Language, culture barriers fall on high school soccer field

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A few years ago, Austin East High School in Knoxville, Tennessee started an English as a Second Language program for foreign students.

Many of them came from Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq, countries where soccer is very popular.

"I coach American soccer, so it is a little bit of a learning curve," said Austin East soccer coach, Jonathan Netherland.

Most of those students now make up the school's soccer team.

"I came to America in 2010, and my parents never told me why I came," said Edward Hakizimana, a player on the team.

Oscar, number 16 on the school's team, escaped the Democratic Republic of the Congo and spent 11 years as a refugee in Uganda. He said God saved his family and brought them to the U.S. a year ago.

Aziz, number 20, was born in Baghdad, Iraq. His father was kidnapped on the United Nations road in Iraq. He has only been in America for eight months.

The refugees don't speak perfect English, but their techniques and skills on the field speak for themselves.

"Our skill was lacking. We always hung our hat on being athletic, being fast and fighting hard," said Netherland. "Now, we can play soccer."

For the coaches and players, it doesn't make a difference where their teammates are from, it's about where their hearts are.

"We all come around just for soccer. Language and stuff isn't really a problem because we all come around for soccer," said Nickalus King.

"These guys are my family," said Netherland.

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