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Local 12-year-old representing USA at World Cup affiliated program

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. – He’s not just representing Lancaster County or even the state of Pennsylvania.  He’s representing the entire United States.

Lancaster’s Bennett Wehibe thought it was a scam when he heard that he’d been chosen for the international Football for Friendship program held in conjunction with the 2018 World Cup in Russia this week.

But when the 12-year-old realized the honor was real, he became “very excited.”

Bennett’s father Steve Wehibe was blown away by the news.

“When we heard that he was the only one going from the United States, it blew our mind,” said Steve Wehibe.  “I thought this was going to be a group of kids, but apparently it’s just one kid from every country.”

Under head coach Nick Hostetter, Bennett plays for the PA Classics U12 Boys Academy team based in Manheim, Pennsylvania.

Looking for one player to represent the United States, the US Soccer Federation contacted PA Classics and Hostetter who immediately recommended Bennett.

"The Federation was pretty specific about the criteria they wanted, based on position and based on age.  And Bennett fit those perfectly," Hostetter said.  "Bennett has a steady personality where he wouldn't be afraid to be on this trip.  He'll do great over there with everything they give him and he'll be a good advocate for it."

Football for Friendship is an international children's social program that's designed to bring kids together from all over the world.  This year it features players from 211 countries.

Spending the entire week in Russia, the kids and their parents get to stay in a pretty cool place in Moscow ... hotels that are part of the former Olympic village from 1980.

However Bennett and the other kids probably won't be spending much time at the hotel because they've got a busy schedule with practices and games, as well as sightseeing and a symposium.

As Hostetter explains, Football for Friendship is about much more than just soccer.

"I think it's really a fellowship of getting different kids from different countries that have the same thing in common with soccer," said Hostetter.  "They're going to be talking about conservation and a bunch of things that can make them into a better person and better character overall."

The players were grouped into 32 teams using a random draw with ping pong balls.  And in keeping with the conservation theme, all of the teams were named after endangered animals.

For example, Bennett's team is the Giant Pandas.

The Football for Friendship program is an official partner of FIFA and the World Cup, so on Thursday, Bennett will be part of the opening ceremony and get to see the first match between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

World Cup coverage on Fox43 starts Thursday morning at 10:00 am (ET).