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A Home on the Field
Cover of A Home on the Field
A Home on the Field
How One Championship Team Inspires Hope for the Revival of Small Town America
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A Home on the Field is about faith, loyalty, and trust. It is a parable in the tradition of Stand and Deliver and Hoosiers—a story of one team and their accidental coach who became certain heroes to...
A Home on the Field is about faith, loyalty, and trust. It is a parable in the tradition of Stand and Deliver and Hoosiers—a story of one team and their accidental coach who became certain heroes to...
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  • A Home on the Field is about faith, loyalty, and trust. It is a parable in the tradition of Stand and Deliver and Hoosiers—a story of one team and their accidental coach who became certain heroes to the whole community.

    For the past ten years, Siler City, North Carolina, has been at the front lines of immigration in the interior portion of the United States. Like a number of small Southern towns, workers come from traditional Latino enclaves across the United States, as well as from Latin American countries, to work in what is considered the home of industrial-scale poultry processing. At enormous risk, these people have come with the hope of a better life and a chance to realize their portion of the American Dream.

    But it isn't always easy. Assimilation into the South is fraught with struggles, and in no place is this more poignant than in the schools. When Paul Cuadros packed his bags and moved south to study the impact of the burgeoning Latino community, he encountered a culture clash between the long-time residents and the newcomers that eventually boiled over into an anti-immigrant rally featuring former Klansman David Duke.

    It became Paul's goal to show the growing numbers of Latino youth that their lives could be more than the cutting line at the poultry plants, that finishing high school and heading to college could be a reality. He needed to find something that the boys could commit to passionately, knowing that devotion to something bigger than them would be the key to helping the boys find where they fit in the world. The answer was soccer.

    But Siler City, like so many other small rural communities, was a football town, and long-time residents saw soccer as a foreign sport and yet another accommodation to the newcomers. After an uphill battle, the Jets soccer team at Jordan-Matthews High School was born. Suffering setbacks and heartbreak, the majority Latino team, in only three seasons and against all odds, emerged poised to win the state championship.

Excerpts-

  • Chapter One

    The boys were on time for a change. There was no such thing as "Latino time" during the state high school play-offs, that customary half-hour tardiness in which they showed up one by one, drifting onto the field still in their street clothes. They arrived tonight dressed to play in their white home jerseys, royal-blue shorts, and white socks pulled up over their knees to keep their legs warm from the cold November night. They went right away to the bag of soccer balls on the sideline, took one, and ran out onto the field like colts bolting over an open plain, kicking and jumping in the crisp autumn air. They immediately started taking shots on goal, warming up our goalkeeper, "Fish," for the game.

    I went out to meet them—handing out pinnies, warm-up vests in bright yellow—to divide them into two teams so they could go through our normal warm-up drill before a game. "¡Eh! ¡El juego de posesión! ¡Ahorita!" I yelled at them, blowing my whistle. "Hey! The possession game! Now!" The boys quickly split off into two teams and started playing keep-away with the ball, possessing it with the pass, two-touch only, moving it from one side of the field to the other on the ground, passing it around from one player to another as fast as they could.

    Across the field, the Hendersonville Bearcats were performing their own warm-up drills. They had traveled more than five hours on their school bus from the Appalachian Mountains to Siler City, North Carolina, a small poultry-processing town in the middle of the state. They were vastly different from my team. Their soldier-like warm-ups included jogging together in a straight line across the field, kicking their legs up high, and touching their toes with the tips of their fingers to stretch their leg muscles. My stomach tightened when I saw their size and height. They were the opposite of the Jets. These were tall, big, beefy white mountain boys who played a physical game known for its long-ball style; they kicked the ball up the field and sprinted after it, outmuscling the opposition and shooting on goal.

    "Mira, Cuadros, son grandes," said Perico, one of our forwards who barely stood more than five feet tall and whose name means little bird. "Look, Cuadros, they're huge."

    I looked at him as I put my hand on his shoulder and laughed.

    "It doesn't matter, they're always bigger than you, right?" Perico's face lit up and he smiled, nodding. I wasn't even much taller than he was. We were Latinos and we had learned to play a different style of game against bigger teams—excellent ball control, tricky moves, and possessing the ball on the ground. We focused on being quicker, making short passes, moving the ball around, and attacking at high speed. It had won us the conference championship for the first time and we were about to put our style to the test against a team that had crushed us during our first season.

    Two years ago, we had traveled the five hours to Hendersonville in the second round of the play-offs only to be bruised and beaten by the Bearcats. We were an excellent team, loaded with talent in every position, but the Bearcats played aggressively, physically, knocking our guys down and battering them. We were too one-dimensional that first year. The soccer program at Jordan-Matthews was new and I had not had the time to train them out of their bad habits, refine their game, and help them learn how to play more as a team. We could not possess the ball then.

About the Author-

  • Paul Cuadros's family moved to the United States from Peru in 1960. An award-winning investigative reporter, he has written for Time magazine and Salon.com, among others. In 1999 Cuadros won an Alicia Patterson Foundation fellowship to write about the impact of the large numbers of Latino poultry workers in rural towns in the South. He moved to Pittsboro, North Carolina, to conduct his research and stayed on to document the growing Latino community in the Southeast.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 31, 2006
    Cuadros, an investigative reporter of Peruvian descent, set out to write a book on the "Latino Diaspora" in the southeast but decided to tell the story through the Mexican high school soccer players of Siler City, N.C.—whose team Cuadros himself lobbied for against the resistance and overt prejudice within this old-boy "football town." The players' thwarted ambition and punitive social hurdles encapsulate the plight of Latino immigrants who flock to rural hamlets seeking better lives and steady work but run up against palpable fear and suspicion in towns that still faintly reek of Jim Crow hostility. The Siler City team's struggles bring the town conflicts into sharp relief and give Cuadros a sturdy framework for exploring meaty issues of class and ethnic conflict. In alternating terse and tender prose, he delves into his players' backstories and captures their buoyant camaraderie to shape an inspiring underdog's tale without romanticizing the team's painful immigrant realities, such as their parents' shaky health insurance and high school drop-out rates. This feel-good read coincides neatly with the start of a new school year, staking its faith on fresh starts.

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A Home on the Field
A Home on the Field
How One Championship Team Inspires Hope for the Revival of Small Town America
Paul Cuadros
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Paul Cuadros
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