Photo: Steven McCourtney
The Drake football team will undertake quite an adventure this May when it travels to Arusha, Tanzania, to play in the first-ever American-style football game on the continent of Africa. The team will take on the CONADEIP All-Stars from Mexico in the inaugural Global Kilimanjaro Bowl, with the towering 19,340 Mount Kilimanjaro in the backdrop. In the days following the game, both teams will take different routes as they ascend Mount Kilimanjaro. They will rendezvous at the summit with each squad staking its respective nation’s flag at the peak.
“I have to pinch myself,” Drake head coach Chris Creighton said. “The amount of work that so many people have done, it’s nothing short of phenomenal.”
On May 18, both teams will arrive in Tanzania and get settled before two days of practices. After practice each day, the squads will host afternoon youth clinics for the Tanzania Game Trackers, in the city of Arusha. On May 21 at 1 p.m., the first American football game in Africa’s history will kick off. Players and coaches will spend three of the next four days building an addition to an orphanage and another day on a safari. The final phase includes the grueling five-day climb to the pinnacle of Mount Kilimanjaro. The entire trip is being coordinated by Global Football, an organization that has produced football games in 18 nations.
“It’s unreal, still hard to believe,” redshirt junior quarterback Mike Piatkowski said. “I probably won’t actually believe it until we get there.”
Teams to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro, summit at sunrise
The final part of the two-week trip may prove to be the most difficult as the team spends six days scaling the 19,340-foot Mount Kilimanjaro.
“I’m excited and nervous,” Lahart said. “A guy came to talk to us who climbed it two or three times, and he said adjusting to the altitude is the toughest part. He also said to keep hydrated.”
Drake and the CONADEIP All-Stars will split up, with each team ascending from either side of the mountain. The teams will spend four days climbing the massive peak while camping along the way. At the end of the fourth day, both groups will meet near the summit. The squads will then begin the final ascent on midnight of the fifth day, hoping to reach the zenith at sunrise.
“It’s a biggie; the largest freestanding mountain in the world,” Creighton said. “You have to take it slow, literally one step at a time.”
After reaching the top, both teams will spend the rest of day five descending the mountain and then reach the bottom on the sixth day, May 30. The CONADEIP All-Stars will return to Mexico that same day, but the Bulldogs will stay one more night.
On May 31, the team’s final Tanzanian stop will be a trip to the Cultural Heritage Center. After the visit, Drake will return to Des Moines as changed men and football players who have made their mark on the game’s history.
Lahart came to Drake to play football, with an understanding that he had little to no chance to study abroad. He said he still finds it hard to believe he will be travelling to Africa before his final season as a Bulldog.
“Never in a million years,” Lahart said. “It will be an eye-opening experience to see a different way of life. It will make us appreciate what we have here.”
Bulldogs help Tanzanian youth
After practicing in the morning at the Tanzania Game Trackers facility, Drake and the CONADEIP All-Stars will hold a coaching clinic for approximately 1,000 children. Global Football and a local Tanzania organization will set up the clinics.
The youth in Africa are not at all familiar with American football, so the clinic will teach them the basics of the game. Patrick Steenberge, organizer of Global Football, expects to have a football to give to every child who attends.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Piatkowski said. “It’s going to impact these kids’ lives and impact our own lives.”
After the Global Kilimanjaro Bowl, both teams will spend three days building an addition to the Kitaa Hope Orphanage. The orphanage is home to children who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS. The team will assemble an entire girls’ dormitory for the youth home. The Iowa Resource for International Service, an organization that has worked with African orphans, will coordinate the orphanage construction.
“We have 50- plus guys (on Drake’s team), so hopefully we can get a lot done,” senior defensive back Michael Lahart said.