The Union Spartans top defensive player will be traveling to Australia this summer with Down Under Sports to play on the eastern U.S. high school football team.
Anfrenee Cromartie was among several athletes in the county to be offered the opportunity, and the young man’s mother said she will do all she can to see that he is able to take advantage of it.
The invitation to travel across the world to play football came in Cromartie’s mail, and his mother, Keisha, said he was so excited when he opened it that he sent her a picture of the letter from his phone while she was at work.
“He tried to tell me what it was, and finally he said, ‘Mom, I’ll just tell you when you get home,’” she said with a laugh.
The letter stated that the trip would begin on Saturday, July 6 and Cromartie would spend seven days in Australia playing football and touring Sydney and the opera house. Then they would stop by Hawaii for three days before heading back home.
Cromartie is already looking forward to it. “I feel like it will be fun. I’m a little nervous, but I want to try something new and meet different people,” he said.
The catch is that Cromartie needs to raise $4,300 to help pay his part of the trip.
“This is a wonderful chance for him and we’re going to do everything we can to see that he goes,” Keisha Cromartie said, determination rising in her voice.
She has first-hand knowledge of how much this can expand his view of the world. Her sister, April, went to Poland to play basketball after graduating from Union. April then went on to become a star player on the Campbell University team. She has also been inducted into the Sampson County Athletic Hall of Fame.
“My parents sent my sister, and I know we worried about her, so yes, it scares me, but for him it will be an adventure of a lifetime. We will just pray that he stays safe,” she said matter-of-factly.
Union head football coach Doug Burley was not surprised Cromartie was invited to represent the United States in Australia. Cromartie’s stats from MaxPreps show the 6 foot, 165 pound senior averaged 11.2 tackles and 1 sack per game. In the regular season he had 95 solo tackles for a total of 134 with 1 blocked punt, 5 fumble recoveries, and 3 deflected passes.
He was also named Defensive Player of the Game in the Spartan’s first round playoff win against Lakewood.
“He’s not only a really good player, but he’s a good kid, very well-behaved, and just an all-around great student,” Burley stated.
He added that Cromartie led the team in tackles and sacks this year. “We will surely miss him on the field and in the classroom after he graduates.”
Spartan assistant coach Jonathan Taylor went to Austriala with Down Under Sports in 2009 as an assistant coach for the eastern U.S. team while working at Topsail High School.
“Australian football is actually rugby. It’s more of a club sport there,” he explained.
Taylor said an eastern U.S. team and a team made up of high school athletes from the western states will go down that week in July and play against two Australian teams. There will be a few practices and then the tournament is a round robin. He said the Australians really like to see the two American teams go up against each other.
“There is free time, too, to sight-see. It’s a really good experience. The people down there are very generous and have an appreciative attitude toward the Americans. A lot of these kids will never have another chance to do this,” he stated. “It’s very meaningful to them. They are treated well and shown a good time.”
Taylor said he is glad Cromartie will get this chance. “He’s a great kid and he was a great leader on our football team.”
To take some of the financial burden off the athlete’s parents, Down Under Sports encourages the youth to raise funds for the trip through sponsorships and Taylor said this was also a learning experience for the boys.
“I think it helps them to mature. They set a goal, and then when they achieve that goal, they get a nice reward for it,” he explained.
Sponsors can help with this by donating on-line at www.downundersports.com and donating under Anfrenee Cromartie’s name or writing a check made payable to Down Under Sports for Cromartie. No money can be given directly to the athlete due to possible conflicts with college sports programs.