In Aviano, building cultural bridges through basketball

DODDS-Europe boys basketball teams from Aviano and Vicenza will spend the weekend learning valuable lessons in both basketball and statesmanship.

The two Italy based American schools will share a court with Croatian youth club team Rijeka in a series of three games Friday and Saturday at Aviano High School. Here’s the schedule:

-    Friday, 1830: Rijeka vs. Aviano
-    Saturday, 1000: Rijeka vs. Vicenza
-    Saturday, 1500: Rijeka vs. Aviano

Aviano head coach Ken McNeely – known as Coach Mac to anyone associated with European youth basketball over the last three decades – made contact with Rijeka’s coaches while running youth clinics together in Croatia. The idea for a mutually beneficial set of games occurred to both of them, and they worked to make it a reality. 

Basketball is not merely incidental to the event; McNeely is excited at the prospect of his Saints being tested by “a really great basketball team” ahead of its Dec. 14 DODDS opener against American Overseas School of Rome.

But sportsmanship and cultural understanding are the weekend’s guiding principles. Parents of Aviano students are hosting Rijeka players in their homes for the weekend, and the three teams will share a communal meal before the Croatian team departs Saturday evening.

“I want them to have an opportunity to meet other kids from other places,” McNeely said. “I think that’s what’s important.”

McDaniels earned Stripes' nod as top player

Baumholder quarterback Ben McDaniels is the Stars and Stripes football Athlete of the Year. See story here. He was neither an easy choice nor a unanimous one among the reporters, editors, coaches and other followers of the game with whom I discussed the decision.

The evidence in support of McDaniels is massive. First of all, he led his team to an undefeated season and a European championship from the quarterback position. That’s a great start. He contributed immensely in other areas, not just filling a spot on defense and special teams but altering games with his kicking, kick returning, tackling and pass coverage. He is a senior ending a remarkable prep career that began on a winless team.

He abandoned his comfort zone at wide receiver to assume the sport’s most intricate position. He is not Baumholder’s only difference-maker, but without McDaniels, Baumholder might be closer to that downtrodden 2009 outfit than today’s championship team.

The arguments against McDaniels are also compelling. Foremost is the fact that he plays nine-man football at the Division III level. Yes, he has fewer blockers, but eluding nine guys is not as difficult as eluding 11 guys on a field of the same size.

That difference is substantial and can’t be ignored. But there are formidable opponents at the D-III level, and McDaniels can’t control what division his school lands in. He can only play the game available to him, and he did it better than anyone. Besides, McDaniels was an All-Europe player at the Division II level a year ago, and he’d have played a huge role for Ramstein, Bitburg or any other upper-division power if he had been on those teams.

Finally, there is the issue of the other contenders for the honor. I would have liked to have more primary defensive players in the mix, and actively solicited nominations. I’m very sensitive to skill-position bias, but just couldn’t pin down a defender for inclusion. Here are the players my colleagues and I considered for the award:

1.    QB Joseph Pitts, Naples. The best pure quarterback in DODDS-Europe, Pitts was central in every conversation I had over the course of choosing an Athlete of the Year. I won’t try to make a case against him; I think he’s a fantastic player and a real prospect to play collegiate ball. A Super Six upset of Bitburg might have changed things entirely, but McDaniels’ championship and contributions all over the field put him over the top.

2.    OL/DL Colton Engelmeier and RB CJ Evans, Bitburg. Fairly or not, it’s difficult to tell which of these players made the other look better. Would Evans rack up the same yardage without Engelmeier clearing a wide swath of grass? Is Engelmeier’s effectiveness exaggerated by the gifted runner behind him? In the end, the relationship is too symbiotic to choose either.

3.    QB Dylan LePage, Ramstein. A gifted runner who carried the Royals to a Division I title in the fourth quarter of the Super Six championship game. But the Ramstein system has too many working parts to single out one for individual glory.

4.    RB David Vidovic, Hohenfels. An incredibly intriguing up-and-coming player, it’s a year too soon to seriously consider him. Stay tuned.

5.    RB Carlton Campbell and RB Shawn Peebles, Vilseck. The impossibly speedy tandem can’t be separated for athlete of the year purposes.

6.    RB Demar Flake, Ansbach. A remarkable athlete who would have figured larger in the discussion had the Cougars pushed deeper into the fall.

7.    OL/DL Ian Hudak, Lakenheath. Like Flake, his team simply didn’t make enough noise to be heard over the likes of McDaniels and Pitts.

I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction to our selection. It’s not meant to be a contrarian or deliberately provocative choice.


Bitburg’s Laue is top football coach

Bitburg head coach Mike Laue is the 2012 European American Football Coach of the Year. The coach of the Division II champion Barons was selected Thursday by his DODDS-Europe coaching peers, according to an email from one of them - Wiesbaden coach Steve Jewell.

Laue led the Barons to a third consecutive 8-0 season and fourth straight championship after a remarkable comeback victory over Naples at the Super Six in Baumholder. The program has won 30 games in a row and can break Ansbach's DODDS-Europe record winning streak with two victories to open 2013.

Laue joins Ansbach coach Marcus George as two-time recipients of the honor, according to Jewell.

Vilseck set to host all-star game

This article has been corrected

The best high school football players in Europe share a field Saturday at 1 p.m. as the 2012 DODDS-Europe Football All-Star Game kicks off at Vilseck High School.

The North side features members of all three of the European champions crowned at last weekend’s Super Six. Division I champion Ramstein is well-represented with eight players on the squad, while Division II Bitburg offers four and Division III Baumholder sends two to the annual showcase.

The underdog South roster is headlined by six players from host Vilseck, followed by five from Ansbach and four from Naples. 

Steve Jewell led the North to a 23-14 win over Marcus George’s South team in the 2011 edition of the game, played at nearby Grafenwöhr.  That game renewed the DODDS tradition of postseason football all-star games after a hiatus dating back to 1982.

Here are the rosters:

#1 DB Carlton Campbell, Sr., Vilseck
#2 WR/DB Blade Straus, Sr., Vilseck
#3 WR Ryan Nestor, Sr., Bristol
#4 RB Terell Gandy, Sr., Vicenza
#5 TE/DL Elijah Smith, Sr., Aviano
#6 LB Andray Gibson, Sr., Bamberg
#7 DB Lajurren Burks, Jr., Schweinfurt
#8 RB Demar Flake, Sr., Ansbach
#9 QB Joe Pitts, Sr., Naples
#10 LB Walter Guyer, Sr., Patch
#11 QB Jake Voorhees, Sr., Ansbach
#13 LB Kyle Zeltner, Sr., Hohenfels
#15 DB Ramon Quijano, Sr., Rota
#17 WR Xavier Cage, Sr., Ansbach
#20 DB Dale Somers, Sr., Bristol
#21 OL Andrew Mineni, Sr., Patch
#22 RB/LB Shawn Peebles, Sr., Vilseck
#23 WR/DB Andrew Bert, Sr., Aviano
#44 TE/DE Brian Pfirrman, Sr., Naples
#50 OL/DT Rahim Beatty, Sr., Ansbach
#51 OL/DE Josh Pleake, Jr., Ansbach
#56 OL Jake Cramner, Sr., Patch
#57 OL Alec Chiarotti, Sr., Patch
#58 DT Armando Saldana, Jr., Vilseck
#59 DT Steven Hooks, Sr., Vilseck
#66 OL/DT Buck Reed, Sr., Hohenfels
#77 OL/DL Tom Samonig, Sr., Bristol
#80 DE Cody Holland, Sr., Rota
#82 TE/DE Jack Sly, Sr., Bristol
#83 TE/DT Victor Hernandez, Sr., Vilseck
#88 WR/DB Isaiah Wesby, Jr., Naples
#99 DE/K David Arrequin, Sr., Naples

#1 RB CJ Evans, Sr., Bitburg
#2 RB/CB Zachery Boswell, Sr., Ramstein
#3 QB/S Dylan Le Page, Sr., Ramstein
#4 LB/K Christian Burdick, Sr., Menwith Hill
#5 RB Ben Holliday, Sr., Baumholder
#6 WR/DB Robert Navarro, Jr., Ramstein
#7 WR Dennis Ringgold, Sr., Wiesbaden
#8 QB Daniel Cordova, Jr., AFNORTH
#9 K Peter Mark Swisshelm, Sr., Sigonella
#10 QB/S Ben McDaniels, Sr., Baumholder
#11 WR/DL Dustyn Le Page, Sr., Ramstein
#12 RB/DB Jared Parker, Sr., SHAPE
#14 WR Victor Black, Jr., AFNORTH
#21 RB/LB Justin Rodney, Jr., Heidelberg
#22 RB Connor Manning, Jr., SHAPE
#28 WR/DB Glenn Jones, Sr., Lakenheath
#32 LB Branden Simonson, Jr., Ramstein
#33 DL Kyla Capogna, Sr., Lakenheath
#34 RB/LB Bryce Randall, Sr., Bitburg
#40 LB Tyler Rood, Sr., Ramstein
#45 DL Drake Harness, Jr., Ramstein
#50 OL/DL Daniel Mattner, Wiesbaden
#54 OL/DL Luke Narug, AFNORTH
#55 OL/DL Devin Billups, Jr., Bitburg
#56 OL/DL Taylor Ator, Jr., SHAPE
#57 LB Tysean Hendrix, Sr., Kaiserslautern
#58 OL/DL Colton Engelmeier, Sr., Bitburg
#63 OL/LB Anthony Brown, Sr., Wiesbaden
#64 OL Wyatt Sill, Sr., Wiesbaden
#75 OL/DL Ian Hudak, Sr., Lakenheath
#76 OL/DL Joey Bahret, Jr., Ramstein
#86 K/RB Traywick Brandon, Sr., Alconbury


Goodbye Rusty, hello Greg

When Bitburg staged a 22-point rally to win the Division II football title at last weekend’s Super Six championships, it kept one streak alive. The Barons won their 30th straight game and will have a chance to tie the DODDS-Europe record in their first game of the 2013 season.

But another streak of sorts ended with the game. Rusty Bryan, who has worked for Stars and Stripes for more than 30 years, covered his last game for the newspaper. Rusty, in the process of retiring and moving to Texas, has been Stripes’ designated sports reporter in Europe for more than a decade. In such a role, he’s covered hundreds of military and high school sporting events and put thousands of military dependents’ names in the paper and on this website.

Someone thinking about a career in journalism who got a glimpse at Rusty’s typical Saturday during the school year might have second thoughts. Stars and Stripes covers more than 30 high schools spread over eight countries – not counties - in Europe. 

During the fall season, many schools featured at least six teams spread out over various sports. And almost all of them play every Saturday. So the volume of emails and calls that come in can be daunting for one person to handle.

That meant it was a rare Saturday when Rusty could venture out of the office to cover a game or other sporting event. So Stars and Stripes supplemented its sports coverage in recent years by assigning news reporters to cover games. While those reporters have come and gone – and in recent years with staff reductions they’ve mostly gone – Rusty remained a constant.

At least until last weekend. Rusty delayed retirement for several months to give Stars and Stripes time to hire his replacement. He wasn’t feeling well most of last week, but – as is the case with those used to running one-man shows for years – he didn’t consider asking someone else to cover the Division II game for him.

Rusty shied away from the spotlight as much as possible, evading efforts by both Stars and Stripes and DODDS to publicly acknowledge his contributions recently. He might not appreciate this blog, in fact. But I’m pretty sure he’ll get a chance to look at it from a computer screen in the States.

With Rusty and Dave Ornauer in place in the Pacific, Stars and Stripes hadn’t hired a dedicated sports reporter in decades. In fact, trying to figure out the last time the paper hired someone to focus on sports left even a few longtime staffers scratching their heads.

But that process is complete. Gregory Broome, who comes to Stars and Stripes from covering local sports in Florida, has spent a few weeks trying to absorb as much as he can about the American military sport scene in Europe. Greg had an advantage of sorts. His father was a Department of Defense employee and Greg lived in Kaiserslautern for a few years in the 1990s. Stripes’ headquarters is in Kaiserslautern and that’s where Greg will be based.

From there, he’ll cover as much of the sports scene as possible, with the help of others from time to time. And though it’s likely he won’t get to watch an event at every high school in Europe, he’ll certainly strive to continue Rusty’s goal of providing a broad spectrum of coverage to as many schools and teams as possible.

Greg covered a few days of the 2012 DODDS European Volleyball Championships last week and then reported on the Division I and III games at the Super Six. But, like Rusty, he’ll be spending most of his Saturdays in the office, trying to provide at least a glimpse of what goes on each weekend.

To do that, he’ll count on coaches to provide statistics and information from games, matches, meets and other contests around Europe. Feel free to contact him at broomeg@stripes.osd.mil anytime. Just don’t expect to get a very detailed reply on a Saturday.

Kent Harris
Overseas sports editor


Gregory Broome is an experienced and accomplished community sports journalist. Officially a native of Iowa, Broome grew up a Department of Defense dependent at sites all over the United States and Germany.

He finally settled in Florida, earning a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Central Florida.

Broome began his journalism career in in 2004 as a sports writer for the Ocala Star-Banner in Ocala, Fla., covering high school, college and community sports and earning recognition for his work from the Florida Press Club. In 2009 Broome was named the first sports information director at College of Central Florida, an NJCAA member school, where he launched the program's website and social media pages and revamped its promotional and game-day operations.

Broome joined Stars and Stripes in October of 2012.



Twitter: @broomestripes

Phone: DSN 583-9301; Civ 0631-3615-9301


Broome on AFN


Stars and Stripes reporter Gregory Broome talks about the Europe sports scene on AFN Radio. (Click on right arrow to play file)


Mar. 20: Winter sports season comes to an end, with most spring teams still thawing out after a light opening weekend.