Five years and 5,000 miles later, Schmidt is back on the court for the Liberty boys tennis team this season following his arrival in the United States in September as part of a one-year foreign exchange program from Germany.
“When I got here, I thought it is time for a comeback, time to give it another shot,” said Schmidt, a junior. “In Germany, we do not have high school sports teams. We go to school, do our schoolwork, and that is about it. We can’t really develop any high school spirit, which is one of the reasons why I came here.”
Schmidt started the season in the No. 4 singles spot for the Lions, but according to Liberty head coach Thurston Brice, he could soon take over the No. 2 slot.
“He’s a competitor and doesn’t like to lose,” Brice said. “We had a kid out here beating him half to death because he had something he had never seen before. We got together, learned how to combat it, and he came back to win the match. I’m excited because once he recognizes how he loses, he adjusts for the next match, which some kids don’t do.”
Senior Kenny Roman has seen steady improvement from Schmidt since the team began practicing in February. “The one thing I notice is that he has natural footwork,” Roman said. “He has come a long way off of athleticism. He has been able to hit it over and get some of the really hard balls that some people can’t get. I really don’t know how he has progressed this fast.”
Schmidt said Liberty’s 0-5 start to the Bay Valley Athletic League season hasn’t prevented him from enjoying the experience and overcoming his fear of bigger and stronger players, which forced him to quit five years ago.
“I love the guys,” Schmidt said. “It is a lot of fun around here. Coach has really helped me with my game. I would call myself a pusher. What I do is just hit it back and wait for the other guy to make a mistake. If I find out he’s an aggressive player, I try to adjust and be more aggressive myself.”
Schmidt also played soccer for Liberty’s junior varsity team this season, but didn’t make the junior varsity baseball team.
Schmidt’s growth on the court has carried over into his personal life. He’s been forced to become more independent since moving in with his host family, with whom he’ll stay for the duration of the school year before he returns to Germany.
“I think I’ve gotten more mature and built more self-confidence,” Schmidt said. “When you are all on your own, you learn to handle things by yourself like money, supplies and clothes.”
Another challenge Schmidt faced was overcoming the outdated stereotype of German people as Nazis. “Some people just really didn’t know, and I can understand that,” Schmidt said. “I looked in my U.S. history book, and after the world war, there was nothing about Germany. I can understand how people can believe that fascism is still going on, so I forgive them.”
Warmer weather, starting school later in the year and the glitz of the big city are some of the things Schmidt enjoys about the United States. Playing tennis for Liberty, however, tops his list – even when the team loses.
“There are good teams and there are weak teams,” Schmidt said. “It’s going to balance at some point. I came here with the expectations that pretty much all Europeans have – fat dudes eating hamburgers and carrying shotguns, but I love it here. If I could, I would stay here longer.”