Military community boosts U.S. rugby team to victory

Photo by Jane Porto-Turner

“USA! USA! USA!” Chants rolled through the BRITA- Arena just outside Hainerberg Saturday night where many from the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden community had come to cheer the U.S. national rugby team in their first ever match up against Germany. The men’s Eagles team responded by trouncing Germany in a 46 to 17 victory.

The triumphant evening was the culmination of a week-long support and publicity blitz from the American military community. U.S. rugby players prepared for the big game with practices and workouts at garrison facilities.

“The U.S. Army Wiesbaden Garrison was asked by (U.S. Army Europe) to assist the U.S. National rugby team,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Church. “We were delighted to have the rugby team here to train and interact with the community and of course support their win over team Germany.”

Jörg Barthel, head of the Rugby Union of Rheinland-Pfalz and an organizer of the event, said that using the astro turf was very important to the team so they could get their sprint sessions in.

Some players also took part in a meet and greet at Wiesbaden’s AAFES Main Exchange.
“It was one of the best meet and greets they ever had,” Barthel said. “They really wanted to show their support for the soldiers, and they had a fantastic time.”

In the days leading up to the game, Family and MWR distributed 100 free game tickets and held contests for 10 VIP Gold box seats. They were among the thousands who showed up for this historic match.

Community support extended to the game opening ceremony where Spc. Jake Jansen sang the U.S. National Anthem and Sgt. 1st Class James Shields delivered the German National Anthem. Both sang a capella and gave soaring renditions with the knowledge that their performances were being carried live on German TV and the ESPN Rugby Channel.

“As terrifying as the prospect was, I’m so happy and honored to have done it,” Jansen said.

“We’ve never seen anything like that,” Barthel said. “The singing gave me goose bumps.”

Twenty-one children from the garrison community answered a last minute call to participate in the opening ceremony too. Avery and Eliza Buchman; Aaron, Amanda and Jac Cheney; Willow Galloway; Karys Griffin; Jaiden Hunter; Caden and Gabie McCurdy; John and Joseph Pohlmann; Jack Sabol; Pierse Smith; Leo Stankovich; Contessa and Savannah Turner; Ethan Venton; and Abigail and Ben Young volunteered to fill a void after a scheduled group was unable to make it. They joined other children from the host nation in an early afternoon rehearsal where they were given roles such as waving flags on poles, unfurling giant flags and accompanying players onto the pitch. After hours in the cold, the kids performed the opening ceremony flawlessly.

“I was nervous, but it was a lot fun,” said 9-year-old Aaron Cheney. “The rugby players were awesome, and the German kids were really nice.”

Overall it was a big night for the American community. This was a rare opportunity to cheer a U.S. national team so close to home. Spectators reveled in the chance to show their patriotic pride and there was a great sense of camaraderie throughout the stadium.

“We would cheer a great moment for the other team as well as our own, as did the rival’s fans,” said Paul Van Schie. “It was a great time for all, thanks to the U.S. Rugby team for the experience.”

See more photos from the event at https://www.flickr.com/photos/wpao/ in the “Rugby Showdown” album.

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