Soccer Youths Get A Kick Out Of Argentina
WHEELING — Young teenage soccer players from Wheeling had a ball and learned about South American culture while getting a kick out of Argentina recently.
Fifteen members of the FC Wheeling United soccer club — ages 13-14 — and 17 adults took the 10-day journey, which began March 28 at Wheeling Park’s White Palace. There were stops in Washington, D.C. before they left for Cordoba, Argentina, and opportunities to meet, live and learn with families in Argentina before arriving back in Wheeling on April 7.
There was even a chance to take the field and greet professional Argentine soccer players.
Assistant Coach Diego Gattesco is native of Argentina, and his brother, Gonzolo Gattesco, previously was a professional soccer player for the Club Atletico Talleres in Argentina. Diego Gattaesco also is an employee of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and he was able to put together the trip of the young men’s lifetime by using his contacts.
Gattesco said the idea for the trip began in 2017, when he and his family returned to Argentina to live while his father was ill. He saw that his young son Matteo had a wonderful experience during their time there, and the idea of taking Matteo’s American soccer friends to Argentina for a visit was born.
“The original idea was to bring the kids, a coach, and maybe a parent or two as chaperones,” Gattesco said.
Tony Trabert serves as head coach of the soccer team. The soccer club next began the task of raising the $40,000 for the trip. The group sold candles, and operated food and concession stands to make the money. They also organized an Argentine dinner night at the Wheeling Country club, where patrons feasted on Argentine flare prepared by Ye Olde Alpha owner Charles Schlegel and tangoed the night away.
After they had raised over $32,000, local businessman and philanthropist Gary West saw the effort put forth, and helped tremendoulsy at end with a large check to cover remaining costs, Gattesco said.
“The whole idea was to have kids going for free,” he said. “We accomplished that, and the parents paid their own way.”
Taking The Trip of A Lifetime
After leaving Wheeling, the group made stops in Washington D.C., beginning with a tour of the Argentine Embassy in Washington on March 28. The group next got the opportunity to visit the DC United soccer team’s home at Audi Field before departing to Cordoba, Argentina on March 29.
After spending more than a day on an airplane, the group arrived on March 30. Their arrival was celebrated with a barbecue arranged by the families hosting the group during their stay in the city. Many of the families had children who had been classmates of Matteo Gattesco.
The youths played a pick-up soccer game together before heading to Stadium Kempes for a tour of a professional soccer stadium.
“They got to go inside the stadium and see how different games is there from here,” Gattesco said. “They got to see where a professional team trains, and how they do the training. Then there was a press conference with owner of the Talleres de Cordoba soccer team and the presentation of the Wheeling flag.”
The visit was capped off with a game between Talleres de Cordoba versus River Plate.
The group was invited down to the field at the start of the game, and the youths lined up to greet and shake hands with players on both teams as they came out.
“They got to see the game, and learn some Spanish,” Gattesco said.
Over the next few days, the group attended classes with host students at the Maria de Nazareth school.
“Most really liked it, and found it different from here,” he said. The school has more breaks in the day for down time and soccer, and it helps student to better concentrate on what is going on in the classroom, according to Gattesco.
There were more games with local soccer clubs, and socializing with other Argentine youths.
On April 4, the group visited Buenos Aires, and toured the American embassy there. Visiting both the U.S. Embassy and the Argentine embassies provided the youths a different perspective on world politices, Gattesco said.
“When they are grown up, I hope they see the significance,” he said.
Establishing International Relationships
Gattesco said wherever the group went they were always impressed by the hospitality of the Argentine people.
“They kept telling me, ‘The people here are so nice, so good,'” he said. “I told them, ‘Yeah, that’s the idea.’ They learned as people we all have same desires, if not different ideas. I think the experience wasn’t just good for the kids, but for the parents. They have a different view of the world now.”
FC Wheeling United member Campbell Koegler said what he noticed about the embassies was that the Argentine embassy in America was smaller, fancier and in an 1800s building in Washington.
He said it had far less security that the American embassy in Argentina did. That building was more modern and newer, according to Koegler.
He said his favorite part of the trip was the barbecue with the host families and youths in Argentina, and playing soccer and basketball with them.
“The people there way more nicer than they are here,” he said. “They are also very good at English.”
Koegler said he has continued to keep in touch with those he met in Argentina through text messaging, and he hopes to someday return there.
Gattesco’s son Matteo Gattesco said he also continues to communicate with his Argentine friends, and they are even able to play X-box games together while living on different continents.
“Everything I did there this time I had done before, but it was 100 times better this time with my friends,” he said. “It seemed like it went by faster because I was having more fun.”
Matteo Gattesco also had kind things to say about the Argentine people.
“The people there are really nice,” he said. “They are more open, more friendly, and willing to have you in and stay with them.”
There are tentative plans for the Argentine youths to come visit their American counterparts in Wheeling in 2020, Diego Gattesco said.