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The aggregation had a brand-new, hard-won championship applique and medals to admire. The basin and the sky about them were appropriately ablaze shades of blue. The columns of the auberge gleamed in the sunlight. The air was warm, the arena of mountains in the ambit a admirable backdrop. 

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All in all, activity would be appealing acceptable … that is, if they weren’t stranded, afterwards a plane, abaft bankrupt borders, and with no abstraction aback they’d get home. 

This is the adventure of how 55 associates of a traveling football aggregation begin themselves ashore in Honduras as the coronavirus communicable raced beyond North America … and how they acclimated amusing media, political appeals, and some acceptable ancient football dust to get out. 

The 55 associates of an American Football Events traveling aggregation accustomed in Honduras on Wednesday, March 11, aloof hours afore the apple angry sideways. AFE, an amateur, nonprofit alignment advised to acquiesce athletes to accumulate playing, consistently sends teams of both men and women to advance the actuality of football about the world. 

Honduras was the armpit of the Americas Women’s Bowl, a full-contact football exhibition featuring four countries: the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica and the host nation. The accident would amalgamate accommodating missions with competition, active through Sunday, March 15. 

In the canicule above-mentioned to the event, AFE admiral arrested with the U.S. admiral in Honduras, attempting to actuate whether the cruise was a go. “Before we left, we were in actual abutting blow with the alliance and the U.S. admiral in Honduras,” AFE admiral and arch drillmaster Dale Glossenger said. “When we left, annihilation had transpired in the U.S., annihilation had been canceled. We didn’t accept any red flags.”

The aggregation flew to Honduras and landed in Tegucigalpa, blockage into the Clarion Auberge Real in the centermost of the city. That aforementioned night, a Utah Jazz official ran assimilate the cloister aloof afore the alpha of that night’s bold in Oklahoma City. Aural minutes, the aboriginal domino of the United States sports mural fell, with the NBA suspending its season. 

The team’s aboriginal day in Honduras had been appointed a association account day. Afterwards a three-hour morning practice, the aggregation went to an embassy-backed academy accustomed to advise English to underprivileged accouchement and duke out supplies, from books and crayons to shoes and clothes. They active a few autographs for some afraid kids forth the way. 

That night, all four teams abounding a account conference. “Not already during that media columnist appointment was annihilation mentioned about the virus,” Glossenger said. “Even to that point, there was no fear, no cerebration we were in danger.” At that point, Honduras had absolutely one appear COVID-19 case. 

The teams were far added aflame about the anticipation of actuality accustomed to comedy in Honduras’s civic stadium, Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino, an account about aloof for the civic soccer team. Three canicule of football, afresh aback to whatever accessible them in the United States. That was the plan, anyway. 

For the tournament’s aperture game, the U.S. drew Mexico, by all accounts the toughest antagonism in the tournament. With added than 50 players and a well-organized, well-disciplined structure, Mexico would be a boxy antagonism for a U.S. aggregation that was, in effect, an all-star aggregation fabricated up of players from leagues all over the country. Aside from that abandoned Thursday morning practice, the U.S. aggregation had no acquaintance alive as a unit. 

Early on, it showed. Mexico ran aback the aperture alpha for a touchdown, and on the afterwards drive, the Americans adjourned in the red zone. But the U.S. aegis apathetic up, scoring twice, and the Americans came abroad with what would be their toughest win of the tournament.

The added game, played afterwards that afternoon adjoin Costa Rica, had absolutely none of the ball of the morning tilt. Glossenger switched to a ground-and-pound offense, peppering in play-action to benumb the defense, and the U.S. won the afternoon bold by added than bristles touchdowns. 

As originally planned, the four teams would comedy in a round-robin clash the aboriginal two days, with championship and alleviation amateur on Sunday to actuate the all-embracing winner. But as the pandemic’s adumbration grew over the Western Hemisphere, it was accessible that wouldn’t happen.

“The alone television approach in the auberge that was in English was CNN,” abhorrent band drillmaster Yatia Hopkins said. “You can brainstorm what that was like. It was accessible to drive yourself crazy if you watched too much.” 

Before the United States’ Saturday game, rumors were already alpha to advance that Mexican players, aflutter that Mexico would abutting its borders, were advancing to drive aback home through Belize. 

At halftime of the United States’ bold adjoin Honduras, the advertisement came bottomward from the Honduran government: no gatherings of added than 50 bodies would be permitted. That meant no added tournament. The bold was accustomed to accomplishment out — the United States aggregation was one of the aftermost in the apple still arena at that point — and the Americans won the gold badge by across-the-board all three games. 

After the game, the U.S. players began giving abroad accessories to their beneath advantageous opponents and associates of the Honduran community. “Shoulder pads, helmets, cleats, gloves, we gave them to the added players,” Glossenger said. “We appetite to be able to allotment what we have. It was a amazing appulse to see that.”

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The U.S. aggregation alternate to its hotel. Their planes were appointed to leave Monday morning, and there’d been no adumbration that would change. That meant they had an absolute day to adore Honduras, and they advised to do absolutely that. 

Team USA won gold in the Americas Women’s Bowl, afresh promptly begin out their flight out of Honduras had been canceled. (Courtesy of AFE TEAM USA)

With no apprehension of problems, the aggregation spent Sunday as tourists. The team’s Honduras communication took the Americans to a baby apple alleged the Valley of Angels, about 20 afar alfresco Tegucigalpa. Some dining, some shopping, some sightseeing … it was a accomplished way to absorb an abrupt day off. 

The aggregation alternate to the auberge and able for a little anniversary — a aggregate St. Patrick’s Day party/surprise altogether affair for two of the coaches. The aggregation aggregate about the auberge basin cutting blooming … and that’s aback affairs started to booty a turn. 

Players noticed their communication spending a abundant accord of time at the advanced desk, in abysmal altercation with auberge officials. Anon afterward, they begin out why: Honduran admiral Juan Orlando Hernandez fabricated an advertisement at about 7:30 that evening: The country’s borders were bankrupt as of midnight that night. Land, sea, air — there would be no way out. 

Right afterward, phones began agreeable with added austere news: Monday morning’s flight had been canceled. The aggregation appropriately had beneath than bristles hours afore the borders bankrupt for at atomic seven days. 

The botheration was while three above airlines account Honduras — American, Delta and United — none of them “sleeps” there. Planes accompany in a amount of passengers, afresh leave with addition amount adapted afterwards … and all the planes had already larboard for the day. And they wouldn’t be advancing back. 

“Great,” centermost Carolyn O’Leary recalled thinking. “Now what do we do?” 

Monday was activity to be a continued day. 

“We anon started putting ourselves to appointment to see what we could do to get home,” Glossenger said. “We had to accomplish abiding we were taken affliction of area we were at. And we had to get bodies aback home. We had distinct mothers, bodies on anchored incomes, bodies who had to get aback to their jobs. Cipher was assured to absorb addition seven canicule there.”

The aggregation formed out a accord with the auberge to get abatement rates. Players bunked four to a room, calm their own trash, and did their own laundry … and there was affluence of laundry needed, accustomed they hadn’t planned to be blockage accomplished Monday. They formed out a pared-down card with the auberge staff, attached options to feel foods like pizza and craven fingers. 

“We capital to accomplish abiding we had what we needed, but we additionally capital to accomplish abiding we weren’t overburdening the staff,” Hopkins said. “We were advantageous that we were alike in a auberge that was blockage open.” 

At the aforementioned time, players began leveraging their own connections, extensive out on amusing media, contacting their representatives, gluttonous both advice and donations. Stephanie Balochko, an AFE linebackers coach, had formed as an intern in the Steelers alignment and acclimated her access there to get the chat out through the NFL community. The message: Accelerate help, or at atomic accelerate money.

Team USA spent four added canicule at a auberge in Honduras afore actuality evacuated. (Courtesy of AFE TEAM USA)

Finances were a audible concern; aggregation associates had paid about $500-$600 apiece for abode and food, added the amount of the alike admission … but that was predicated on a five-night stay, not an broad one. 

There were other, added actual needs, like medication. The badge detail that had been assigned to the aggregation aback they accustomed in Honduras ashore with them, demography individuals out to grocery food for staples and pharmacies for bare medication — one aggregation affiliate was a diabetic who bare insulin, and others had aerial claret burden issues. 

The accord that the aggregation had developed with the admiral during the antecedent Thursday’s accommodating accident paid off, too. Admiral at the admiral began alive on the team’s behalf. “Everyone at the Admiral is accomplishing aggregate accessible to acquisition solutions for American citizens ashore in Honduras,” an admiral official told Glossenger’s wife Sandy, the AFE’s operations manager. “You are absolutely not forgotten.”

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At the aforementioned time, the media abhorrent worked. The team’s plight accomplished outlets alignment from the Washington Post to CNN to Sports Illustrated. Donations caked in, abundant that none of the players had to pay out of abridged for the added nights at the hotel. And while the families aback home were “freaking out,” in O’Leary’s words, the aggregation itself was blockage abiding and alive with purpose.

“It was like actuality on a team,” O’Leary said. “Everybody took a role, whether alive the phones or accomplishing interviews with bounded media or newspapers. Players who are able-bodied trainers organized workouts. It was a connected agitate of effort, aggravating to amount out what was activity to happen.” 

“My aesthetics in activity is, the bearings is as austere as you accomplish it,” Hopkins said. “The absoluteness is, we’re here, we can alone do what we can do, get it done, see area that leaves us. Control the controllables.” 

During downtime, coaches organized scavenger hunts and captivated ad-lib blur abstraction sessions. One drillmaster set up a laptop and awning in a appointment allowance and ran movies — “Forrest Gump” was a bit of an acrid choice, accustomed that Tom Hanks had aloof been diagnosed with coronavirus. They took photos of themselves in advanced of ample food of toilet cardboard in a Honduras grocery abundance and beatific them to accompany aback home affliction through the Abundant Toilet Cardboard Rush. 

“Everyone was blockage on everyone’s brainy state,” O’Leary said. “It helped that we had a lot of absolute columnist activity on every day. We were accepting links to accessories at bigger and bigger sources. That gives you hope.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, Sandy Glossenger got addition alarm from the embassy. There would be a U.S. Air Force alike abrogation anon from Palmerola Air Force Base, an hour and a bisected northwest of Tegucigalpa. The aggregation had 30 account to get to the lobby, accoutrements and passports in hand. 

The aggregation flew into action, throwing clothes into bags. Bisected an hour later, all 55 of them were aggregate in the antechamber — with adapted amusing ambit to break aural the civic guidelines — aback addition alarm came through. 

The message: Alone 28 bodies could go. And there was no added alike coming. 

“Who do you accumulate in the boat? Who do you bang out?” Glossenger said. “We knew the bodies with medical issues had to go. But cipher capital to leave. It was actual difficult, actual emotional.”

“It was hard, because honestly, cipher capital to leave their teammates behind,” arresting end Sasha Cruz said. “Normally, you anticipate aback you’ve got a agglomeration of Americans and say, ‘Only a few of you can go,’ everybody’s activity to bum blitz the gate. But here, you had bodies attractive around, authoritative anniversary added get up— ‘You’re an EMT, you allegation to go; you’re a badge officer, you allegation to go.’ ”

Finally, the aggregation had carved out 28 associates to booty the alike out. Then: Addition call.

The cardinal accustomed wasn’t 28. Now it was bottomward to 21. 

Sandy Glossenger fabricated the call: Accept everybody ready, and as abounding bodies could get assimilate the bus would go. So the aggregation sat and waited. And afresh came addition call. 

The alike wouldn’t be abrogation that night. 

The aggregation aggregate in the antechamber already afresh at 6 a.m. Thursday morning. All told, 25 players larboard the auberge — at 9 a.m. — apprenticed for the airbase and a planned apex flight.

Naturally, it didn’t appear that way. 

“The abutting affair we know, we get a bulletin in the mid-afternoon: The alike hasn’t larboard yet,” Glossenger said. “Mechanical problems.” 

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The 25 aggregation associates and admiral admiral backward at the airbase the blow of the day, bistro MREs for cafeteria and in the chow anteroom for dinner. Their plane, a C-17, assuredly took off at about 9 that black apprenticed for Charleston Air Force Abject in South Carolina. The aboriginal beachcomber of the AFE aggregation accustomed aback in America at 3:30 a.m. on Friday, added than a anniversary afterwards they’d left. 

From there, they broadcast beyond the country: Washington, California, Texas, Michigan. (They had been buried afore accepting assimilate the alike in Honduras.) O’Leary had appointed a flight aback to Ohio admitting a Delta abettor who was abashed as to how she had gotten from Tegucigalpa to Charleston. 

Meanwhile, the actual 30 players and aggregation admiral sat at the hotel, and did a Fox Account account that accepted to be pivotal. Backward that afternoon, Sandy Glossenger got a alarm from the embassy. 

“There’s acceptable account and bad news,” Glossenger recalled the admiral adumbrative saying. “The bad account is, you’re not activity home until tomorrow morning. The acceptable account is, the admiral himself has apparent and heard your story, and he’s authoritative abiding addition alike is on the way.” 

All associates were buried afore accepting on a alike in Honduras, apprenticed for the United States. (Courtesy of AFE TEAM USA)

That morning, as the aggregation was advancing to leave, they saw a ample cardinal of added Americans assuming up at the hotel. The admiral had notified them of the approaching departure, and they were attractive to bolt on with the team. 

This time around, the actual aggregation associates would be aerial in a C-130, a burden prop alike with bung seats adjoin sidewalls. “This’ll be an acquaintance to mark off the brazier list,” Glossenger recalled thinking.

At the airbase, Glossenger encountered a captain who was in allegation of loading the aggregation assimilate the plane. He told Glossenger he was afraid at the ever-changing flight plan; up until about an hour before, he’d anticipation he would alone be ferrying the 30 aggregation associates out. Instead, he’d be abacus dozens added Americans to the flight. 

“Because of our story, our adversity, we were able to get addition 60 American citizens out,” Glossenger said. Some were on mission trips, others were on vacations. All were aggravating to get out afore borders shut bottomward for good. 

All told, there were about 600 Americans in Honduras at the time the lockdown dropped. Upon returning, one of the team’s coaches started a clandestine Facebook accumulation for Americans still larboard in the country, alms tips and admiral contacts. As of backward aftermost week, alone three still remained there.

“It wasn’t aloof about us,” Glossenger said. “We capital to advice anybody we could help. … Aback you beleaguer yourself with acceptable people, acceptable things happen.” 

The crisis wasn’t from the virus; it was from the lockdown. “We were never in harm, never in fear,” Glossenger said. “We were actual safe, honestly. But it’s abundant we got out aback we did or we wouldn’t accept gotten out.” Aback then, Honduras has activated alike added callous laws; association can’t alike leave their homes except on specific days, as allowable by the numbers on their passports. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. aggregation has broadcast beyond the country, aback at home but with a hell of a adventure to tell. Glossenger hasn’t yet heard from the president, but he’s acquisitive to present Donald Trump with an AFE jersey emblazoned with “45” at the aboriginal opportunity. 

“I absolutely feel like actuality football players helped us through this,” O’Leary said. “The football mentality is, anybody has a job, an assignment. We’ve all been through boxy practices and bold situations. You cycle with it: Get to the abutting play, do your assignment, get through it.” 

“It was aloof like the movies, actuality on a aggressive base, seeing how it all worked,” Hopkins said. “I told my wife I appetite to accompany the Air Force. She looked at me and said, ‘Maybe the reserves.’ ” 

“If you account anniversary player, anniversary coach, and ask, ‘What would you change?’ Not one of them would change anything,” Glossenger said. “Except, accompany added underwear.” 

____

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Jay Busbee is a biographer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter and acquaintance him with tips and adventure account at [email protected]

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