Hispanic participation on the rise among City League soccer teams
For the past several seasons, North High senior Abraham Ruelas called out plays and instructions to his soccer teammates in Spanish.
“We’d all talk Spanish because no one knew what we were saying,” Ruelas said with a laugh.
North’s Hispanic enrollment for the 2012-13 school year was 1,195 students, nearly double any other City League high school. While the numbers for the 2013-14 school year have not yet been released, North has an even higher number of Hispanic soccer players than other league teams — 73 of the 88 players on its four levels of teams are Hispanic.
Yet North doesn’t have such a clear language advantage on the soccer field anymore. The City League has seen an increase in the number of Hispanics playing soccer.
Of West’s 26 junior varsity and varsity players, 21 are Hispanic. East, which has the second-highest Hispanic enrollment (671), has 59 soccer players and 39 are Hispanic, including 15 of 20 varsity players.
At Southeast, 12 of 21 varsity players are Hispanic. Thirty-nine of South’s 50 players are Hispanic. Northwest, which has the second-lowest enrollment of Hispanics of the City League’s seven public schools at 226, has 57 players on three teams and 10 are Hispanic.
The change has been recent, though.
“I can tell you that when I was a freshman, there weren’t as many Hispanics,” Ruelas said.
“There’s been a huge influx of Hispanics,” said West coach Wyatt Bobo, who is Hispanic. “It’s been even more obvious at North. They’re carrying four teams now because they have so many players.”
Northwest coach Bobby Bribiesca, who was born in Garden City to parents who migrated from Mexico, noted that schools such as Dodge City, Great Bend and Emporia have long had a high number of Hispanic soccer players.
Now North can’t expect speaking Spanish to be an advantage when playing East, Southeast or West. But count on hearing a whole lot of Spanish during a game between any two of those schools.
East coach Dylan Gruntzel has used an Internet translation program to figure out what his players are saying and to help those players who only speak English.
“I’ve learned a lot of Spanish over the last six or seven years,” said Gruntzel, who has two Hispanic assistants who speak Spanish. “With our people who don’t speak Spanish, they understand the basics of what we call soccer Spanish.”
Such as goalie is “portero.”
East senior defender Jacksen Petersen, who is not Hispanic, said his team communicates well, even though sometimes there are different languages spoken.
“Our midfielders and forwards speak Spanish, and it’s freaky because I’m back there (on defense), and I don’t know what’s going on,” he said.
Bribiesca, though, doesn’t allow his Hispanic players to speak Spanish while playing soccer.
“I feel we’re one team, one language,” Bribiesca said. “When we’re speaking Spanish, the white kids don’t know what they’re saying, so they aren’t communicating with the 11 players on the team.”
It’s not surprising that soccer is the only City League sport dominated by Hispanics. Most of the Hispanic players are of Mexican heritage, and it’s a country where soccer is revered.
“In Mexico, everyone plays soccer, everyone does,” said East senior Abel Madrigal, whose parents migrated to the United States about 20 years ago. “Even if you don’t like it, you play.”
West sophomore Alan Ibarra, who came to America from Mexico 12 years ago, agreed.
“It just runs in the culture that we have,” Ibarra said. “Pretty much our ancestors have been playing soccer since the Aztecs. It just runs in the family.”
Bribiesca said Hispanics’ love of soccer comes from the sport being equal to all.
“The way I look at it, it’s a sport that God made for all races to play,” he said. “You don’t have to be big or small, you can compete in soccer. It’s the only sport that God made all equal for all colors of people.”
The options for playing youth soccer are many. There’s the American Youth Soccer Organization, Sedgwick County Soccer Association and YMCA.
But for high-caliber traveling teams, fees can soar over $1,000 annually.
“Here (at East), it’s a lot cheaper to play,” East junior Diego Garcia said. “My mom was much happier letting me play here.”
Some current high school players have gotten involved in Wichita’s Mexican soccer league, which is primarily for adults.
Guadelupe Dominguez, a junior forward at East who moved from Mexico when he was 5 or 6 because his father said it was no longer safe in Juarez, said he prefers high school soccer.
“If you get a foul, the coaches say, ‘I’ll get them back,’” Dominguez said of the Mexican league. “For this game right here (at East), we can’t do that.… And here, they look for people that are good, but your grades have to be good.”
Dominguez didn’t try out for soccer when he first got to East, but Garcia encouraged him to do so after he saw him play soccer in a physical education class last year.
“Last year we didn’t have as many (Hispanics) playing on the team,” Garcia said. “I talked to a lot of my friends. They asked, ‘Is it cool?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it’s fun, you should join.’”
The language barrier can keep some Hispanic students from playing soccer. Many times they enroll and don’t know about soccer until school has already started.
Other times they might not play because sports can be seen as frivolous.
“Thankfully that hasn’t happened to me,” Garcia said. “But there is a lot of families, as soon as you can work, you should start working. It’s not sports, it’s a focus on education and getting a job — (saying,) ‘You’re not going to be a professional (soccer player).’”
Parent involvement sometimes is lacking, too, due to the language.
“To be frank, some of these kids’ parents are illegal aliens,” said North coach Curt Wullschleger, whose team sells two team T-shirts — one English, one Spanish. “They want to stay under the radar as much as possible. That’s reality.”
The game has gotten faster with more Hispanic players, but other than the increasing use of Spanish, it’s still soccer.
“We welcome anybody, as long as you’re not there to be enemies,” West’s Ibarra said.
Gruntzel has seen no problems, and doesn’t expect any.
“They are all able to get along with each other,” he said as he watched his team stretch before practice. “Regardless of the language, they all are easy to understand. They like to have fun.”