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The city of Baumholder looms in the background as players from Ohio Wesleyan University and the German Forces national team play a friendly match Wednesday at Bruehlstadion in Baumholder, Germany. The German Forces national team beat OWU 2-1. OWU visits Baumholder every three to five years as part of a two-week visit to Germany.

The city of Baumholder looms in the background as players from Ohio Wesleyan University and the German Forces national team play a friendly match Wednesday at Bruehlstadion in Baumholder, Germany. The German Forces national team beat OWU 2-1. OWU visits Baumholder every three to five years as part of a two-week visit to Germany. (Gregory Broome/Stars and Stripes)

The city of Baumholder looms in the background as players from Ohio Wesleyan University and the German Forces national team play a friendly match Wednesday at Bruehlstadion in Baumholder, Germany. The German Forces national team beat OWU 2-1. OWU visits Baumholder every three to five years as part of a two-week visit to Germany.

The city of Baumholder looms in the background as players from Ohio Wesleyan University and the German Forces national team play a friendly match Wednesday at Bruehlstadion in Baumholder, Germany. The German Forces national team beat OWU 2-1. OWU visits Baumholder every three to five years as part of a two-week visit to Germany. (Gregory Broome/Stars and Stripes)

German Forces soldiers line the stands behind the Ohio Wesleyan University bench to watch the German Forces national team face OWU in a friendly match Wednesday at Bruehlstadion in Baumholder, Germany. The German Forces national team beat OWU 2-1. OWU visits Baumholder every three to five years as part of a two-week visit to Germany.

German Forces soldiers line the stands behind the Ohio Wesleyan University bench to watch the German Forces national team face OWU in a friendly match Wednesday at Bruehlstadion in Baumholder, Germany. The German Forces national team beat OWU 2-1. OWU visits Baumholder every three to five years as part of a two-week visit to Germany. (Gregory Broome/Stars and Stripes)

Members of the Ohio Wesleyan University soccer team are escorted onto the field by players from the VfR Baumholder youth team Wednesday at Bruehlstadion in Baumholder, Germany. The German Forces national team beat OWU 2-1. OWU visits Baumholder every three to five years as part of a two-week visit to Germany.

Members of the Ohio Wesleyan University soccer team are escorted onto the field by players from the VfR Baumholder youth team Wednesday at Bruehlstadion in Baumholder, Germany. The German Forces national team beat OWU 2-1. OWU visits Baumholder every three to five years as part of a two-week visit to Germany. (Gregory Broome/Stars and Stripes)

Players from the German Forces national team and Ohio Wesleyan University pursue the ball in a friendly match Wednesday at Bruehlstadion in Baumholder, Germany. The German Forces national team beat OWU 2-1. OWU visits Baumholder every three to five years as part of a two-week visit to Germany.

Players from the German Forces national team and Ohio Wesleyan University pursue the ball in a friendly match Wednesday at Bruehlstadion in Baumholder, Germany. The German Forces national team beat OWU 2-1. OWU visits Baumholder every three to five years as part of a two-week visit to Germany. (Gregory Broome/Stars and Stripes)

BAUMHOLDER, Germany – They don’t usually make soccer games like this stateside.

The members of the Ohio Wesleyan University men’s soccer team learned that firsthand.

Hundreds of fans crowded around the Bruhlstadion pitch in Baumholder on Wednesday evening to watch the OWU Battling Bishops face the German Forces national team in an international friendly that has grown into a small-town tradition. Bratwurst sizzled, beer flowed and cheers rang out as the experienced German Forces squad handed the jet-lagged college kids a 2-1 defeat.

But 37th-year Bishops head coach Jay Martin sounded nothing like a beaten man after the game. The coach gathered exhausted players in a huddle upon the final whistle, congratulated them on a strong performance against a quality opponent and promised that those who didn’t see the field would play the next night.

For Martin, this game, and the two-week tour through Germany it kicks off, is much more about experience than victory.

“This trip is always a great one,” said Martin, who has brought OWU teams to Baumholder every three to five years since 1990. “It shows them a little bit about what I call a soccer culture we don’t have in the United States. But they certainly have it in Europe.”

The American players, having pursued a college sport that is overshadowed by football and basketball, relished playing in the literal shadow of Baumholder’s historic cityscape. The combination of a classic European setting, a vibrant, attentive crowd and a fierce opponent across the field represented a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” OWU senior Paolo Bucci said, and a sharp contrast from the team’s usual home games in a community preoccupied with the American version of football.

“Nothing compares to being in another country,” said Bucci, who scored the Bishops’ lone goal. “We don’t get a chance to play in an atmosphere like this.”

Wednesday’s game was the first of a schedule that includes visits to Heidelberg, Munich and Trier. In the process, the Bishops will get a thorough view of daily German life as they stay with Baumholder-area host families, many of whom have hosted OWU players for more than 20 years.

Event organizer Bernd Mai, a public affairs officer at USAG Baumholder, values equally the on-field and off-the-field aspects of OWU’s visits.

On the field, the well-connected Mai celebrated the fact that he was able to call in a favor and book the highly-regarded German Forces squad for the match. OWU goalkeeper Colin Beemiller compared the team favorably to the teams the Bishops encounter in their NCAA Division III schedule, and called the game a valuable preseason test as OWU prepares to open practice soon after their stateside return.

Off the field, Mai praised the local community, both German national and American military, for supporting the event. The game sold more than 300 tickets in advance, Mai said, and saw dozens more walk up. A portion of the proceeds benefitted Stefan-Morsch-Stiftung, a local charity working with leukemia patients.

The game has grown to the point that Baumholder and Delaware, Ohio, the home of OWU, were officially named sister cities in 2011, with government officials from each city making visits to their counterpart’s hometown.

At the center of this burgeoning trans-Atlantic relationship is the long-standing friendship between Mai and Martin, and a soccer team full of unlikely ambassadors.

“It’s a total soccer and German cultural experience,” Martin said.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes


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