By Joe Earle
The coolest thing they did on their trip to South Africa? For Edmundo, it was slapping high-fives with some of the best soccer players in the world.
“Being on the pitch. Being on the pitch with the players,” said Edmundo, a soccer player himself.
For Justin, who traveled with Edmundo to South Africa, the coolest part of the trip was getting to see a World Cup soccer game in person. The one thing it definitely was not was getting a kiss from an elephant. “That was disgusting,” Justin said.
“They put their trunk on your face and blow,” Edmundo said, agreeing that the whole thing was rather, well, messy.
Still, there were plenty of other eye-popping scenes during the five-day trip 13-year-olds Edmundo Robinson and Justin Barber took with two older teenagers from the Boys & Girls Club in Brookhaven. Landon Loaiza and Tomas Chipman, both 16 and both from Brookhaven, also made the trip, said Brookhaven club executive director Bobby Dunn, who chaperoned them. Two teens joined them from a Boys & Girls Club in Rochester. N.Y.
The group traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, to see the U.S. soccer team battle the Slovenian team to a 2-2 tie.
The six teens were chosen for the trip, arranged and sponsored by Coca-Cola and Walmart, so they could carry the U.S. flag in the U.S.-Slovenia game’s opening ceremonies. They flew from Atlanta on June 15 and returned June 20.
“It was fun,” Edmundo said.
“It was pretty great,” said Justin, who’s from Grayson.
“A once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Edmundo, who’s from Stone Mountain and who happened to be decked out in a bright-red World Cup souvenir T-shirt.
In addition to the soccer game, they saw plenty of African sights. They stayed in a hotel usually used by guests on safari. They visited game ranches and saw lions, cheetahs, rhinos, ostriches and wildebeests. They visited a village set up to demonstrate the homes and clothes of native groups. They ate African food. In an elephant sanctuary, they met those smooching elephants.
Other flag bearers stayed at their hotel. They met groups from Spain, Jamaica and Brazil.
“We played soccer against Spain,” Edmundo said.
“Luckily it wasn’t the real players,” Dunn said. The Spanish team, of course, went on to win the tournament and claim the world championship.
They had a chance to meet some of the real soccer players just before the game. As they were waiting to bring the flag onto the field, the teens said, a few players drifted into the stadium tunnel where the flag bearers awaited their cue. They had a chance to exchange a few high-fives, Edmundo said.
And when they carried the flag into the stadium, it was …
“Unexplainable,” Justin said.
“There were so many people,” Edmundo said. “Probably the most I’ve ever seen.”
And they were loud. The cheers of the crowd mixed with the buzzing of thousands of vuvuzelas, the horns that fans played throughout the games. For television viewers, the vuvuzelas gave the South African games their own sound, a constant buzz as if a horde of angry bees was massing to attack.
Edmundo brought a couple of the horns home with him.
“I sometimes wake my parents up with that,” he said. “They actually think it’s pretty cool.”