LANCASTER, Pa. – Twelve days and over 15,000 miles later the travel-weary Franklin & Marshall men's soccer team returned to Lancaster from South Africa; a trip they will never forget. The Diplomats took the plunge off the world's highest bungee-bridge, navigated an eight-run zipline course with wires that stretched nearly 500 feet, came face-to-face with lions and visited what can only be described as an oasis in the middle of one of the poorest townships in South Africa; Chris T. Campbell Memorial Field, which is located in the heart of Khayelitsha.
The journey focused on growing the program's idea of S.E.L.F., which stands for Service, Education, Leadership and Family, to help serve others. Provided was a transformational experience for the team that perfectly embodies the DIII philosophy of discover, develop and dedicate.
Photos from the trip can be viewed here and a personal account of the experience, seen through the eyes of forward Jared Bomba can be read here. Videos from the trip have already begun to be uploaded to the GoDiplomats Youtube page, found here, with more to follow in the upcoming weeks.
Below is a breakdown of the adventure from day one through 12.
Garden Route: The Trip's First Leg
Chris T. Campbell Memorial Field in Cape Town, South Africa was the team's ultimate destination, but getting there was half the fun. A three-hour bus trip to JFK Airport in New York, before a seven and a half hour plane ride to Heathrow Airport in London was only the start. From England, the Diplomats flew into Johannesburg on a 12-hour journey before another short two-hour flight into Port Elizabeth. Finally on the ground, the team began the trip's first portion, the Garden Route, a stretch of South Africa that runs along the southeastern coast of the country.
Various stops along the route packed the first four days full of adventure. The team stayed at the Storm's River Rest Camp, located in the Tsisikamma National Park. Located right along the coast of the Indian Ocean, breathtaking views and scenic backdrops provided the perfect spot for amazing hikes through trails of the park. Bloukrans Bridge was located close to the national park and was the site of the 709-feet bungee jump that nearly half the team opted for. Video of the team's experience from the jump can be found here.
Ziplining and a stop at Gondwana Lodge for a one-of a kind game drive, followed for the Diplomats. Set on over 27,000 acres, the Gondwana Game Reserve left no barrier between the Diplomats and a host of animals that included giraffes, zebras, rhinos, hippos and even lions. Positioned only feet away, the men's soccer team got a true one-of-a-kind experience when they witnessed a pack of lions feasting on an unlucky zebra.
Cape Town: The Second Leg
Day five of the adventure saw the group finally arrive in Cape Town, the second-most populous city in South Africa after Johannesburg. The competition portion of the trip began the following day, when the Diplomats opened play with a 1-1 tie against AJAX Cape Town's U17 team. AJAX is in the South African Premier League and a branch club of Amsterdam, a highly successful European Club. Other matches throughout the week included a 1-0 shutout of the University of Cape Town, a 3-0 defeat of Camps Bay FC, a local soccer club, and culminating with the only loss on the trip against the Cape Town All-Stars, a club comprised of many professional players.
The education aspect of the trip was kicked into full gear throughout the week with daily leadership presentations in which pairs of players discussed assigned chapters of Richard Stengel's novel, "Mandela's Way." The theme of Nelson Mandela played an integral part of the player's journey, with a trip to Robben Island Prison, where the former South African President was held for 18 years, as well as an unforgettable speech from Christo Brand, a former Robben Island prison warden and longtime friend of Mandela. A visit to the District Six Museum, which serves as a memorial to the forced movement of 60,000 inhabitants out of the Cape Town area during the height of Apartheid, gave the team a greater insight into the history of the region.
For most, the highlight of the Diplomats' time spent in Cape Town was the turf field in Khayelitsha named in honor of the former men's soccer player, Chris Campbell. Early in the week his father, Chris Campbell Sr., stopped by the lodge to talk with the members of the team and give some insight into the importance of the field. The Diplomats traveled on numerous occasions throughout the week into Khayelitsha Township, an area only 17 square miles but home to an estimated two million residents.
The team toured the township and received an unfiltered view of the poverty in the area, but also saw the hope and inspiration the field provides to Khayelitsha. They met with incredible people like the organizers of Amandala EduFootball, the organization that oversees the programs run at the field, as well as senior leaders and the CTC10 workers.
Kids from the township arrived at the field and immediately took to the players, instantly treating them to smiles and happiness. The players helped the kids through some of the programs offered at the field and spent time singing and dancing with them. Instant bonds were formed as well as the optimism that these kids now had another positive role model to look up to. A bond was formed through the game of soccer, a language spoken by both. A recap from some of the players about their experiences at the field as well as additional footage can be found here.
Time spent on the turf culminated in the Crime Prevention League, which runs every Friday night with registered teams of men between the ages of 18 and 25. The league attempts to put this demographic, which has the highest rate of crime, on the field during the Friday hours of greatest criminal activity. Each Diplomat was placed on a competing squad, with the 5-on-5 tournament culminating in the championship at 1:00 a.m. in the morning.
The Final Leg: A Few More Incredible Experiences, The Long Trip Home
Prior to making the long journey back to Lancaster, the team had more sightseeing adventures to partake in. These included a trip over 3,500 feet in the air to the top of Table Mountain, a significant tourist attraction that overlooks the city of Cape Town, as well as a hike through the Cape of Good Hope, one of the most southern parts of Africa.
Two plane rides and nearly a day and a half of travel later, the Diplomats were home from a trip expected to provide benefits that will last a lifetime. Above only begins to scratch the surface of everything that occurred on the trip. Immediately, the impact is difficult to quantify, but all the aspects of the journey, along with the experiences the team went through together as a whole, can only further strengthen the bond between the members of the 2013 Centennial Conference winning team. Perhaps more importantly, the things they learned along the way will provide a stepping stone in life to not only make them better soccer players; but better teammates, sons, brothers and Diplomats of Franklin & Marshall.