SANGER — Kyle Scheffler is hardly a world traveler.
The Sanger 17-year-old has never left the continental United States. In fact, the only border he’s crossed is the Red River into Oklahoma.
But this summer, Scheffler will jet off to what is about the most exotic, far-away land an American can visit, as he plans to go to Australia to play in the Down Under Bowl football tournament.
“I’m really excited about it, but I’m nervous too because I’ve never been anywhere,” said Scheffler, a Sanger center who missed the first six games of 2012 to a broken foot that required surgery. “To see other people and see what other people live like, as well as how other countries present themselves and see what the world is like, is a great opportunity for me. It’s a great opportunity for football and a great opportunity to see the whole world.”
The junior will be joined at the Down Under Games by Sanger sophomore Madison Wilson, who will compete in girls discus.
The event is put on by Down Under Sports, an organization started by a New Zealander in 1989 to help introduce American football, known as “gridiron,” to the region. It started as just a gridiron game but grew to include a basketball tournament and the Down Under International Games, which includes several Olympic events, most notably track and field.
In the team sports, such as gridiron, players are chosen from the United States, Australia and New Zealand, so Scheffler will be playing with and against people from all three countries. He has been assigned to the North Central Conference team.
For Wilson, it’s every competitor for themselves.
“It’s going to be nice to see a lot more competitive athletes,” said Wilson, who finished seventh in Class 3A at last spring’s UIL state track and field meet. “Just to meet different people even across America is going to be fun, but you can keep in touch with people around the world, too. That just makes the experience so much better.”
The two athletes were selected and notified by mail late last year. Since then, it’s been a mad dash to raise money for the trip, which costs approximately $4,500 per person, including airfare, hotels and food. The only thing that does not include is personal spending money.
Wilson, 15, must raise $9,000 because she is taking a parent with her.
To raise money, the teens have done individual fundraisers, getting donations from friends, family and local businesses — in Sanger, Denton and the surrounding area.
Scheffler has raised about $2,500, and Wilson has collected about $3,500. She is set to leave June 30 and return July 8, while Scheffler will leave Texas on July 6 or 7 and be gone for 10 days.
Scheffler said the idea of paying his own way to compete in a Down Under Sports event is a great life lesson.
“I look at it as an opportunity,” Scheffler said. “You always have to pay your way in anything. If you get a scholarship to play in college, you have to pay your way into that. I honestly think this is a good deal. The airfare, hotel and sightseeing, it’s more than cut in half of what it really is. No matter what in this world, you have to pay for what you do, whether it’s going to the movies or whatever. I see it the same way.”
Scheffler, who started all 11 games as a sophomore, said he hopes to get colleges’ attention by playing in the event. He missed a good portion of his pivotal junior season after having a 2-inch screw inserted into his foot a few months after breaking it unknowingly.
Former NFL players who have played in the event include quarterback Jake Plummer and running back Ahman Green.
Scheffler looks at it as a chance to make up for lost time.
“I’m really happy to do this because I just want to support my team and represent my town,” he said. “I’m really honored to do this.
“I can get some games back that I didn’t really play this year and get my name out there for colleges.”
Chuck Galbreath, Sanger’s head football coach and athletic director who grew up in Sanger and played for the Indians, said the opportunity is a great one for Scheffler and Wilson.
“Not a lot of kids coming out of Sanger are going to get the opportunity, especially before they get out of high school, to go to Australia,” Galbreath said. “To be able to experience just the travel end and the tourism of it, on top of being involved in the games they both love, that’s great. I think that’s a really cool deal and a good opportunity for them.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is email@example.com .