Varsity football team represents 21 countries

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Clare Kirwan

The varsity football team represents 21 countries this year.

Clare Kirwan, Yearbook Managing Editor

The National Football League (NFL) allowed its first Black player, Fritz Pollard, to sign a contract to play for the Indians in 1920. After his five years of play, the NFL made a rule prohibiting the signing of more Black athletes. This was until 1946 when four Black players, including Kenny Washington, were integrated into the game. This was just 76 years ago.

Since this time the sport has gradually become more diverse. The Blue Streaks football team is a clear representation of diversity in the sport. The team represents 21 countries ranging from Canada, Mexico, Spain, Costa Rica and Honduras to the Dominican Republic, Niger and Ethiopia. 

Head coach Kyle Gillenwater believes the diversity adds something special to the team.

“I think it’s good [because] it helps us all understand the differences that we live in day to day life,” Gillenwater said. “Obviously life is different in Honduras than it is in Canada. If you’ve never lived in someone’s shoes you don’t know what they’re thinking, what they’re day to day life is like. [The diversity] gives us a better vision of what someone else may be dealing with on a daily basis.”

Senior Josias Guillen Mendez is a running back for the varsity team and believes that diversity within the school and teams allows for a deep level of respect and understanding amongst each other.

“If I was the only hispanic on the football team I think it’d be tough because [I would] have no one to relate to. I would have a different background especially with my parents being from other countries,” Guillen Mendez said. 

Guillen Mendez represents Mexico and Honduras. He has played on the team for four years which has allowed him to see the acceptance from predominantly white teams in the area slowly progress over time.

“We’re the only diverse football team in our area. It’s different, they don’t have the same mentality,”  Guillen Mendez said. “Sometimes we do face racism with the way that they talk to us. I’ve experienced it one time [like] many other players. Over the years we’ve kept playing and it’s started to be different because other teams are starting to [see] that we’re different and more diverse.”

Despite the majority of the team being people of color, many have experienced racism on and off the field.

“I was on kickoff return, three years ago, it was JV. I was running and we were going up against seniors from Orange County, the Hornets. Right before he hit me he just said the N word. I could tell he had intention behind it, as in hate,” Guillen Mendez said.

Sophomore Kaliab Gebrehaimont is a wide receiver for the JV team. He represents Ethiopia and Eritrea. While he has not experienced racism on the field it is still of the utmost importance to him to play for his country.

“It’s important to play for my country because there’s wars happening there, so for them to know that I’m doing fine [means a lot],” Gebrehaimont said. “I’m doing a sport that they can’t do right now. As for other kids in the country that also can’t do the sport that they love, it’s important for me to make sure that I’m successful in my sport so I can better represent my country.”

Understanding each other’s backgrounds and the things that they have gone through have been a major bonding point for the team. 

“If I was the only African on an all white team they wouldn’t understand what I go through [compared] to what they go through. Especially on the field, I don’t think they would have to handle racism that I would [deal with],” Gebrehaimont said.

Despite the strong representation the football season has gotten off to a slow start. The varsity team has a variety of new players and players playing positions they have never played before to fill gaps.

“We want to win as many games as we can. A district championship would be the ultimate goal, but we got work ahead of us before that’s going to happen. We haven’t started district play yet so we have time to get that straightened up,” Gillenwater said.

The goal of a district championship will require lots of hard work for the team, but Gillenwater believes their key to success lies in the simplicity of the sport.

“Football is pretty simple. You block, you tackle, you block, you tackle. Whoever blocks the tackle very generally wins. [If] you don’t turn the ball over [and] don’t get penalties, you’re hard to beat. [We’re] just working on those things,” Gillenwater said.

21 countries aside from the U.S. are represented on the football team where they play a sport that originates from the U.S. This has caused an internal battle for Guillen Mendez.

“The thing is, football is American. It’s an American sport. [On a different team people might] look down on [me] because Hispanics usually play soccer. [This team] feels different, it’s unique,” Guillen Mendez said.