“La dolce vita” means something extra special to 36 members of Ohio Wesleyan’s football team who traveled to Italy in May for nine days of football, cultural enlightenment, and what turned out to be an incredible culinary experience as well.
Spearheaded by OWU head coach Tom Watts, who participated in several similar college-travel opportunities throughout his student and coaching careers, the trip was intended to provide opportunities for student-athletes to combine their passion for football with world travel. They were responsible for raising funds for their travel and for working with their coaches; Pat Kelly, senior associate director of admission; as well as former OWU football coach Jim Barnes, now heading up American Football Worldwide, an organization that helps students and coaches successfully plan similar trips abroad.
“Many students had not been outside of the United States before,” says Watts. For them, witnessing such majestic sights as the Coliseum ruins, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Lake Como, and Florence’s The Duomo brought classroom discussions and readings to life.
But it was football that brought the Bishops and their coaches together with their Italian counterparts as they practiced, competed, and developed friendships.
“While their culture hasn’t yet embraced the sport of football as ours does, the Italians are passionate about football and love the game,” says OWU running back Kevin Herman ’15, an economics management major from Stow, Ohio. And interest in the sport seems to be increasing.
“We conducted a youth camp for high school students who were eager to learn what it takes to be competitive,” says OWU wide receiver Ben Pelkey ’16, a finance major from Wallingford, Vermont. But the team’s focus remained on absorbing as much of the culture and ambiance of Italy as possible and, of course, on playing football.
The Bishops practiced against the Parma Panthers – a past winner of the Italian Super Bowl – including players from Oklahoma and Northwestern Universities. The scheduled game against the Aquile Ferrara team from the Federation of Italian Football was not quite as competitive, (yes, the Bishops won), but it was enjoyable for both teams.
“I’ll remember our post-game dinner and how our new friends chanted “USA, USA,” says Herman. “That’s real camaraderie.”