Wally Secord first decided to implement a soccer element to Keene’s cultural exchange program with its sister city of Einbeck, Germany, back in 2003.
The result was more than a decade of local youth soccer players taking summer trips to Einbeck every other year, and the Germans sending some of their players to Keene the following summers. Friendships developed, not just among the kids but the adults.
Though the exchange has lagged over the past four years, Secord wanted to establish a connection with Einbeck’s new coaches. So, the Keene players traveled to Germany last summer, and the Einbeck athletes arrived in Keene last Friday.
With the final match of the trip set for Friday afternoon, Secord, 60, said it will probably be his last hurrah directing the exchange from Keene’s end.
“My hope is that this program can continue,” said Secord, who works as a commercial plumber but is approaching retirement. “So I’m hoping that somebody can step up and do this.”
The first soccer-related event of the trip took place Sunday, with a four-hour “soccer jamboree” at Keene High School.
The two teams held a joint training session Tuesday morning, and they will compete in a final “friendly” match Friday at 3:30 p.m. at Keene High.
“When they step onto the field, they’re playing soccer. The friendship stuff is basically overwith for 90 minutes,” Secord said. “It’ll be a good game to watch. Our team is pretty good, too. It’s like a high school playoff game.”
The Keene team is less of an all-star group and more of a collection of players that were interested in taking part in the event after Secord reached out to them. Still, local fans might recognize some names on the roster, including Keene High’s Trevor Fay and Jonas O’Mara.
Meanwhile, the Einbeck group consists of players from a soccer association in that area. Secord said the exchange features numerous cultural activities outside the soccer pitch, while on it, the local players are exposed to different levels and styles of soccer.
“What we try to tell the kids is watch these guys and see how they play,” Secord said. “American soccer has come a long way, it’s sort of caught on more, but it’s interesting to watch them play, see what they’re doing to see if it can help your game.”
Of course, in between the soccer events, the guests from across the Atlantic had plenty to do in the Elm City.
Among the various events have been a meeting with Keene Mayor Kendall Lane, a tour of downtown Keene and Keene State College, a “make-your-own-pizza” night at Orchard Hill Breadworks in Alstead and a visit to Hampton Beach. The group is also planning to climb Mount Monadnock and attend tonight’s Keene Swamp Bats game against the Sanford Mainers at Alumni Field.
“They love it,” Secord said. “They’re interested in the area, how we live, what we do, and the kids just want to hang out with the kids.
“The soccer is what gets them here, but it’s really the cultural experience.”
Following Friday’s match, the Einbeck team will remain in Keene for two more days before leaving for New York City on Monday.
Secord said he’s happy to revive the program and establish a connection with new Einbeck coaches Frank Klenke, Thomas Borchert, Frank Hennicke and Thomas Papenberg.
And to anyone who might be interested in taking over for him, Secord said the experience is well worth the time and effort.
“There’s nothing like it,” Secord said. “This is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”