HARTSVILLE, S.C. – Every four years the world turns its attention to soccer for the entire month of June as countries from across the globe meet in the FIFA World Cup. In 2010, the World Cup was held in South Africa and four Coker College Alumni got the experience of a lifetime, by being there in person.
Henna Koponen, Rachel Lemar and Prashant Bhenswala all from the class of 2010, along with Derek Whitmire, class of 2004, traveled to South Africa to see one of the biggest sporting events in the world live and in person.
“My experience was amazing!” said Koponen, a former basketball player for the Lady Cobras and native of Finland. “The World Cup games were great! Indescribable atmosphere and there were fans from all over the world. Rachel and I went together to the Mexico vs. France game, USA vs. Slovenia game, and Cameroon vs. Denmark.”
“The experience is a hard one to put in words,” said former Coker women’s tennis player and native of England, Lemar. “The feelings you get when you walk into the stadiums and see the crowds, the way you feel when your favorite players come running on to the pitch, and the emotions you get when you sing your countries national anthem, is one I wouldn’t change for anything in the world.”
Even with the thousands and thousands of soccer fans at the World Cup, Coker was still able to get some recognition as Whitmire, a former soccer player for the Cobras, was seen on ESPN with his face painted like an American flag during the USA vs. Algeria game.
“It was an extraordinary scene when the USA beat Algeria to win our group in the closing seconds of that game,’ said Whitmire. “Complete strangers were hugging like long lost relatives. Grown men and women were crying with joy. It was unlike anything I've ever seen in sports. I don't intend on ever missing another World Cup as long as I live.”
Not only was the soccer experience great for these graduates, but the experience of being is South Africa proved to be just as rewarding. According to Koponen, “One of the best memories I have from our trip was visiting Soweto in Johannesburg. There more than 40,000 people live daily without running water or electricity. The local people there were the most genuinely friendly people I have ever met, always willing to help in any situation.”
Whitmire said that he traveled with 15 members of his church’s soccer team to a juvenile prison in Pretoria, where they played a scrimmage against the inmates one day and then on another day, they put on a soccer clinic at an orphanage.
The World Cup is an experience of a lifetime, not only for the soccer fans, but for everyone and these Coker Alumni were there to see it up close and personal.