A world of differences comes together on the Rock Island High School soccer team

Jean-Louis Sawadogo grew up in Ivory Coast, West Africa. He and his twin brother Jean-Jaques learned to play soccer on the street with their friends. They had a big farm where they grew coffee, cocoa, fruits and vegetables. In 2007, the family abandoned everything, fleeing civil war in their home country.

Two years later and half a continent away, Justin Freedy and his family were forced to leave The Democratic Republic of Congo under similar conditions. Hay Seet, Kaw Moo, Da Eh and Mang Mung grew up in refugee camps in Thailand after their families escaped ethnic violence in Burma (Myanmar) in Southeast Asia.

Arno Padilla is from Honduras. Benjamin Rojani is from the Faroe Islands, halfway between Iceland and Norway. DeWan Jones, Austin Groothaert and Vicente Ruiz were born and raised in the Quad Cities.

How any of these kids could possibly be connected? They all play on Rock Island High School soccer team.

“Rock Island High School is a melting pot of students,” says varsity soccer coach Cory Dalton. “I don’t think any group or team represents that better than this team.”

It can be challenging to play on a team with so much diversity. “Playing with guys you’ve never played with before is hard,” admits junior Jean-Louis Sawadogo. Overall, however, the positives seem to outweigh the negatives. “I’ve met lots of new people- lots of friends from different countries. It’s fun to watch people from different backgrounds coming together to play soccer together.”


Heading into the postseason, the Rocks (11-10) have been up and down, still working out their communication and focus, striving to pull together their own singular style of soccer from so many different players.

“We have the potential, we have the skill, we have everything that can take us there,” says senior Austin Groothaert. “We just need to use it right.”

However elusive it sometimes seems, a distinct Rock Island style of soccer is developing slowly, but surely. This season the Rocks’ junior varsity team only lost one game. Players and coaches agree that the future of the program looks bright.  Coach Dalton credits the program’s development to the efforts of their feeder organization, the Rock Island Football Club, as well as an influx of refugee students enthusiastic about soccer.


“I think it’s one of the best things for the soccer team because, without [the refugee students] we wouldn’t have as big a soccer team as we do now,” says senior defender and Rock Island native Vicente Ruiz. “Soccer is probably one of the biggest sports in the world and everybody knows it.”


Regardless of how far the team gets in the postseason this year or the next, for the students the impact of working together on such a diverse team is immeasurable.

“In sports it doesn’t matter what race you are, what color you are, as long as you guys get along and work together you will be successful in the sport,” says Ruiz. “The sport helps connect a lot of people together.”

This year is coach Dalton’s second as head coach, but his tenth involved with Rocky soccer. He’s delighted to have the opportunity
to work with this group.

“Soccer has been my life and to be able to coach it at this level is unbelievable, says Dalton. “These kids aren’t just from a different neighborhood, they’re from different countries and to see soccer bring them together and kind of gravitate to the soccer ball and put their differences aside and use that to get along, it’s an amazing thing to watch.”


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