Former Battery star reflects on Mandela, playing with black teammates

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Flags flew at half staff Friday for the late Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95.

Tributes poured in from across the globe, from moments of silence to speeches trying to express what he meant to so many people around the world. President Barack Obama and the first lady announced their plans to soon visit South Africa.

In the Lowcountry, there are more ties to the former South African president.

Stephen Armstrong used to play professional soccer in South Africa before joining the Charleston Battery and he remembers the first time he ever played with black teammates.

He moved to the country on the southern tip of the African continent at the age of three.

"I was there through the 80s as apartheid was coming to an end," said Armstrong. "I got to witness the complete segregation in certain areas, and towards the end, all the schools were able to mix."

The former Battery star said he saw Mandela's influence in his teens playing sports.

"I noticed the integration of sports, all races in soccer, and a little bit in rugby and cricket, and once I turned professional I was the only white kid on the team," Armstrong said. "It was a tribute to Mandela and how he believed the sports could bring people together."

Armstrong said as he got older, he learned more about Mandela's politics and the things for which he fought. He says he brought the lessons of being united both as a team and a country when he returned to the U.S.

"He's just an icon, one of the greatest men in our time and in history," he said.