Football and fish: that’s what Finland does

By:
08/30/2007

Senior quarterback Matt Bassuener can normally set his schedule by the sun. Sunrise: hit the weights for a good lift and dissect defenses on tape during a team meeting before class. Sunset: down to Leo’s for a hearty dinner and then home to digest some Portugese literature. In between: play football.

Routinely on the Multi-Sport Complex after practice, pigskin in hand, the only way the second-year starter will be torn from the field is if his receivers can no longer see the ball spiraling toward their faces after the sun has set. In other words, it’s probably a good thing Georgetown hasn’t bothered to install lights around the football field because Bassuener’s habit would incur quite an electric bill.

Basseuner (far left) with camp organizers and U.S. ambassador to Finland, Marilyn Ware.
THE U.S. EMBASSY IN HELSINKI, FINLAND

So imagine what it’s like for a footballaholic to be living and playing football in a place where the sun only starts to dim around 11 p.m. in the summertime?

Bassuener found out this past summer when he traveled across the Atlantic to spend a week in Helsinki, Finland. There, he served as a counselor at the Michael Quarshie Football Camp, teaching kids from all ages and backgrounds how to be fundamentally sound in the quarterback position.

“I would come home a lot later at night and never really notice because it’s so light,” Bassuener said. “It’s definitely a lot of fun in the summer, [with the]twenty-four hour sun. But it was just a blast being around kids that are excited about the game and being around kids that want to learn from you. They assumed I’m a little more of a quarterback than I am. They would ask me if I was Jerry Porter’s (Oakland Raiders’ wide-receiver, who also served as a camp counselor) quarterback and have them honestly believe it if I were to tell them that. It was a cool experience—signing autographs for kids and stuff—I got to feel like I was special for a while.”

Last summer, Bassuener worked for USA Football, an organization that helps to promote and fund football programs abroad, and helped Quarshie obtain a grant from the NFL to get his camp off the ground. Quarshie, a former defensive lineman at Columbia University, was with the Oakland Raiders in 2006 before suffering a knee injury that has kept him out of pro football for the past two years. He is the first ever Finnish-born player to make a NFL roster. For Bassuener, a 23-year-old all-American-looking guy from a paper mill town in Wisconsin, Quarshie’s camp was a special cause.

Bassuener spent a semester abroad in Helsinki as a high-school junior, living with Quarshie’s family during his stay. He was immediately immersed into a cultural melting pot, vastly different from the American midwest. Both of Quarshie’s parents were born in Ghana and formerly lived in Germany. There were times when people in the house would be speaking German, Ga (an African dialect) and English all at once. Outside the house, people spoke Finnish, a language that Bassuener now only remembers by a few idiomatic expressions. “Just enough that little kids get a smile on their faces when some clearly gringo American guy tries to speak their language,” quipped the quarterback.

But the Culture and Politics major thrived in the atmosphere as a teen, leading the Helsinki Roosters to a Junior Championship, and whetting an insatiable appetite for travel.

“Not a lot of high school exchange students would just grab a map and go out by themselves,” Quarshie said. “But that’s what he did. He adapts to his surroundings very well.”

Since his high school soujourn to Finland, Bassuener has also spent a college semester in Mexico, quarterbacking his team at the University of Monterrey to a national championship before coming to Georgetown.

With one year of college football eligibility remaining, Bassuener has started to think about career opportunities awaiting him after life on the Hilltop. Playing football is still his number one goal, which would likely take him overseas to Germany or even back to Finland. It’s an opportunity he welcomes with open arms.

[Traveling abroad] is kind of what my degree is leaning towards,” Bassuener said. As a varsity athlete with a restrictive schedule, has likely seen more of the world than most Georgetown students who are free to study abroad. “I want to keep playing, so Europe is the number one possibility right now.”

The camp was also used as a platform to promote multi-culturalism and the campers represented a range of ages and abilities. Quarshie’s camp is unique in that it helps football players improve at their game, but is also used to promote the sport and social unity.

“We had kids who traveled 10 hours just to come to camp and play,” Bassuener said. “But we also had kids that are refugees from Sudan who’ve never seen a football before.”

For the quarterback who’s used to barking orders from the line or directing receivers on their routes after practice, teaching a diverse crowd of kids how to hold a ball properly and throw it into a bucket was second nature.

“Matt’s a football fanatic,” Quarshie said. “He loves football and everything about it. It’s always easy to teach kids about something you feel passionate about and he did a great job with it.”

As Bassuener readies to lead his team in their opening game at Stony Brook on Saturday, he knows the experiences he’s had abroad have taught him leassons that will last long after the sun has set on his senior season.

“Football is a very diverse sport,” he said. “Just look at Georgetown’s team. We have big guys, small guys, guys from the country, guys from the inner city and every part of the country and all from very different backgrounds. So when you play a sport that gives you that automatic bond and camaraderie you learn to associate with very diverse people. I hope that’ll be a useful tool in the job market or in whatever I’m doing.”

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Phil Perry


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