DAHLONEGA — The spirit of the World Cup was alive and well in the outfield of the University of North Georgia’s Bob Stein Stadium this week.
UNG’s German Soccer Adventure Camp was a forum for 14 elementary school children, nine boys and five girls, to hone their skills in both soccer and the German language. Germany’s strong showing in the World Cup in Brazil only served to further the campers’ interest.
Nighthawks soccer player Malte Krapp, who is from Cologne, Germany, and North Georgia men’s soccer assistant coach Avram Allen were the instructors for the camp, with Krapp mixing some German into the soccer lessons. UNG student Kathleen Waters taught the students German in a classroom in the afternoon, partially through games such as “Simon Says.”
Each day, as part of their training, players would be split into teams for their own 3-on-3 “World Cup” and have the coaches tell them which country each team is. Campers were clearly tuned into recent happenings in the actual World Cup, as one girl upon learning her country Friday quipped, “At least we’re not Brazil.”
Allen said the camp was all about focusing on the basics of soccer with the young players.
“The kids are loving it,” Allen said. “They’re working hard.”
The camp was particularly appealing for Krapp.
“It’s very unique,” Krapp said. “Where else can you learn some German at a young age and play football? I thought it was a great idea.”
Jane O’Gorman, North Georgia’s director of continuing education, hatched the idea for this year’s pilot camp. The school already hosted a three-week language academy for high school students and was looking to offer something for younger children.
O’Gorman found a language villages program run by Concordia College in Minnesota that incorporated sports. She said UNG added the dimension of also teaching the language in a classroom to campers.
Brianna James, an 8-year-old from Dahlonega, only started playing soccer this week. She had signed up for a team that began practice Thursday, but her first playing experience came at the camp Monday.
James has also previously done gymnastics and karate and felt like the footwork from gymnastics could carry over. She was able to add a couple of moves to her game: the step-over and the pullback-push.
“I think it’ll teach me more for my soccer,” she said.
James said the players learned how to say colors, “good morning” and “good day” in German.
For Krapp, a rising redshirt junior for the Nighthawks, seeing the kids embrace his native language and use it on the soccer field was quite an experience.
“Their brains are like sponges,” Krapp said. “Pronunciation is pretty good, and they pick everything up pretty well. They seem to enjoy it.”
UNG employee Joanie Chembars was on hand to watch her son, Jody, and a few other players she has coached at the camp Friday. While she said the focus on improving skills is vital, the German language learning was another plus.
“I think that’s great, not only because it gets them out of the sun in the hottest part of the day, but it develops another part of the person,” Chembars said.
She said her family has been keeping a close eye on Germany in this World Cup, with the camp making her son more interested.
“It’s hard not to be a Germany fan the way they play soccer,” Chembars said. “They’ve been amazing this year.”
The camp’s participants were part of a graduation ceremony Friday where they were presented with German soccer balls. The enthusiasm from the players this week will stick with Krapp.
“It’s awesome to come out here and seeing that excitement, especially in America, about the sport and such a young age group and them knowing players from the German team and overall just being excited for the World Cup,” he said. “That just shows that football in America is growing.”
O’Gorman said the camp was successful in giving the children a unique experience, and she’s hoping to expand it next year.
“We’ll continue doing it,” she said.
Krapp also said the United States’ run out of the “Group of Death” was a “huge accomplishment” and the team’s future is bright.
The timing of the camp during the World Cup, particularly with Germany’s dominating 7-1 victory against Brazil on Tuesday, made for plenty of talk. Allen was catching grief from multiple campers because he’s a Brazil fan.
Germany faces Argentina for the World Cup championship at 4 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s going to be a great final, and I can’t wait to see that,” Krapp said. “And I’m sure some of the kids will watch it.”