Sometimes it pays to honor small beginnings.
There's a little chatter among the players on this crisp autumn afternoon. Over there, a Laotian player speaks Hmong to an attentive teammate, then turns and says the same thing in English to a white teammate. Across the circle, a Hispanic kid says something in Spanish and two teammates nod their heads. Only one is also Hispanic.
Then a kid talks in Serbian, loud enough for everyone to hear, and they all laugh, all of them together, including head coach Dave Shadlen and his assistant, Kelly Cannon.
They laugh the laugh of a united team. A united championship team. A team made up of kids who came to the South side from all over the world. Kids with last names of Yang, Bangura, Pacheco and Milosavljevic, of Baker, Espinoza, Malusic and Terzic, of Perez, Vujanic, Patrowsky and Malusic, and of Jovicic, Vukovic, Villegas and Baric.
The Wildcats (12-5-1 overall) won their first City Conference championship on Monday, beating Milwaukee Riverside, 3-2, on a late, tie-breaking goal. It came in the closing minutes when a Laotian sent a long ball to a Hispanic teammate, who hit a crossing pass to a Serbian teammate on the right side for the goal.
It also pays to encourage membership in the common culture.
The cross-cultural teamwork and friendships cultivated through soccer at Hamilton could serve as an example in schools, neighborhoods and workplaces everywhere.
"I can get along with anybody, because when I came over here (from Serbia), I was accepted by the people here. So I know how important that is," said senior Goran Milosavljevic. "Whether I'm talking to Latino people or Asian people, it's not a problem at all. A lot of them even know Serbian words and a lot of us know some of their language. We can even use that to our advantage on the field sometimes."
"On the soccer field, we're all one team," said senior Chue-Yee Yang, who has a near-perfect grade-point average and has applied to five Ivy League colleges. "I knew that working together as a team was going to be all right."
At the same time, it pays the native-born players to pick up a few Serbian phrases.
To bring the team together, Shadlen orders his players to speak English to coaches and each other during play, so no one is left out or wondering about a comment. And he has worked to take the best parts of each ethnic group's style of play and cross-pollinate it with everyone on the team.
"Each ethnicity has its own style, whether it's a faster attack or more short, quick passes or working it down a side of the field or up the middle," Shadlen said. "The thing we focus on from the start of the season is how to meld it all together."
"We all have our different ways of playing, but on the field we're just one team," senior Alejandro Pacheco said. "So we don't have a Serbian style or Hispanic style or Asian style, just a Hamilton style.
"The language barrier my freshman year was really strong. Everybody was speaking Serbian or Hmong or Spanish, and all I know is English. So I would only talk to the other guys who spoke English," junior Tom Patrowsky said. "But as the season progressed, we got to know each other and learned about each other. Now our team is so closely knit, we have no language barrier at all."Glory, glory, Ham United!