Jonah Kozak isn’t sure when he’ll run into his new best friend Harry Townsend again, but the two socialize daily via Snapchat and Facebook even though there’s a giant ocean separating them.
Kozak met Townsend, who’s from England, last month while attending the prestigious Allianz Junior Football (soccer) Camp in Germany. He’s one of many high school-aged players from throughout the world that he met at the camp run by FC Bayern Munich.
For non-soccer buffs, FC Bayern Munich is basically Germany’s version of baseball’s New York Yankees. The world-renowned team is a 26-time national champion and has won 11 international trophies – including five European Champions League titles and a FIFA Club World Cup title.
Kozak, a sophomore midfielder for Frontier, was one of just 73 boys between the ages of 14-16 selected to attend the all-expenses-paid, six-day camp last month run by the soccer club’s junior team coaches. He was just one of two American males chosen to participate in the true international experience, as he trained and mingled with youths his age from 30 countries. The participants also attended FC Bayern Munich’s season-opening game at Allianz Arena.
Among the things Kozak learned during his trip abroad:
• Soccer is more than a pretty big deal in some parts of the world, as several campers were followed by reporters who chronicled their experiences.
• He discovered that in some religions something as seemingly innocent as saying hello to a girl is in fact a sin.
• Jonah also learned, in terms of soccer skills, he wasn’t out of place at the camp. He more than held his own during camp drills, scrimmages (six goals in three games as his team placed third during an in-camp tournament) and pick-up games during players’ free time.
“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said Kozak, the son of Frontier boys soccer coach and former Harvard Cup football radio voice Rich Kozak. “I got to play with some of the best kids from around the world.”
While most of the kids Jonah met understood English, not all of them knew how to speak it. Still, Kozak made friends rather easily. While kids were assigned to groups with interpreters to help with communication, it turns out Skittles and musical artist Drake proved to be as invaluable universal translators to Kozak as the Google app.
“If you can give 73 kids a week and a soccer ball and they become best friends, why can’t we do that with the rest of the world,” said Rich Kozak, noting parents were made to feel part of this experience by receiving daily reports and videos from the camp.
How did Jonah Kozak earn the opportunity? Through his performance during the club/travel season with his Global Premier Soccer under-15 team, which captured the Thruway League state title. The team coached by Lee Rice is actually affiliated with FC Bayern Munich.
Each player on the squad received evaluations after each game based on physical, mental and personal performances. Overall team players scored the best.
According to Rich Kozak, when GPS coaches tallied up the performance reviews for the season, Jonah had the best grade. Jonah also had to write an inspirational essay as part of the application process.
Still, with more than 50,000 American youths being considered for two spots, what are the odds a kid from Western New York would be among the 73 to earn a trip to soccer Disneyland?
“It’s part luck and part you deserve it,” Rich Kozak said. “It’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and winning the golden ticket.”
Bishop Timon-St. Jude figured to be underdogs during the first two games of the season, what with Buford (Ga.) and Toledo Central Catholic (Ohio) not only being among the top teams in their respective states but also having head starts to their seasons.
That being said, the Tigers are still unhappy they didn’t deliver sharper performances in either loss – including last Friday’s 49-0 defeat at Central Catholic.
“We have to start tackling better, we have to do everything better,” said Timon coach Charlie Comerford before the Tigers departed for Odessa, Texas, for Thursday’s clash at Friday-Night-Lights-school Permian at 8:30 p.m. “We just want to play our best on both sides of the ball.”
Permian, which opened its season with a win before Western New York teams participated in Scrimmage Saturday, enters the game 3-0 and has averaged 58.5 points its last two games.
Timon may be winless on its national tour, but …
“It’s been a great experience for the kids,” Comerford said. “Being together during every waking moment, I think it’ll pay off down the road.”
The Tigers play their first home game and Monsignor Martin opener at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, against St. Mary’s of Lancaster.
A win for Barb
Kenmore may have lost in the final of its annual field hockey tournament last weekend to Sacred Heart but it earned a dramatic semifinal win before event namesake Barb Field last Friday.
The Devil Dogs defeated Buffalo Seminary, 2-1, with Nina Stockman scoring the game-winner on the last play of the game – the continuation of a penalty corner.
Although the retired Field, a former Kenmore East principal, never coached the team, she has been a long-time supporter and friend of it, according to coach Leslie Simon.
“I have been coaching high school sports at Kenmore for 16 years,” Simon said. “This was as special a win as we have had because Barb was there.”