By Chris Chaney
Sports often have the power to take people out of their homes, transporting them, if only for a few hours, to destinations around the globe for some momentarily solace from life’s ups and downs.
Playing sports, especially at a high level, can provide the athletes a more realistic escape from the everyday norm as Batavia native and Clermont Northeastern alumna Kylie Sumner learned first-hand following her junior season at Indiana State University.
The Sycamores, in conjunction with the institution’s sister school in Morocco, Hassan I University in Settat, Morocco, traveled to the North African nation to compete in the fifth annual Sous le Haut Patronage de Sa Majeste le Roi Mohammed VI tournament from May 4 to May 15.
“This trip was an experience of a lifetime; it was an unforgettable one to say at the least,” Sumner, who is the daughter of Tracey and Jim Sumner, said. “I was blessed to spend it with my amazing teammates and will remember it for the rest of my life.”
While other teams choose to spend time in the offseason hosting training camps or team-sanctioned activities, the Sycamores participated in what the school called “the ultimate team-building experience.”
“This trip could not have happened at a better time for us. We’ve become closer; I’ve seen the different players interacting with each other in a way that I don’t always get to see,” said head coach Erika True. “I get to see them on the soccer field, I get to see them sometimes out of school, but to get to see them for 10 days interacting with each other has been pretty cool. We needed this time to learn about each other.”
Playing in two exhibition games while they were in Morocco, the ISU team did much more than just grow together on the field. El-Houcin Chaqra, the group’s tour guide and the associate director of Indiana State’s Center for Global Engagement, said that the group acted as the perfect ambassadors for their school.
“They have represented Indiana State University very well. They were the best ambassadors that we could send here to Morocco. They have done an excellent job. Everybody is talking about them,” he said. “People love them here. I hear from the president (of Hassan I University), the dean, from his assistant, from other faculty, students: All of them like our students, how they deal with people, how they talk to people, how they interact with people.”
“The purpose of this trip was to provide an educational cultural experience, but our students did an excellent job representing our university and our state and our community. I’m glad I came here and worked with them.”
The group used social media to keep in contact with friends and family back home, giving way to hashtags and inside jokes that Chaqra said will keep the experience in the forefront of their memories.
Aside from the Sycamores’ chosen sport, they competed in several Olympic-style contests such as track and field events, academic contests and chess.
On the pitch, the Sycamores quickly found that some basic cultural boundaries would create difficulties. For instance, the field best described as “vintage artificial turf covered in a layer of sand” was an aspect that ISU had to acclimate themselves to. Cleats and sneakers were worn by players depending on their comfort level with the surface.
Other adaptations needed to be made in the game play. International rules under which the tournament was played limited substitutions and as a result, the Sycamores had to play their first match a man down after an injury took a player off with no substations remaining. Even still, the Sycamores defeated both opponents, Casablanca’s Raja and Wydad, 2-1.
“They’re technical, they’re quick. They’re good soccer players. It’s just different from what we do,” Sumner said. “We like to think of ourselves as tough, aggressive, not getting pushed down, and that’s what they do to get their main plays — is getting those fouls.”
Following their on-the-field introduction to Moroccan soccer, the team traveled to tourist destinations around the country such as Marrakesh, Essauria and El Jadida to experience the country and culture further.
The team returned Stateside in mid-May to spend the rest of their offseason relaxing before reporting back to campus in the summer to prepare for the upcoming season, which kicks off on Aug. 22.
For more information about the Sycamores’ trip to Morocco, log on to the team’s website at gosycamores.com.