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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Ramstein striker Tommy Appel-Schumacher raised his soccer skills to a high level while working his way to the top German league for his age group.

Now the 17-year-old junior is playing high school soccer for the first time — and enjoying it.

“It’s a different atmosphere,” Appel-Schumacher said Tuesday as the Royals practiced on a field hacked from the forest at the 38th Construction Training Squadron compound while their grounds at the high school undergo renovation.

“German soccer is played at a higher level, but here you get to play in front of your friends in the stands and wear your school’s uniform while representing it on the field. It’s my first chance to play with Americans.”

Appel-Schumacher has been eligible to play for the Royals since he was a freshman. In past seasons, however, his obligations to his German team, SG Blaubach-Diedlekopf, precluded his playing on his high school team.

“Most of our league games this season are played on Sunday,” he said, “so I can play high school soccer, too.”

To do so, Appel-Schumacher takes part in double practice sessions three days a week, and plays games on Saturdays and Sundays. He finds the extra workload worth the effort.

“I play high school soccer for fun,” he said. “I play German soccer to improve my skills.”

Those skills are on a rarefied level, said Ramstein volunteer assistant coach Dominik Ludes, a college student who possesses a German coaching license and has worked with Ramstein for the past four years.

“He’s one of the best players I’ve seen in high school soccer,” Ludes said of Appel-Schumacher, who scored two goals in his first high school game — a 4-2 victory at Wiesbaden on March 20.

“He has an eye for the goal. Not only can he create his own opportunities to score, he can create opportunities for the players around him to score, too.”

American coaches agree about the Ramstein striker’s abilities. Appel-Schumacher has been selected to play on the U.S. Olympic Development Program Region I all-star team, drawn from Europe and the northeastern United States, every summer since 2001.

“I get the best of both worlds,” said Appel-Schumacher, who was born in Frankfurt and moved to the Ramstein area in 1993, said of his ODP experiences.

And the worlds are different, he said.

“Even though it’s faster, German soccer is more laid-back, more relaxed,” Appel-Schumacher said. “American soccer emphasizes pressing forward more on offense.”

Like most American athletes in Europe, Appel-Schumacher is faced with the problem of connecting with the stateside college coaching community while playing high school soccer 3,000 miles away. He uses summer camps, and his ODP exposure as an antidote to distance-induced obscurity.

“I’ll be going to two summer college camps this year,” Appel-Schumacher said, “and play ODP again.”

In the meantime, he’ll continue to juggle his double workload as a high school and top teen amateur player in Germany — with the blessing of his German club.

“They expect us to give our all during practice and in games,” he said of his year-round German coaches. “As long as I do that, they’re willing to let me play high school soccer, too.”

And next year?

“If I get the chance, I will,” he said. “Otherwise, as much as I love school, I can’t pass up the opportunity to better myself in German soccer.”

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