When you look out on the Bavarian countryside you see a landscape of farmland, green meadows, and villages. In the middle of these tight knit communities pressed against the lush hillside is the Church. The Church is the central focus in the village. Large strobe lights illuminate it at night to make it a beacon for all to witness. This spiritual center for Germans is equipped with an onion like plume that stands out as a symbol of all Bavaria. Each day a loud bong comes out of the belfry every 15 minutes and on the hour as the sign of its constancy.
Hoisted up high and pressed into the hillside on the American Army Post of Hohenfels, Germany sits not a church but a football field. Perhaps not the same retreat for spiritual quietness and contemplation but a sign of constancy for the soldiers and their kids. For the generations that have played football in the states this field represents the hopes and dreams of many of their boys- to become men (ages 14-18). When these moms and dads, come out to watch their sons play- it will give them a taste of their own hometowns in the states. It may be in Germany, but this stadium is “Football America”.
Today- this stadium, drenched in sunlight swallowed up by the evergreen trees to its backside and nothing but green countryside to its front side, has a new feel to it. Buses and cars are asked to park on the tarmac below amongst bell and apache helicopters. There are soldiers with AK47’s at the gates to check for ID cards which cause the crowd of an expected 2000 people to dwindle to about 800. Sort of gives one a real indication of the post 9/11 times we are living in.
The Vicenza Warriors are here from Italy today and the coaches talk before the game about their experiences playing and coaching across Europe. A few laughs are exchanged with handshakes and it’s almost time to “play ball”. Except the Hohenfels Tiger football team insists that they go through their “pre-game soul dance” (like on Remember the Titans). The boys ask their coach (me) if they can kneel down and say a prayer. All hold hands and pray for no injuries on either side. They then line up on the sideline for the pledge with an outstanding JROTC color guard marching performance. Whistles blow as the game commences. . . . . .
. . . . . .As the contest progresses on to the 4th quarter and the opposing team calls a timeout just before the final whistle, in the back of my mind a voice says, “What are you doing here . . . . . . ?” I’m reminded that 2 kilometers away from this field (on post), in what they call “the box”, is where Hitler trained all of his tank, and infantry divisions. Trained in techniques that our US Army Infantry & Tank divisions are trained in today or so I am told. All of those battles, history lessons, take on new meaning when you actually live here. With so many GI’s deployed to IRAQ and Afghanistan Colonel Davis, the post commander and father of one of our best running backs, announces that German soldiers will protect our post and check ID cards, furthering my amazement of the times we are living in. As I re-focus on the game, and the officials blow their whistles, the ground I stand on swells with reminders of the cost of freedom ………
………..The crowd yells loudly as a senior defensive back that hasn’t played much intercepts a pass and runs it in for a touchdown on the last play of the game. The team is so excited for him that they all run onto the field and pile on him in the end zone. The now almost-suffocating 135 pounder jumps from the pile gasping for breath as he proclaims, “I did it!” After the game during our “winners circle” he is awarded the Wilson game ball and tells the team he will remember this moment for the rest of his life. The story of this game was not the 47-7 win over Vicenza (Army) High School.
I watch in amazement as the opposing team shares barbeque hamburgers and hot dogs with our players, hosted by the boosters and parents. There is an indescribable camaraderie observed between these two teams, yet this is their first meeting? The Hohenfels players console their opponents and the Vicenza players pat HHS Tigers players on the back- congratulating them on a well played game. Finally, as the bus collects the visitors to head back to Italy a crowd of Hohenfels players and fans run down to their bus to wave goodbye & well wish them a safe trip. They may be football players but they also share another common bond. They are Army Brats- in a time in history when it is not easy to accept that title, counting on one another to get them through the hard times- they become instant friends. As I drive home late that night, after watching tape of the game, I see the lights on the field are still on- in the midst of our dark Army Post. I am reminded that even a football field, seen as some to be a holdover of a Stadium in Europe that housed Gladiators, can be a spiritual place of cathartic release, healing and friendship.
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