Ozarks Life: Monett builds a culture with multiple cultures

Soccer is a common ground for students new to the area
Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 10:28 AM CDT
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MONETT, Mo. (KY3) - You can gain so much by going to a park. Fresh air, relaxation, maybe a soccer player or two...

That’s what happened a four years ago for Monett soccer coach Cristobal Villa. During a high school soccer practice he saw a couple of young men playing around a neighboring field.

“I said, ‘hey, I want you to be part of our team,” Villa said to the boys. “And at first, they were kind of confused, like, ‘what are you talking about?”

Two of those teenagers were Mu Ku and Moo Say. Both were born in Thailand and eventually took Villa up on his offer.

“Happy to be with this team,” Mu Ku said, “to be able to play with this team.”

“I look at the team,” Moo say said, “I like (the) soccer team. And I saw the players. I joined like, yes, ‘this for me, too.”

Moo Say a senior, and Mu Ku a junior, are entering their third year playing for Monett.

“I see soccer in a little different ways every single year,” Villa said. “And I just see how much important this game is to a lot of these kids and how it brings a lot of cultures together.”

English is a second language for Mu and Moo and that’s something they have in common with many on the team. Villa says the Cubs have a total of six different languages spoken on their roster. That said, communication is not problem.

“We all communicate and we all talk and we all get to know each other’s culture,” Villa said. “So it’s amazing. It’s amazing. It’s an experience that a lot of kids out there, don’t get to have. You know, they missed a little bit of that.”

It’s the culture and culture shock Villa was describing when he first approached Moo Say and Mu Ku four years ago. Young men, kids really, thrown into a new community not sure exactly where they belonged.

For Villa, it’s like looking in the mirror and seeing himself as a 7-year-old moving to the United States from Mexico.

“I could relate to them,” Villa said. “Because, you know, obviously, we’re here for opportunities, freedom, better life. That’s the reason why our parents got us here.”

“First generation parents are working hard every single day to provide food to the table,” Villa continued, “to make sure you have clothing to wear. So to (the parents), that was the support they were giving us. Not knowing that, ‘hey, take me to practice’ or to here or there. Sometimes they didn’t have time to come into the parent-teacher conferences. They were expecting us to make good decisions because they were so busy.”

Teenagers can gain self esteem, learn how to work as a team, and maybe for their first time in their lives achieve success playing sports.

Sometimes a coach might learn a little something too. Villa explains, when you understand someone’s culture that helps explain why a person does something that seems odd or frustrating to others.

“We need to have a little more of an open mind about where some of these kids come from,” Villa said. “And get to know kids and get to know people, because sometimes we judge without even knowing.”

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