When you think of Italy, you might think of ancient history, gelato, pasta and breath-taking scenery, but do you think of American football? Played in a velodrome?
Seniors Ben Serdy and Gabe Thomas joined 32 other players from across the U.S. for a whirlwind eight-day trip that included all of the above, culminating in an international “friendly” against the Italian U19 team on March 31, 2019.
American Football Worldwide provides an international travel and game opportunity for high school seniors. Although the playbook was sent weeks in advance, the team met for the first time at Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport, with groups of players, coaches and some family members arriving from Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
The tour was ambitious and exhilarating, going straight from the airport to the Roman city center for a guided tour of the Forum and the Coliseum with local guides. Dinner featured impromptu performances of Italian opera.
Averaging nearly 15,000 steps per day, the team visited the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona in Rome, then on to Tuscany, with walking tours of Siena and Florence.
In addition to four practice sessions of their own, the team participated in a co-practice and scrimmage with Florence’s Guelfi American Football club which hosted the AFW team for a social afterward.
Cinque Terre was the next destination; taking the train from La Spezia to Monterosso, they had the opportunity to explore any of the five villages, meeting back in La Spezia for the bus ride to the Como region, where they stayed for the remaining three nights.
After the final practice in Saronno, the tour party had an excursion to Lugano, Switzerland, crossing another international border and experiencing a lakeside city with the Swiss “Pre Alps” as a dramatic backdrop. Returning to Italy, the team explored Lake Como at sunset.
Game day included a walking tour of Milan in the morning. The historic Velodromo Maspes Vigorelli was the site for the game (which the U.S. team won, 58-0) and a post-game meet-and-greet with the Italian hosts.
Upon reflection, Ben said, “The most memorable experience of the trip was practicing with Firenzi Guelfi. That team was so excited to practice with players from the States and came in ready to compete and learn. Having an impact on the rise of the sport I love in a different country was an honor and I hope to see improvement in the play of the Italian national team for years to come.”
The game stream can be found here