The annual Tazón de Estrellas (Bowl of the Stars) American football game will take place Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Margarita Aztiazarán de Fimbres Stadium at the Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior University (CETYS) in Tijuana, Mexico. Rob Cushman, Occidental’s head football coach, will be the assistant coach for the United States’ Team Stars and Stripes.
The game is organized by Global Football and will feature a matchup between Team Stars and Stripes and the Comisión Nacional Deportiva Estudiantil de Instituciones Privadas (CONADEIP) All Stars from Mexico’s private universities. Team Stars and Stripes is made up of 40–50 Division III student athletes nominated by universities across the country.
Patrick Steenberge, Global Football president and Team Stars & Stripes’ general manager, first invited Cushman to be an assistant coach four years ago. Cushman has returned to Mexico each year since to coach the game. Cushman said this experience is an incredibly valuable one, as it offers coaches the opportunity to learn from one another and apply that new knowledge back home.
According to Cushman, this is a similarly valuable opportunity for the athletes playing in Tazón de Estrellas, who will arrive Sunday, Dec. 10, and have a busy week ahead of them. Their schedule is packed with two practices Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and one Friday. Along with the coaches, players will have to face the difficulties that are associated with pulling together a team in one week, according to Cushman. Yet, the week offers more than just practices and the game. Student athletes have the opportunity to not only face a team from another country, but also explore Mexico and engage in community service.
Steenberge said the community service aspect often involves visiting orphanages and assisting in impoverished areas. This year, players and coaches will participate in a beach cleanup and, with the help of CETYS University, will host a Christmas dinner for local orphans. According to John Roslien, the director of player personnel and football operations of Global Football, the experience is very impactful.
“We’re going to Mexico to play a football game, but the week is not about football, the week is about getting to know yourself, getting to know people from a different country, and so several years ago we started adding a service component,” Roslien said.
Expanding understanding and perspectives is one of the founding principles of Global Football. In 1996, Steenberge created the organization with the idea of giving student athletes the chance to travel abroad, learn about other cultures and showcase their football skills. Steenberge said this hands-on experience is very important.
“My belief has always been that you learn best from experience, no matter what it is,” Steenberge said. “And these kinds of trips give student athletes a chance to experience, to be there in person, to talk to the people, to see how they live, to learn about their history.”
According to Cushman, Mexico’s university football programs are continuously improving and the Mexican team presents a real threat to the U.S. team — the intensity and excitement of the previous games have helped gather a large and dedicated crowd. Thousands of people cheer and ring their cowbells, and the game itself offers bands, drill teams, pageantry and halftime entertainment. Cushman said this combination of cultural exchange, community outreach and football leads to an incredibly formative experience which creates long-lasting friendships.
“Alums from that game have stayed in touch for literally 20 years,” Cushman said. “You know, they became friends that week and they’ve stayed in touch. It’s amazing how athletes bond so quickly, and they develop really good friendships, and some of those are lasting, so that’s neat to see.”