Boy chosen to play soccer, go to World Cup match in Moscow
LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — While most children spend their first week of summer swimming and playing outside, a West Lampeter Township boy will be in Moscow playing soccer with kids from all over the world.
Bennett Wehibe, 12, will represent the United States as part of the 2018 Football for Friendship (F4F) program, which promotes friendship, equality, peace and respect for different cultures and nationalities, according to the program’s website.
Bennett will play alongside other 12-year-olds — girls and boys — from 211 countries and regions.
He’ll also attend the opening ceremony for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on June 14 at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, then stick around for the tournament’s first game between host country Russia and Saudi Arabia.
“I’m a little nervous, but I’m really excited,” Bennett said Thursday. “I’m really excited to travel around Russia. It’s a one-time opportunity.”
Bennett’s father, Steve, will accompany him on the trip. They’ll leave for Moscow June 7 and return June 15.
Charlie Nobile, the national teams coordinator for the U.S. Soccer Federation, will join the Wehibes on the trip and act as their guide.
“I wouldn’t have ever thought about going to Russia but the opportunity, I think, is going to be a lot of fun,” Wehibe said. “I’m excited to get to know a culture I wouldn’t have known much about or even had the opportunity to learn about.”
When Wehibe received an email from PA Classics’ director of coaching Steve Klein offering his son the opportunity to travel to Moscow and represent the U.S., Wehibe said he had to check and make sure it wasn’t a scam.
After confirming the trip wasn’t a hoax, Wehibe said he called Bennett’s friends and family to share how proud he was of his son.
During the trip, Bennett will participate in the F4F World Championship, the International Children’s Forum and the International Friendship Camp.
He’ll also get to make friends from all over the world as his team, the Giant Pandas, is made up of players from Portugal, Mauritius, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Central African Republic.
“It’s really cool to meet people from all around the world,” Bennett said. “I haven’t really traveled this far, and to see people from different countries will be crazy.”
Nick Hostetter, Bennett’s PA Classics coach, said selecting him to go on the trip was a no-brainer.
When recruiting players for the program, F4F requests certain positions from certain countries, and the U.S. was asked to send a defender. PA Classics is a part of the U.S. Federation of Soccer and was given the chance to send one of its players.
“Bennett fit the age range, and he’s very well-rounded,” Hostetter said. “Right away we thought he’d be a great candidate.”
To prepare, Bennett has been attending his PA Classics games and practices, and kicking a soccer ball around in his backyard. While he’s a little nervous to represent the U.S., he feels confident about his skills.
Bennett hasn’t received a full itinerary yet, so he’s not exactly sure what’s in store for him as he heads to Moscow, but he said he’s ready to learn about Russian culture, make friends from all over, and “do whatever they tell me.”
This story has been corrected to remove a line saying the U.S. Soccer Federation is covering expenses for the trip.
Information from: LNP, http://lancasteronline.com