How do you say “touchdown” in Chinese?
A group of local high school athletes will soon find out. Four kids from the area are among a team of sports ambassadors who will head to the Far East on Saturday, seeking to share American football with a Chinese audience.
“This is absolutely incredible,” said Rory Foley, a Hopewell Junction native who plays football at Trinity-Pawling School. “It’ll be a rare opportunity for us to experience another culture, and hopefully it’ll be fun for them to learn about football.”
Foley will be joined by his teammate, JJ Flaccavento of Wappingers Falls, and Rhinebeck brothers Nick and Michael Mastroeni.
That quartet is part of a team of 22 high school players from across the country, assembled by Global Football to form its Stars & Stripes team. The organization, established in 1996, seeks to spread American football throughout the world by traveling to host exhibition games.
The group will be in China from April 1-10. Sandwiched around sightseeing and typical tourist activities, they will be putting on clinics in Beijing and Shanghai before facing the American Football Academy team in a friendly on April 8. Their opponent is a team of Chinese youngsters who have been taught the sport.
It will be a full-length contest with full-contact, giving the audience a real taste of the game.
“It’s a unique chance to do this, so I know I’m gonna play 100 percent,” said Foley, a tailback. “We’re assuming the Chinese team will think of it the same way and it’ll be competitive.”
The game will take place at Shanghai’s Yuanshen Sports Centre Stadium.
Flaccavento is a freshman lineman at Trinity-Pawling, a boarding school in Pawling that boasts a powerhouse football program. Nick Mastroeni, 17, and Michael Mastroeni, 15, both attend Rhinebeck High School and are running backs who play for the combined Pine Plains/Rhinebeck football team.
“Basketball is gigantic in China and they’re trying to do the same with football,” said Rob Scott, the Pine Plains/Rhinebeck football coach. “This is going to be a fantastic experience for all involved.”
Scott said Michael Mastroeni met Global Football representatives while competing in a winter league on Long Island and was told of the opportunity then.
Injuries are an obvious concern whenever football is played but, Scott said, “I’d rather have them doing this than sitting on the couch eating cookies.”
Foley, 17, said his Trinity-Pawling coach Nick LaFontaine was contacted by Global Football in December and pitched to his team the idea of joining the organization in this venture. He immediately jumped at the chance.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing the organization is doing,” said Ferg Foley, Rory’s father. “Both cultures get exposed to something new.”
The roster includes players from as far as California and the trip is being funded by the athletes’ parents. They will be chaperoned by four head coaches from some of the schools represented, and a few parents will be accompanying their kids.
The players have exchanged phone numbers and started a group text message chat. Those conversations, Rory said, give them an early jump on building camaraderie. And they at least won’t be total strangers when they meet this weekend.
“It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Ferg Foley said. “To get to go all the way over there and see another continent, as a young kid, that’s special in itself. Let alone bringing a big part of American culture over there.”
Rory Foley has never been to Asia before, but he has visited Ireland — his father’s native country — and went to Italy last year on a school trip. After moving to the United States at age 13, Ferg Foley said he quickly learned about football, and soccer eventually was pushed to the side. His son grew up passionate about football … the American kind.
“As someone who loves football, this whole opportunity is unbelievable,” Rory Foley said. “I’ve heard football is growing in popularity in China, so it’ll be great for us to help that along and show them what we can do.”
Oh, and “touchdown” in Chinese is: 接地. Easy enough, right?
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4