By Virginia Terhune
Thursday, May 27, 2010; PG19
At 18, Aaron Lancaster never expected he would be headed to South Africa -- let alone to cover the FIFA World Cup, international soccer's premier event.
Lancaster, of Bowie, and Anamarie Shreeves, 21, of District Heights will be among six Florida A&M University students who will embark on a trip organized by FAMU journalism professor and former Washington Post foreign desk copy editor Joe Ritchie.
Joining them will be six Chinese students from the University of Shantou, a school Ritchie became familiar with in 2007.
"It's the world's largest sporting event," Lancaster said of the event, which is organized by FIFA, international soccer's governing body. "Never in a thousand years did I think I'd be doing this. . . . It's all like a dream come true."
The World Cup is staged every four years. The tournament, from June 11 to July 11, features teams from 32 countries, including the United States. This year marks the first time the tournament has been hosted by an African nation.
The students will leave for Johannesburg at the end of May and, once there, will write stories and shoot videos about their experiences before covering the games. The stories will be posted at http://www.famustu.net.
A copy editor on the Post's foreign desk from 1975 to 1986, Ritchie worked on the copy desk for the International Herald Tribune in Hong Kong in summer 2007. During that stint, he met a professor associated with the University of Shantou, northeast of Hong Kong.
Ritchie also happened to know the communications director for the 2010 World Cup Organizing Committee in South Africa. During his career, he covered four World Cups.
"I looked at it as an opportunity," said Ritchie, who organized the trip to develop his students' skills and to introduce American and Chinese students to each other and to Africa. "I thought it would be a good cross-cultural experience for both of them, a total broadening experience for everybody."
Much of the trip will be funded by grants and contributions, which will keep costs low for students, Ritchie said. Each student has been assigned reading to understand South Africa's dark history. One of the books, "Long Walk to Freedom," is the autobiography of Nelson Mandela.
"It's about how the country evolved from his point of view," said Lancaster, who hopes to visit Robben Island, off Cape Town, where Mandela spent most of the 27 years he was detained as a political prisoner for opposing apartheid, a policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in South Africa. Mandela became president of the country after his release from prison in 1990.
"I want to see if the scars of apartheid have healed, how that situation is since Mandela was freed," the first-year broadcast journalism student said.
Shreeves, a senior who plans to graduate in the fall, will contribute her design and online journalism experience to the endeavor. She also is interested in seeing how South Africa has evolved.
"I don't want to limit myself to any one specific thing," she said. "I want to see the Cape [of Good Hope] and absorb all I can."
Lancaster played soccer as a child with the Bowie Boys & Girls Club but jokes that he has hung up his cleats. After going to Glenn Dale Elementary School through the fifth grade, he attended St. Anselm's Abbey Catholic School in the District and then Western Reserve Academy, a private high school in Hudson, Ohio.
In January, when Ritchie announced he was looking for students to cover the World Cup, Lancaster jumped at the chance.
"The next thing I knew, [Ritchie] was shaking my hand and saying, 'Welcome aboard,' " Lancaster recalled.
The trip won't be the first time Lancaster has traveled overseas. His high school Advance Placement scores in Latin caught the eye of officials at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, which sent him to the John Hopkins University's center in Nanjing in summer 2007.
Although Lancaster hasn't done a lot of reporting, Ritchie liked that Lancaster was well read and had critical thinking skills. It also didn't hurt that Lancaster knew some Mandarin.
"He'll help do some team building with the Chinese group," Ritchie said.