Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 8, 2012

WHO WE ARE: Soccer's popularity keeps growing


GOSHEN — When exploring reasons for the increased popularity of soccer in Goshen one fact that can’t be denied is the cultural diversity the city has and its contributions.

The increasing Hispanic community in Goshen is a big part of the growth of what has been called the world’s most popular sport. Soccer is played by more than 250 million people in 200 countries.

“My first team at Goshen High School had one Hispanic girl,” said Dan Graber, now in his ninth year as the school’s girls soccer coach. “Now it is more like 50-50 or 60-40.”

According to Graber the process has taken some time as the Hispanic community came to trust the coaches.

“Hispanic girls not playing sports is something we had to fight through,” Graber said. “That barrier is now broken and we now have some girls who could play (NCAA) D-1 soccer. To help gain the Hispanic trust we hired people that spoke their language. The Hispanics found out that soccer was a way to unite the community. We have come a long way in the last 10 years.”

Three brothers

Laos, a small landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west has also played a key role in soccer’s rising popularity in the Maple City.

A trio of Laotian brothers from what might be referred to as Goshen’s “first family” in the sport continues to be a guiding presence behind the remarkable growth.

Tavi Mounsithiraj is the head men’s soccer coach at Goshen College and also serves as the executive director of the Goshen Youth Soccer Organization (GYSO). Thavisith Mounsithiraj is a former GC women’s head coach and is currently the head girls coach at Bethany Christian High School. And Viratham Mounsithiraj is the Goshen High School boys coach.

“We were a refugee family sponsored by the Mennonite Church,” Tavi Mounsithiraj said. “We came here because of Goshen College; fell in love with the town and all three of us married Mennonite women.”

The family originally settled in Sturgis, Mich., when coming to America in 1980.

Playing in the GC summer leagues helped Viratham Mounsithiraj get a start in coaching as an assistant to long-time head coach Todd Woodworth for the Northridge High School boys team.

The love of the game, however, began when the Mounsithiraj brothers were still little in their native land.

“Soccer was big in Laos,” Tavi Mounsithiraj said. “It’s an easy sport and one you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to play. I grew up playing in bare feet. About all you need is a space to play and it is amazing what kids can come up with in that area.”

‘Soccer capital of Indiana’

Another important name in the local history of soccer is former GC men’s coach Dwain Hartzler who guided the Maple Leafs to a 259-170-22 record from 1976-2000.

The Maple Leafs started playing soccer in 1958, won their first-ever game in 1960, finished with a 10-0 record in 1965 and made the first of four NAIA National Championship appearances in 1973 (fifth-place finish). Goshen has won a total of 19 Mid-Central Conference championships, including eight consecutive from 1978-85.

Bethany started its boys soccer program in 1966 under the direction of coach Dan Bodiker who compiled a record of 326-135-39 before retiring in 1997. The school was voted the state champion in 1971 and 1972 before a state tournament began in 1973.

Soccer became an IHSAA sanctioned sport for the 1994-95 school year.

“Due to the success of Goshen College and Bethany Christian,” Tavi explained, “Goshen at one time was called the soccer capital of Indiana.”

This past fall Bethany won Class 1A sectional and regional titles, advancing to the Final Four in the IHSAA’s first-ever multi-class tournament. Further publicity came to the Bethany program when senior Femi Hollinger-Janzen signed a national letter of intent to play soccer at Indiana University in Bloomington. He was also named to the first team all-state squad and Indiana’s Player-of-the-Year in boys soccer by the Indiana Soccer Coaches Association.

Youth soccer

Hartzler was the driving force behind the Goshen Youth Soccer Organization.

“The GYSO was his brainstorm,” Tavi Mounsithiraj said. “He started the whole thing as a way to cater to Goshen and surrounding communities.”

Over the past four or five years averages of 700 youngsters have participated in the program on 55 teams. Ages range from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“It’s another thing for families to do,” Tavi said. “Parents and grandparents come out to watch and you see them sitting around spending time together as a family.

A lot of kids from the program go on to play high school and even college soccer.”

One GYSO product is current GHS senior Warren Kay who not only was an integral part of the boys soccer team last fall, but doubled as the place-kicker for the football team. In addition he plays on the Redskin basketball and baseball teams.

“GYSO is where I got my start in soccer and it definitely helped me play at the high school level,” Kay said. “My coaches had played at GHS and knew a lot about the sport.”

Warren is not the only sibling in his family involved in soccer. Older brother Carl was a Redskin standout who is attending Wheaton College, younger sister Miranda was a sophomore member of the GHS girls squad last fall and younger brother Hudson is an eighth grader at Goshen Middle School.

“All of us played in GYSO,” Warren Kay said. “Our father (David) and mother (Jan) spent a lot of time car pooling and managing trips.”

Dan Graber noted the extreme commitment by parents and volunteers to making the GYSO successful and aiding the advancement of soccer in the Goshen area.

“GYSO is an extremely well run program,” Graber said. “Soccer is very much a relationship game. Relationships are built through playing together and traveling together.”

Popularity soars

Why has soccer suddenly become so popular?

“Soccer is a very simple sport. You can play it anywhere and with anything,” Thavisith Mounsithiraj said. “The rules are simple. It’s a sport spectators can enjoy without knowing all the ins and outs of the game. ... The sport is one all kids can play. You don’t have to be a certain size.”

Mounsithiraj said the influence of the Hispanic community has been good for the sport in the local area.

“The Hispanics have been huge,” he said. “The children are playing in the youth leagues. It gives them a chance to excel and to experience their natural ability.” z