Kicking and dribbling around the globe

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Looking back on the nearly two weeks she spent in England and Holland last month, it might be easier to count things that Whitney Chavis didn’t do.

The 13-year-old King’s Fork Middle School student took a 12-mile bike trip through Amsterdam, checking out cheese and wooden shoe factories along the way. She rode a double-decker bus down the streets of downtown London, snapping pictures of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. She visited the house in which Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis. She was taught a few words of Dutch, danced with children from Belgium, Italy, China, Sweden and other countries, and learned the basics of korfball, a popular European sport that combines basketball and soccer.

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Oh, and she also found time to play a bit of soccer with the best young players from around the globe; Whitney and her friends on the People To People U14 Pride select soccer team completed a 3-3-2 record at the Haarlem Cup event in Amsterdam.

Whitney’s soccer career began as a second-grader at Mount Zion Elementary School, when she started playing forward in Suffolk Youth Athletic Association 8U competition.

&uot;After I started running a lot, I played center midfielder,&uot; she said. &uot;I’d help the offense try to score, or I’d run back and help the defense try to shoot the ball back to the offense.&uot;

She moved up through U10 and U12, helping the Rockets to a league championship during her U12 years.

When she hit her teen years, Whitney continued her soccer career as a member of Portsmouth’s U14 Elizabeth River squad, as SYAA doesn’t have U14 select competition. Then, last December, she found that she’d get a chance to show her skills to a slightly larger audience.

Someone, perhaps a coach, opponent, official, recommended Whitney to the People to People Sports Ambassador program, based out of Spokane, Wash. (these vouchers are anonymous). A representative called her family to invite her overseas.

But there was still plenty to do before the plane would leave the ground six months later. Whitney obtained letters of recommendation from her soccer coach, as well as two King’s Fork teachers. She collected thousands of dollars in donations from such organizations as Mike Duman Auto Sales, Physical Therapy Works, Suffolk Forest Products, Duke Automotive, the Suffolk Ruritan Club, as well as many individuals. She read several books about what to expect (cuisine, language) when visiting other countries.

Finally, on July 16, she was ready to become one of only three Virginians (she was the youngest, and the only Suffolkian) to take part in the program. Ready to embark on her first solo flight, Whitney jumped from Norfolk to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., then soared over the ocean.

&uot;I was looking out the window, and the sun was going down,&uot; she said. &uot;I fell asleep for about three hours, and the sun was coming up.&uot; Whereas she’d nodded off at about 9 p.m. American time, the time difference between the continents made it roughly the early morning as she landed at Heathrow Airport in London. Not only that, but she and her teammates then had to take a four-hour bus ride to the University of Hertfordshire and go straight to practice. &uot;We did stretches, dribbling, scrimmages, everything,&uot; she said. &uot;We were out there for about four hours.&uot;

Upon returning to the college dorms, the girls found out that they’d missed dinner, and were forced to subside on leftovers. Fortunately, things would be better soon.

At 5:45 a.m. the next morning, the girls stumbled out of bed. They practiced until noon, and then went sightseeing. Aside from the legendary clock and Palace, the girls checked out Cleopatra’s statue, and tried to make the British guards break character.

&uot;We were taking pictures and making faces at them,&uot; Whitney said. &uot;They were trying not to laugh, but then they started to get mad, so we left.&uot;

The next day, the squads headed back to Heathrow, and forward to Amsterdam, itself an hour ahead of London in time zones. One four-hour bus ride later, they were in a hotel bed, and ready for action.

Things got off to a tough start, as the Americans fell 2-0 to Sweden. &uot;I was impressed,&uot; Whitney said. &uot;They tell you to talk in soccer, but those girls didn’t say a word. They passed the ball like magnets.&uot; They came closer later on in the day, but still lost 1-0 to the Netherlands.

After a dinner at McDonald’s (which, fortunately, had English menus), the girls went on their bike ride. &uot;It was beautiful,&uot; Whitney said. &uot;It was so nice and quiet. We saw a lot of sheep, horses, goats, all sorts of animals.&uot;

Perhaps the beauty relaxed them enough to play their best the next day; the girls started off with a 3-1 defeat of Iceland, then grabbed a forfeit win in their next game. They finished the day by tying another American squad 1-1, then visited the Frank home.

&uot;That was so depressing,&uot; Whitney said. &uot;Her diary was framed so we could all see it, and we saw her room and the bookshelves that she hid behind.&uot;

The Pride fell to the American squad Rush 3-0 in their sixth game the next day, but Whitney grabbed her first real moment in the spotlight in the second game; blasting in a goal in her team’s 5-1 win over another Netherland team.

&uot;That was so exciting,&uot; she said. &uot;My teammates were all cheering and high-fiving me.&uot; She had an assist in her team’s final game of the tournament that night, a 3-3 tie with one last American squad.

After the game, all the teams came together in a ceremony. The Americans were some of the first to arrive, followed by the 17 other teams. &uot;I was talking to kids from all over the world,&uot; she said. &uot;We liked some of the same things, like sports and music. Some of the kids couldn’t speak English too well, but when an Usher song came on, they knew every word!&uot;

After one last day of shopping in the stores of Amsterdam (Whitney bought a David Beckham jersey), it was time to return home – unfortunately. &uot;I didn’t want to come back,&uot; she said. &uot;It was a once in a lifetime thing. It was so interesting to meet so many people from other countries, and see how we compared to others with all our similarities. I definitely want to go back next year.&uot;