Chants of “Abby, Abby!” resonated through Coleman Country Day Camp in Merrick on Monday, as hundreds of campers got the chance to meet soccer phenom Abby Wambach, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the all-time leading scorer in international play –– among women or men –– in the sport’s history.
"Very rarely in life do you meet somebody who is the best in the world at what they do,” said Ross Coleman, the camp’s director, as he introduced Wambach to the campers. “And she's an even better person."
For the fourth straight year, Coleman Country brought a premier professional athlete to its grounds to meet campers, who hail from across the South Shore. The tradition began in 2010 when New York Yankee Brett Gardner came to Merrick. The following year, New York Mets’ first baseman Ike Davis was the special guest, and last summer New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford not only spent the day with campers, but also let them try on his recently earned Super Bowl ring.
According to Coleman, the kids’ excitement at meeting Wambach trumped each of the past years’ athletes. "We have had more buzz this year than ever before,” he said. “This is as big as it gets."
Wambach, 33, whose 160th international goal this year broke Mia Hamm’s record, emphasized the importance of coming to a camp like Coleman Country to play sports and learn teamwork at a young age. "Watching you all do what you're doing, for me, it gives me a lot of hope for the future,” she told the campers, later adding, “The lessons they're learning every day here will matter and change these people's lives.”
Born in Rochester, Wambach said she began playing soccer when she was 5. She competed collegiately at the University of Florida, and began her professional career in 2002, becoming a teammate of Hamm, whom Wambach said was her idol growing up. "I had posters of her on my walls,” she said.
Wambach now lives in Orchard Park, Buffalo, and plays with the Western New York Flash, an American League Soccer club.