Two German high school students who were complete strangers traveled 5,000 miles to Salem, Oregon, to be introduced to each other at a pool.
Marlene Boderius, an experienced water polo player from Hamburg, is attending Sprague High School as part of an exchange program.
Felix von Rhein is a novice in water polo, but experienced club swimmer from Fulda – about 60 miles northwest of Frankfurt. He is attending South Salem as part of a different exchange program.
“And they both decide to play polo,” South Salem coach Sam Duus said. “Pretty cool. I think it’s pretty cool, too.
“Both are great kids.”
Boderius has played water polo for nine years at the club level in Germany and has significant skills.
Boderius looked natural, scoring two goals in Thursday’s 12-4 loss to South Salem. She is a smart passer and strong swimmer.
The team environment with Sprague is an adjustment, though.
“Here the teams always change every year,” Boderius said. “The new players and the seniors go out. In my age, everyone is playing together for nine, eight years. When someone new comes, it isn’t as open as it is here. It’s pretty cool and it makes it pretty fun.”
Boderius is an easy-going redhead with a heady playing style.
She has made an immediate impact on Sprague’s girls water polo team in the pool and in the water polo community in Salem.
“I thought it was really cool,” South Salem senior Spencer Garfield said. “The family she’s staying with, her sister is (former South Salem player) Sarah Smith-Tripp, so actually she would have gone to our school. But she’s in the Sprague district so she went to Sprague.
“She’s a great addition to their team.”
Von Rhein has a lot of experience in pools, but most of it is in swimming meets. His swimming skills show and help make up for his lack of experience.
“I thought when I came here, I thought that this may be a good possibility to start water polo,” von Rhein said.
When Boderius first arrived in Oregon, she went directly to a tournament in Redmond to play for Sprague.
Von Rhein was there playing for South Salem so a number of the players and parents who knew who they were introduced them.
Neither was as impressed with two Germans meeting in Oregon as Oregonians are.
“There’s another German exchange student at our school, too, and everyone’s like, oh my God, you have to meet him,” said Boderius, a sophomore. “I don’t see him around. I don’t know him. Maybe I’ll meet him one time.”
There is a water polo player at West Albany from Germany on the same exchange program as von Rhein so it’s unusual, but not unexpected that two Germans would be playing water polo in the same section of a town in Oregon.
“There are especially many German exchange students here in the U.S.” said von Rhein, a junior. “I came with a group from Germany. We were 30 people on the plane to Seattle.
“That’s only one organization and only one flight. I think there are every year about 10,000 exchange students from Germany which are going to the U.S.”
The American obsession with sports is another culture shock to the Germans.
Where a hundred people attending a high school water polo match in America is a decent crowd, it is gargantuan compared to what youth sports attract in Germany.
The difference in sports for youths in America vs. sports in other countries is that sports in America are tied to schools.
In Germany, as in most other cultures, the only way to play a sport is to play on a club team, much as Boderius does with water polo in Germany and von Rhein does with swimming.
“It’s depending on which games,” Boderius said. “What I recognized here is always the parents come. My mother would never come.
“When we have the German competitions where we have the best German teams, there are sometimes a lot of people. When it’s like a normal game, no. There are always some people, but not so much.”
But it’s a coincidence that they both von Rhein and Boderius ended up playing the same sport in the same town at the same time halfway around the world from home.
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6701 or Twitter.com/bpoehler