Local students expand world views
Some might view it as a working vacation or extended soccer training, but for six local students who participated in the Scandia United Soccer Academy last summer, it was a life-changing experience.
The students and their coach, Bill Ensley, flew from Seattle to Iceland, where they were treated to a tour of "geysers, glaciers and a trip to the Blue Lagoon, pretty much the most amazing place on Earth," Ensley said.
Next, the group flew to Engesvang, Denmark, for their first week training together in preparation for two tournaments.
The second week was capped by the first competition in Frederikshavn, Denmark.
"I really enjoyed this tournament. It's in a tiny town and is a very intimate setting. All the games are played on a huge, all-grass field complex," Ensley said.
The trip ramped up when the group took a ferry ride to Gothenburg, Sweden, for the Gothia Cup.
This is "an immense affair, with 1,600 teams from more than 70 countries," Ensley said.
"It's billed as the Youth World Cup, and it certainly delivered," he said, adding that the group played teams from all over the world and mingled with players on and off the field.
The students benefited in so many ways, Ensley said, and not all of them related to sports.
"Of course, the soccer is amazing. They go through an intense weeklong training camp with roughly 30 hours over seven days together," he said. "All of the directors and staff coaches pitch in so they receive a variety of coaching styles, tips and experiences."
Once the tournaments begin, they get to meet other players from all around the world, Ensley said, noting that the experience playing against a team speaking in other languages is incredible.
"In general, the soccer is played at a much higher level than here locally. The players must rise to the challenge and become stronger to meet it," Ensley said.
The travel itself is one of the big benefits, including touring Iceland, spending two weeks in rural Denmark and then traveling to a large, urban city like Gothenburg.
"One of the greatest benefits, though, is unique to each individual. They must learn to care for themselves and must rely on themselves and each other to keep their trip in order," Ensley said.
Plenty of coaches and chaperones were on hand to watch over the students but "by and large, they tend to have to grow up on this trip. We have heard many stories from parents thanking us for the new independence their player displays when they return home from the journey," he said.
"Their ability to see situations is no longer constrained by the small world they grew up in. It's expanded by seeing and experiencing so much more of the world and her people."
Three of the six students who attended the soccer academy this summer are Ensley's own children: Jesse, a junior at Rex Putnam High School; Maiah, a freshman a RPHS; and Keira, a fourth-grader at Riverside Elementary in Milwaukie.
Reflecting on the experience, Jesse Ensley said he learned that "if you set high goals, you can be successful and do more than you actually thought you could do."
Playing with the soccer academy helped him with physical and mental endurance. Overall, the experience "puts you in a higher gear and helps you become a better player," he added.
The hardest part for Maiah Ensley was getting used to a whole different set of rules, but she noted her game improved as a result of the experience. She recommends the trip to other soccer players, calling it "an amazing opportunity."
Keira Ensley said she didn't expect to make as many friends from different states and countries as she did during the trip.
She added, "I am a better soccer player, and I look at the world differently now."
Making new friends
RPHS freshman Bella Monaco said she came on the trip thinking she was an experienced goal keeper, but once she began playing in Denmark and Sweden, she felt she was "way behind."
She's a better soccer player now, Monaco said, and appreciated the good coaching she was exposed to.
For Clackamas High School freshman Kai Nelson, the soccer academy experience opened up his mind to how much bigger the world is than he expected.
He enjoyed the experience of seeing a different culture, eating new kinds of food and admiring older architecture.
Nelson said he was surprised by how much focus there is on soccer in Scandinavia, and said he benefited from so much playing time.
He would recommend the trip to others who want to develop as soccer players and who would enjoy making new friends.
Luke Bjelland, an eighth-grader from Portland Adventist Elementary School in Gresham, said the most fun for him was seeing the Blue Lagoon in Iceland and seeing the architecture in Stockholm, Sweden.
He added that he improved as a soccer player by learning new techniques, made new friends from other countries, and grew as a person.
Looking back on the trip, Bill Ensely said the journey takes players out of their comfort zones, shows them how small the world really is, and how much all people are really connected.
He added, "If there is one phrase that I would use to describe these kids as they come home, it's that they are more worldly."
To learn more about Scandia United Soccer Academy, visit
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