The Greek Government has reached a deal with unions to prevent closings during the World Games. This agreement also reduces the likelihood of any disturbances during our stay. For more information, see the Team USA official announcement.