On the day last week when the City Council engaged in a spirited and sometimes contentious debate about the proposed Presence Health subsidy, the aldermen put aside their differences for a few minutes and joined the Mayor in offering unanimous support for a resolution I co-sponsored honoring the Sullivan High School Boys Soccer Team.
The team, known as the “Tigers,” captured the hearts of those who follow high school sports by clinching the regional championship and competing as sectional finalists for the last two years, giving Sullivan its first regional titles in the school’s history.
Under ordinary circumstances, this alone would be reason to celebrate, but what made this accomplishment even more extraordinary was the composition of the team. All but one of the players on on Sullivan’s soccer team is an immigrant or refugee from another country.
Eleven countries are represented on the 18-member team. Many of the team members have yet to attain a full command of the English language, or any of the other three languages spoken by their coach, Migert Baburi, himself a refugee from Albania.
And yet, despite this seemingly insurmountable obstacle, the team united as one to carry the Sullivan Tigers to victory over other more experienced division teams.
As noted in an October 2015 Chicago Tribune article on this remarkable team, the “language barriers didn’t stop the players from meshing their disparate styles into a swift and lethal attack. . . .
“‘We go to school together, play soccer every day together,’ said midfielder Sewar Al Bawi, 16, whose family escaped the violence of Iraq three years ago. ‘That’s how we learned how to communicate — how to speak soccer.'”
This truly inspirational story of achievement in the face of overwhelming odds is chronicled in the six-minute documentary, Sullivan, by New York filmmaker Anthony Pellino, who was inspired by the Tribune article. I strongly urge you to watch this video. It is a testament to the strength of the immigrant experience and a powerful counterweight to the hateful and vile anti-immigrant rhetoric served up by Donald Trump and his minions.
Indeed, the Sullivan High School Tigers Soccer Team is but one manifestation of a school that stands as a beacon of hope during these dark days of immigrant bashing. Sullivan is home to hundreds of refugees, asylum-seekers and immigrants, all from hard-working families seeking opportunity and a better life in our country. They attend this school as strangers in a new land and yet, despite their cultural differences, form a common bond that unites them as one.
As Filmmaker Pellino observed in a recent Tribune article on his documentary, “I saw a brotherhood forming from this common connection to the game. This school gave them the opportunity to meet so many different people and become this juggernaut of a team.”
I am proud of our local public high school. To borrow a phrase from Mr. Pellino, it is a juggernaut of a school. Congratulations to the members of the Sullivan High School Tigers Soccer Team, Coach Baburi and Principal Chad Adams on a job well done!