When Welp turned 16, two important things happened. The Giants won the league championship, and he grew five inches. By then, the 6'11" Welp was stuck with basketball; he was far too tall for Germany's No. 1 sport, soccer. "Basketball in Germany is about as popular as soccer is here," he says. When a junior national team assistant coach asked the players if any of them would like to spend a year in America as exchange students, Welp did not leap at the idea. He waited a year and then thought, Why not?
So in 1982 Chris said auf Wiedersehen to his mother, Ingrid; father, Conrad; brother, Joachim; and his sister, Barbara, and traveled some 6,600 miles to enroll as a senior at Olympic High and live in Jim and Jean Hansel's log house in Central Kitsap, Wash., an hour's ferry ride from Seattle. The Hansels had hosted several exchange students before, but they were surprised at young Welp's maturity. "Chris had had more life experiences than the average 18-year-old," says Jim. "He'd traveled all over Europe, so he wasn't overwhelmed by coming to another country like I or my son [Ken, 21] would have been."
"Chris fit right into this family," says Jean. "I mean, it was like he'd been here all his life."
Welp adores his adopted family, and refers to them as "my stepfather, stepmother, stepsister [Barbara, 23] and stepbrother," and it's not hard to see why. Jim is an orthodontist who describes himself as a "solar baby." To keep from going crazy on rainy days, he carves prizewinning duck decoys, loons and other birds. Jean helps keep his appointments straight, does the billing on their home computer, and gardens. And they are rabid basketball fans.
"I get really up at a game," says Jean. "Jim doesn't like to sit next to me."
"It hurts my ears," he says. "Jean can get meaner than a junkyard dog if she thinks somebody's doing her kids wrong. We feel Chris gets homered a lot."
"I'd like to kill some of those referees," she says.
With support like that, how could Welp lose? But there were, naturally, a few moments of culture shock as Chris adjusted to the American way of life.
•Peanut butter. Says Jean, "In Europe they don't eat peanut butter much, and Chris was convinced it would taste awful." But he tried it and liked it. With one slightly un-American difference: Welp eats it with bologna and cheese.