Beyond the Game: Hamburg High School soccer team provides sense of belonging

Beyond the Game: Hamburg High School soccer (KATV Photo)

Just six years ago, the only sports offered at Hamburg High School were track, basketball, cheer, band and football.

That is, until a group of Hispanic students set out to change that.

"Our school didn't have a team," said senior Victor Rodriguez.

The students turned to an unlikely person for an assist: Michael Cox, a computer teacher at the school. He's a Hamburg native who said he's seen the demographics in the town change.

"They came to me and said they wanted to play soccer and I thought they should," Cox said.

He drafted a letter to the athletics director and presented a petition with 500 signatures. Initially, the school board denied the proposal. The next year, they said yes.

"And we've been winning ever since," Cox said with a smile.

The Lions soccer team has made the state playoffs every season, but it's likely none of the students, or Cox for that matter, could anticipate how the team would positively impact players off the field.

"They wanted to belong to something, something they started," said Miguel Mondragon, the team's coach for the last four years.

"It gave them something to do, something after school. If kids don't have something to do, they always get in trouble."

All of the seniors are going to college.

"I kind of straightened up as soon as I got into soccer, knowing I had to keep my grades up to play," Rodriguez said.

The team has positively impacted the community, too. Players seek to involve their parents in fundraisers and other team-oriented activities, thereby increasing their pride for being a Hamburg Lion.

"When you're actively involved in your school, it gives you a lot of pride," Cox said.

"It gives the Hispanic community a chance to come out and take pride in the school.

"So it has changed a lot. It has changed a lot of people in this town."

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