Baumholder’s three-decade-long friendship with Ohio Wesleyan University
Stripes Europe August 14, 2023
Like all good stories, this one begins with a boy and a girl. Unlike many of those tales, this evolves into so much more.
It all started back in 1987. A young soccer player named Matthew (Matt) Byers came to visit his girlfriend, an American soldier stationed in Baumholder. Through his love of soccer, he struck up a friendship with Berndt Mai, an assistant coach for the local soccer club. Byers took all of the steps needed to become a player here in Germany. While this story does not end in true love, it does end in a friendship that has lasted for three decades.
Byers stayed and played with the team and was hosted by a local hotel owner and was invited for meals with many local families. By the end of the year, he was on his way back to America where he was later hired as a soccer coach for Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU). While the romantic relationship he came to Germany for didn’t last, it did open the door for a soccer connection between the university, its players, and the families who have hosted them throughout the years.
Byers remained very close with Mai, the German soccer coach, while he worked at OWU. Mai even visited him in 1989. During that visit, a connection was made with Dr. Jay Martin, the head coach, and an idea was born. The following year, the team visited Baumholder for the first time as part of a tour throughout Europe. Mai and his friend Uwe Kemmer, also from Baumholder, set out to make their visit a memorable one. By enlisting the help of local families, OWU soccer players were able to experience life in Germany from an intimate perspective. The determination was made that future tours to Germany would be planned by the two young men from Baumholder.
I had a personal connection with two of the players: The following year, the team came back to Baumholder and my German boss, who was a soccer player, helped them obtain work visas. They stayed and played soccer for a season and were hosted by local families while they traveled around learning, living and loving the German experience. Lifelong friendships formed between many of the players and their host families over the years. Mai has continued to plan these events every three years for the past 30 years. Kemmer moved to Köln where he continued to work in the soccer industry and has used his contacts to help Mai coordinate the OWU team visits.
This year is the team’s first visit since the COVID-19 epidemic, and the players were welcomed back with open arms. They will visit German cities such as Dortmund, Munich, Köln and Heidelberg. They are even scheduled to play a charity game against the U.S. Armed Services Europe Soccer team during the trip.
The teammates come and go but the friendships have lasted a lifetime. The original group from the 90s is older now. They have their own families and successful careers, but they remain ambassadors for the college by encouraging their children to develop friendships with the host families in Baumholder. Martin, the OWU head coach, has received many accolades and is credited as the most-winning soccer coach in U.S. college sports. He and the team were welcomed back by the two Mayors, Berndt Alfasser and Gunther Jung, with a formal ceremony where they were presented with coins and pins to commemorate their visit to Baumholder. Another year, another team, another friendship.