Bill's excellent adventure

Craig's Bill Sawer talks about his two months in Bolivia

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Fifteen years ago, Bill Sawer planned a trip to travel across South America.

Then he accepted a job at Colorado Mountain College's Steamboat Springs campus and had to put his plans on the shelf.

Sawer has since retired from that job, and in 2005, he rediscovered the plans he made for the trip. "I had the time and the money to make the trip again," he said. "But I didn't want to go where all of the tourists go, so I picked Bolivia."

Brazil, Peru and Argentina surround Bolivia. The country has 8.8 million citizens and is about three times the size of Montana. It also is one of the poorest countries on the continent.

"It's not a touristy country," the 62-year-old Sawer said. "But that makes it cheaper and easier to live."

Although most residents of Bol--ivia are poor, their soccer tradition is rich.

Sawer, who has coached or played soccer most of his life, planned to camp, hike and take in the culture during his trip as well as check out the local soccer scene.

An hour after his plane landed in Bolivia's largest city, Santa Cruz, he found a soccer academy on the outskirts of town.

"I had planned to do other things, but I ended up eating, sleeping and drinking soccer," he said. "I was immersed."

Sawer said the academy was a gated facility with more than 25 fields. It entertained more than 3,000 youths on a monthly basis. The academy employed 38 coaches to help coach Bolivia's youths.

On his first day at the academy, he received permission to come whenever he wanted to watch and learn.

"I was pretty excited at first, and I probably did too much, because I was really tired after the first couple of weeks," he said. "It was in the middle of their summer, which was 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity."

He would stay at a hotel in Santa Cruz and then go to the academy almost every weekday to watch.

Sawer befriended one coach who spoke some English. He stayed with that coach and his family for a couple of weeks.

Once he found out the pay for coaches at the academy, Sawer went back to a hotel.

"He was making the equivalent of $100 a month and $85 went to rent," Sawer said. "I appreciated their hospitality, but when I found out their situation, I felt bad for staying."

More than souvenirs

Sawer came back with several theories about how he'll run his practices as a Craig Youth Soccer coach.

"The Bolivian coaches believe that the more a player is in a game situation, the more creativity it will create," he said. "Their practices are scrimmage-oriented."

Sawer said his prior practice plan consisted of one-third fitness, one-third drills and one-third scrimmage. Now his practices will be more scrimmage-oriented.

"There was a lot of freedom in practice for the players," Sawer said. "That might be hard for parents here to accept, but their coaches did a lot less coaching and more guiding. I liked that approach."

Bolivian youths also start learning the sport soon after they can walk.

The academy started teaching players at 3 years old.

"They establish a passion for the game at an early age," he said. "The practices for the youngest are very laid back. They just get them comfortable with the ball so they aren't scared of it hitting their head or anywhere else."

The results are that, at a young age, the Bolivian children can control a soccer ball as easily as they can walk.

"Most of the players on the 10-and-under teams could make our high school team," Sawer said.

Sawer said he hopes to suggest to Craig Youth Soccer a younger league.

One advantage that all South American countries have is good weather for playing soccer all year. The Craig coach came back inspired to help make soccer more accessible year-round.

Once before, he tried to petition the city of Craig to get permission to build an indoor soccer facility on his property near the wastewater treatment plant. His plans didn't follow city building code and were turned down.

"I'm going to try again because there's nowhere else that works for the winter," he said.

Sawer has updated his plans, but he's still not up to code on several items.

"If I have to, I'll go to the county and build on some county property," he said.

Filling his bag

Sawer said he spent about $500 during his two months in Bolivia. "I was staying at a hotel for $5 a night," he said. "The food was even less."

He said the exchange rate was at eight Bolivian dollars for one American dollar.

About $100 of his expenses went toward souvenirs.

One of his favorite purchases was a mandolin that was made out of an armadillo shell. He bought it for his brother in Michigan, who is a musician.

Sawer has traveled around the world to watch the sport he loves. He said that the World Cup in Germany this summer was going to be too expensive to attend, but he is making other plans.

He wants to go watch the U-20 World Cup in Canada in 2007. He also has his eyes set on the 2010 World Cup, which will be in South Africa.

"That might be one I can afford," he said. "I've never been to Africa, so it would be a good opportunity."

Until his next trip, Sawer will probably be at his usual spots, the soccer fields of Craig or working on something soccer-related on his property.

"I want to keep traveling as long as I can," he said. "Hopefully, that's 20 more years."

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