I found the latest Sports Illustrated on my bed open to the article “How To Become An American,” presumably left by my husband, who keeps an eye out for stories that might be compelling. This one caught my eye, namely because of the title. Admittedly, I was looking for something stereotypical and cliche (i.e. Asian players fit into the American mold or Asian players try but don’t succeed in satisfying their coaches’ expectations).
I was thrown a little that this was set in small-town Magazine somewhere in western Arkansas. Apparently, the town has a Hmong diaspora that relocated there after the Vietnam war because of the promise of land and work. The local high school plays Class 2A football where the star players are 4’11” – 125 pounds and 5’2″ – 115 pounds among the six Hmong that are on the team.
These are not like the American Samoa, “the powerhouses,” John wrote about a while back. Still, according to the Magazine coaches, the Hmong players are not only quick, but strong, and “really good.” – “The Hmong created an intriguing image for Magazine’s team and made coaches radically rethink the physique of a football player.” Rather than forcing the Hmong players to fit some ideal or rejecting them for not, it seems the coaches reconfigured their playbook to highlight these players’ abilities, and the results have been amazing. “Magazine ran off 10 straight wins for an undefeated regular season” and went on to become the 2010 State Football Champions.
I love the surprise in these kinds of stories, but also am drawn to the backstory – the snippets of Hmong culture and history (father being forced to fight someone else’s war then losing everything), their families (the depth of their bonds and respect for their elders), and their interactions with the rest of the community (everyone literally loves them). It’s likely these boys won’t play college or pro (who really knows?), but it’s clear that they not only have a healthy love for the game, they are also making a huge impact.
[Photo from NWA Online]