The girls were the only two athletes from northern Nevada chosen to represent young soccer players in Brazil this summer for the People to People Sports Ambassadors program.
Though they have been accepted to the program, all that stands in their way is the funding. Each must raise $6,300; a $1,000 deposit due March 1, with the balance due in May.
Rob Harris, area sports administrator for the Sports Ambassador program and Jacquelyn’s father, will be traveling to Brazil with the girls. He said sending them would be worth the money.
The program encompasses seven sports, including wrestling, bowling, tennis, girls’ volleyball, basketball, baseball and soccer. In the case of soccer, Rob remarked, athletes of other countries play in a style that is markedly different than the way Americans perform.
“It opens the kids’ eyes to the different types of sports (played internationally),” Rob said. “Europeans are extremely competitive, but (unlike Americans) it’s not personal. They leave it on the field.”
Jacquelyn, a sophomore at Reed High, has participated in the program in the past, playing with German and Swiss players in Vienna, Austria.
“It really changes the way you play,” Jacquelyn said.
The program isn’t publicized, so to be chosen is considered a high honor. The students must be interviewed by coaches and then attend training sessions and orientation with their parents that familiarizes everyone with any issue pertaining to traveling, including currency issues.
Locally, Lisa and Jacquelyn were outstanding candidates to become Sports Ambassadors, Rob said.
Lisa, who plays sweeper and midfield positions, started her soccer career with the American Youth Soccer Organization at 12.
“I hope to learn a different style and do things on the field differently; I just want to get better at the sport,” said Lisa, a sophomore at Wooster High.
Lisa’s mother, Karen, described her daughter as a “very aggressive” player.
“If you mess with her, she’ll mess right back with you,” Karen said.
“I like the contact and taking the ball from (the opponent),” Lisa said about why she enjoys soccer.
People to People was the brainchild of President Dwight Eisenhower, who brought the nation’s leaders together at the White House in 1956 to achieve “peace through understanding” in cultural exchange. Two renowned athletes — Rafer Johnson, a gold medal decathlete at the 1960 Rome Olympics, and Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics — were called to serve as international ambassadors. Their involvement inspired the Sports Ambassadors branch of the program.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Rob said. “Even the parents say they wish there were a program like this when they were younger.”
The cost of the trip includes airfare, hotel stays, and two meals a day. Athletes will also travel to Brazilian landmarks, including the giant Christ the Redeemer statue, take beach soccer classes at Barra de Tijuca beach, attend a professional match at Maracana Stadium (the home of the 2014 World Cup final), visit a school for underprivileged children and have access to the Granja Comary facility, the site of the Brazilian national team training center.
In Sports Ambassadors, the players have opportunities to listen to discussions with professional players. Soccer players will have the chance to work with Steve Sampson, a former U.S. National Team coach and the only one to have coached two national teams, the U.S. and Costa Rica.
But more than fostering love of the sport, the program offers youth in grades 5 through 12 an international education by connecting and competing with other kids their age who share the same passion for their sport.
“They don’t speak the same language,” Rob said. “But we try to show we’re not bad Americans. The kids break those barriers.”
The students make friends with their international counterparts by exchanging gifts. In the past, the students traded scarves and pins. One player distributed pins that he created gluing backings to Louisiana quarters, as Rob showed from a necklace that he carried with an assortment of pins.
They are exposed to the culture of the country and that fosters chances to create lasting memories for the youth, such as being paired with roommates who are natives of the country.
“Kids are so much different than adults,” Rob observed. “They get along surprisingly well. They’re very resilient.”
Checks made out to People to People with Lisa Martino’s or Jacquelyn Harris’ name will be accepted for donations, which are tax-deductible.
To make a donation for local soccer players Lisa Martino and Jacquelyn Harris to go to Brazil as Sports Ambassadors, call Rob Harris at 691-5301.