A team without borders

Foreign players bring diversity to Seabury Academy soccer program

The Seabury Academy boys soccer squad is more than a simple Kansas Class 1A team.

The Seahawks are quite the worldly bunch.

From players such as Otavio Gollo, Simon Thompson and Aaron Chung, to coach Gunar Harmon, the team goes far beyond a group of Kansans – let alone Americans.

“I’ve never played on an international team, with a lot players off of different countries, so it’s a new experience and it’s really great,” Gollo said. “Everyone is from every part of the world, so I think it’s great.”

While growing up in Brazil, Gollo, along with a majority of Brazilian kids, found soccer to be much more important than other things – like school.

“The most-played sport in Brazil is soccer. So like coach had told me here that they skip school for the opening season of hunting, we skipped school to play soccer,” Gollo said. “My parents let me go to school and I didn’t get into the school and I’d go and play soccer with my friends during school.”

As soccer was a reason to skip school in Brazil, in Great Britain soccer may have drawn kids toward attending school on a regular basis.

“Soccer in most schools in the U.K. was a compulsory sport that boys have to play,” said Thompson, who was born in Great Britain. “Also, it’s the national sport and pretty much everyone’s been brought up with it. It’s just a big part of our culture and there aren’t a lot of people who don’t like soccer – it’s just in our blood.”

However, for Chung growing up in Korea, soccer was limited to the more skilled athletes and was nearly impossible to play in an organized format.

“In Korea, the schools are really big and only have public schools so we don’t have a chance to play soccer in school, we just play for fun but not as a team,” Chung said. “If you are wanting to play sports in school you have to want to be a professional, so not very many people played soccer in my school. So I never played soccer on a school team when I was in Korea, so I think it’s really fun to play here.”

Seabury Academy Otavio Gallo, left, and Simon Thompson work on a play during practice. Gallo (Brazil), Thompson (Great Britain) and Aaron Chung (Korea) give the Seahawks a foreign flavor on the soccer pitch, as does head coach Gunar Harmon, who was raised in Germany.

All three players expressed how being able to play soccer has made their time in the United States a little more pleasant. They also said it’s made it easier to form friendships.

“Sports is a great icebreaker to make friends. So you get to know a lot of the guys better by playing a sport – especially a sport you love,” Thompson said. “You can show your talent, you can show your passion for the game and it’s helped me a tremendous amount – it’s a lot less boring coming here playing soccer than it would be if I was sitting at home.”

And it’s that talent and passion that Thompson, Gollo and Chung show on the field that Harmon has used as a valuable coaching tool for the other players on the team.

“It’s an interesting way to try integrate their natural style of play with other players in the team who may not be as skilled or experienced,” Harmon said. “Because where instinctive play lets players read the game and be one step ahead, less-experienced players tend to react or play direct, which is goal to goal. So it’s very hard to get everything to sync in gear.

“Having those three players, who bring natural skill and instinct to the game, makes it easier to rely on them to be consistent, to be in position to make the play and allows me to teach strategy to the other players as to read, what do those three players do?”

The three players know that learning how to play the game is more than just a one-way street and understand they are learning just as much from their teammates as they are teaching.

“We can get together, learn off of each other and I think that’s a key feature – learning and being able to teach other players how to do things,” Thompson said. “I think it’s just a whole learning process.”

Harmon is much like his three international players, having grown up in Germany and played on a military base for an American team while also competing with a German team.

“I chose that sport because it was challenging,” the Seabury coach said. “I’m probably – in terms of athletics – probably much more toward endurance sports like swimming than anything else. But I liked to get out and chase a little white ball and mix it up with the opponent a little bit.”

It was during Harmon’s years playing in Germany and growing up in the heart of soccer fanaticism that led him to coaching.

“I didn’t live on the military base, so you’re on their street, you play their game, you learn their game,” Harmon said. “And that was how I made friends, that’s how I earned respect a lot of times because no matter how many times they beat me and how many times they knocked me down I got back up.

“And that’s what’s given me my coaching approach. I’ve got one rule, a 100 percent effort rule. If you’re giving effort and you’re trying, I can correct mistakes, but if you’re not trying I can’t correct mistakes not born in effort.”