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An Enriching Rogers Park Experience

Posted by Mike G on April 21, 2017

Living in Rogers Park, one can hardly help but to want to support our local immigrant and refugee population.

      We continually see folks from different parts of the world, walking our streets, attending our schools, enjoying our parks and beaches, selling their local fair from push carts, and attending our religious institutions.

      The most fortunate of us find a way to intermingle with these folks and our lives are vastly enriched as we see first hand how they make their way in our country, balancing a preservation of their ethnic heritage and traditional life style and learning the American way. Most compelling is witnessing the way so many value what is most important - family, especially the elders and their youth.

      Around a month ago, when on a local social media website, I saw a request from a gentleman who lives in our community:  “Seeking someone to help me coach a soccer team consisting of boys age 12 - 16, all Muslims.”

      Normally, decisions - especially those involving a serious time commitment - come around after a considerable period of vacillation and reflection, and then more vacillation and reflection.

      WIth this opportunity, I wasted no time: I reached out to the neighbor immediately, and within a week, despite me confessing that despite playing high school soccer years ago when soccer was barely recognized as a sport that American boys play, and around five years spent coaching my own kids (then age 5 - 12), I lacked the technical skills to coach young teen boys, I was at a practice facing a group of our newest American boys who are actually between the ages of 14 and 17, stumbling over how to establish my role with these young men.

      Now, three weeks later, having twice practiced and “coaching” two games, I still find myself trying to figure out how I can best meaningfully interact with these guys, yet I already know that my life is immeasurably enriched during my limited time with them.

      Perhaps in future blogposts I will write more about my experiences and observations.

      I learned this past weekend that nearly all of the young men are refugees from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) - and most came to the US via Malaysia, where I believe they lived in refugee camps. They are Rohingyan Muslims, an ethnicity that I previously knew little about - interestingly, I stumbled across an article about them last night while reading the Sunday Chicago Tribune (4/16/17, page 29), where I learned that the military controlled government has been systematically oppressing this group, murdering many (including the mother of one of my soccer players - a horror that he apparently witnessed, before fleeing), and, in genocidal fashion, trying to eliminate them from their country.

    A few final observations for now:

    After the first practice, almost immediately after meeting her, the adopted mother of the young man who I mentioned above, handed me an invitation to the wedding of one of her other sons, which occurred this past weekend - a three day event (I briefly attended two of the three days - I even left a one run Cub game in the 8th inning yesterday in order to be there.) The incredible spirit and energy of this event amazed me - the colors and pageantry; the traditions; the love and passion displayed by all; the generosity with which our hosts welcomed us - and, of course, the food - one of the wedding traditions: the men had driven 90 miles away to slaughter a cow according to their religious laws, and served the beef at Sunday’s celebration, along with other dishes.
Perhaps my most significant roles as a coach replicates one of my most important roles when I was raising my kids - that of driver! Before and after practice and games, the kids pile into my car politely offering me directions as to where I need to drop them off. Unlike my kids, these young men wouldn’t dare tell me to change the radio station; and, presently, my biggest challenge is how best to instruct them not to slam my car doors.

    At our game last Saturday (indoors, at a wonderful indoor soccer facility called Chicago Futsall, on Granville and Clark), we were losing 8-4 with only four minutes left. My fellow coach suggested that it was clear we were going to lose, and we should replace our best players with the others. Suddenly, I tapped into a role that I had yet to find in my weeks interrelating with these guys - that of leader (actually, call it “cheerleader.”) I shouted to my fellow coach - “No. We can still win this” and I called out to the boys on the field: “C’mon! One goal a minute! Let’s go!” 
   
    Not that my prodding necessarily helped, but true to form, the young men started jelling, and delivered goal after goal - let up a goal - and then scored a couple more. The ref blew the whistle just as our goalie blocked a wicked last second desperation shot, and as a couple of our players dropped onto the turf with exhaustion, we celebrated a dramatic comeback resulting in a 9-9 tie.

    At our team meeting afterwards, the boys acted true to form, acting as competitive young athletes the world over often do after a dramatic game that resulted in anything but a decisive victory.

  They complained about the ref!

  Then one of the young men came up to me - and I was half hoping that he would acknowledge how excited he was to hear me finally find my voice as a coach, and motivate the team from the sideline.

  “Coach Mike?” I looked into the young man’s eyes, eager to hear his words of recognition. “Instead of dropping me off at the Dunkin Donuts with the others, can you take me directly to my home?”

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About the Author

Mike G's photoMike Glasser

Mike has a long term relationship with Rogers Park, having lived here at various times in his life, most recently returning to the neighborhood in August, 2009. While living here as a third year law student, he remembers drunken nights at Biddy Mulligan’s and hosting a couple of memorable parties that he, hypocritically, now forbids his own tenants from having. Years later, after completing his stint as a lawyer, Mike started investing in apartment buildings in Rogers Park (and elsewhere), and soon after, did what many newly divorced real estate investors do: he moved into one of his buildings. In 1992 Mike was one of the founding members of the Rogers Park Builders Group, an organization that he eventually headed for six years, until yielding those reigns three years ago. Around a decade ago, on a whim, he reserved the web site “Rogerspark.com,” which he has been developing ever since, and which co-hosts RP BizArts networking events. Mike is the proud father of three wonderful children, Amy, Mitch and Ella.

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