November 22, 2009
By Hunter Helman
Upper Class of 2010
OVS football captain Max Wheeler (right) counsels junior Jimmy Chen of Taiwan during a recent game.
The whistle blew and as the defense returned to the huddle, senior defensive end Sean Yuan excitedly asked whether anyone had seen his “attack.”
He was promptly corrected by one of his American teammates and informed that the correct term is simply, “tackle.”
Something as simple as terminology can still be difficult on the Ojai Valley School football field.
See, Sean is from Taiwan. He is one of many international students on the school’s eight-man football team, which recently concluded its third year of play in the Condor League.
Some players call the pads “armor.” When asked what position they play, some might respond with “over there.” The end zone is the “touchdown zone.” A huddle is a “meeting.” A sack is a “kill.”
Sometimes head coach Craig Floyd has to ask Sean to translate in Mandarin for the Chinese and Taiwanese delegation. Senior captain Victor Choi is often asked to do the same for players from his native Korea.
“The school is in a very unique situation where we have such diverse cultures,” Mr. Floyd said. “We are what we are, and we have to take what we get and go for it.”
OVS is one of many schools across the country that struggle with such language barriers.
From Oregon to New Hampshire, small boarding schools across the nation have been introducing the American game to foreign students, providing youngsters from around the globe a crash course in basic elements of American culture and competition.
Assistant football coach John Wickenhaeuser talks strategy with senior center Yeon Kang of South Korea at a recent practice.
The OVS team is made up of students from Taiwan, China, South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
Many of the international players had never seen the game before while others had maybe only seen American football through video games such as the Madden NFL video game franchise.
When junior lineman Winston Li first came to OVS as a freshman, he spoke little English and quit the football team because he thought that the coaches, when they yelled, were always mad at him.
He did not understand that they were only trying to help him learn and improve.
This year, he was a starter on offense and he will be looked at next year, as a senior, to lead the offensive line.
“I was the slow one on the team, but my teammates always encouraged me,” Winston explained. “By playing with them, they just taught me things I didn’t know. My English got better. I learned that we have to take care of each other so we can make plays happen."
Coaches John Wickenhaeuser (left) and Craig Floyd explain a late-hit penalty levied against senior linebacker Sean Yuan of Taiwan.
Senior center Yeon Kang still cannot tell the difference between rugby and football.
He did not know a thing about the American game of football when he showed up at OVS two years ago. He said he learned by playing video games and watching football on TV.
With patience and practice, he worked his way to becoming a starter at one of the team’s most-valuable positions.
“It was a totally different new sport, I had no idea what coaches were saying,” Yeon explained about his football baptism. “It was like learning a new language.”
OVS launched its football program in the fall of 2007, joining a growing number of Condor League schools that were adopting the sport. The move, which came after years of wrestling with how to fill a void created in 2002 when the league moved its soccer season from fall to winter, was aimed at providing OVS students a more well-rounded experience.
But it has had other benefits as well. Football at OVS has helped integrate these students from far-off lands into the community.
As the season progresses, it’s easy to see improvement among foreign students in understanding the game, and American culture. Their English improves, their shyness fades, and their confidence grows.
Moreover, the football team creates friendships that cross the boundaries of culture and nationality.
“Watching the transformation from week to week is quite fun to see,” Coach Floyd said. “Everybody’s growing each season both in their understanding of the game and their playing of the game.”