The World Cup at Waggener

Joseph Paasewe, James McKenzie, Aldair Martinez and Almir Hodzic.

Joseph Paasewe, James McKenzie, Aldair Martinez and Almir Hodzic.

If you want to get a glimpse of the FIFA World Cup, watch the Waggener High School boys soccer team. Featuring players from five continents, the team is composed of teenagers who originate from around the globe. Countries such as the United States, Mexico, Liberia, Bosnia, Myanmar, Nepal and Columbia are all represented on this team. In return, the team has had one of its best starts to the season in the past 15 years.

Head Coach Stephen Buchholz says his players are experiencing something that is quite rare in today’s society.

“The players will never be in an environment this diverse. At this point in time, they are setting themselves up for success. They are learning to interact with many different people. They are learning from each other many incredible things about culture. I have learned incredible amounts of things about different cultures, interacting with different players, their values, their ideas and how they see the world. It is a huge benefit. I have learned just as much from them as I hope they learn from me.”

Although the team consists of players from all spectrums of religion, social class and ethnicity, they have broken common barriers within society by learning to co-exist and become unified both on and off the soccer field. This season the team has its first double digit win total in over a decade, and off the field, they spend time together prior to games eating different foods from player’s native country.

Senior Joseph Paasewe, from Liberia, has lived in the U.S. for four years now. During his time at Waggener, he has embraced the moments he has had with his teammates.

“It is really good and amazing. When you think about it, we are just in high school. It is not the college level or pros and some guys at that level may have a hard time playing with different people, but we are accepting it. So I think it is really amazing.”

What is truly amazing is the message that is sent by this team throughout society. Prejudice and discrimination is broken when these Wildcats step onto the soccer field. Assistant Coach Daniel Woodley says it is a great sight to see.

“When we play teams that are predominantly white, we roll in with a very diverse team, and they see all of us playing together and having fun. We are high-fiving and hugging, and for some of them, they may not see that a lot. It is good to break the racism barrier. Just because our skin color is different doesn’t mean we can’t get along and that we can’t be brothers, and it doesn’t mean that we can’t love and be there for each other even if it is over a game of soccer.”

Within the team, senior Aldair Martinez from Mexico says the greatest thing he has been able to take away from playing on a team with so much diversity is, “the skill and the talent that everybody has and how it is spread across the whole team. It helps everyone get the equal amount of skills and talent from everybody.”

By the team spreading its talent to other players, it signifies their sacrifice as individuals and their pursuit toward their ultimate goal, which is team success.

“They have had incredible moments when they sacrifice for each other. They stand up for each other and refuse to let one of their teammates down,” says Buchholz. “The biggest indicator is that they want to do well for each other. Just like in the World Cup and National team, they want to make their country proud and represent their country well. They all have the same goal which is to play for each other and to put the team over everything. They put Waggener soccer over individual names and individual stats.”

The joy from the coaching staff has been their ability to invest into the lives of young men who may not have a father figure or someone who believes in them. By always facing naysayers, the team has finally been able to have coaches who support them in school, athletics, college and life situations. As a response, the team has appreciated how their coaches are truly genuine.

Moving forward, Buchholz says he will continue to bridge the gap between ethnic groups through the tool that is the Waggener Wildcats.

“What I envision with this program is to continue to develop the diversity and the ability to create a unit and one team. One program on the same page going after the same goals, and wants the same thing for the program, which is the best for each other.” VT