Last week, six high school football teams from Florida, Georgia and New Jersey were warmly welcomed at Dublin Airport and whisked away for a whirlwind trip across Ireland.
The schools' players, coaches and cheerleaders -- a contingent of around 800 people -- ventured to ancient castles, traced familial roots, walked the streets of Dublin and participated in cultural exchanges throughout the trip.
The journey took Belen Jesuit of Miami and Blessed Trinity of Roswell, Georgia, to the Republic's craggy western coast, while other groups enjoyed sightseeing more locally, with time spent at some of Dublin's most important cultural heritage spots. The other teams taking part in the adventure were Atlanta's Westminster School and Marist School, Community School of Naples, Florida, and St. Peter's Prep School of Jersey City, New Jersey.
Practices at Blackrock College's renowned rugby grounds and the Gaelic football pitches at University College Dublin were particularly significant for some.
The big event, a tripleheader at the iconic Donnybrook Stadium on Sept. 2, was planned in conjunction with the Aer Lingus College Football Classic, which saw Georgia Tech defeat Boston College at Dublin's Aviva Stadium the following day. Proceeds from the high school games were donated to Special Olympics Ireland.
Former Irish rugby champion Jim Bertrand said watching his son, Blessed Trinity's JD Bertrand, and his team practice and play on the same pitch where he led his rugby team to four national victories was a "surreal experience."
Before returning to the States, the high school teams gathered for an awards ceremony and a group dinner. The event's official motto of "Much More Than a Game" was visible throughout the players' journey. And on their last night, it could be seen in their smiles.