High School Sports

Language barrier? Cultural gap? One thing helps unite these high school athletes

A Myrtle Beach soccer player wins the ball during a game last season with rival Socastee.
A Myrtle Beach soccer player wins the ball during a game last season with rival Socastee. jlee@thesunnews

Maybe if everyone played soccer the world would be a better place.

At least that is the opinion of Jason Himmelsbach, whose lifelong love affair with “the beautiful game” has translated to a decade’s worth of memories as boys soccer coach at Myrtle Beach High School.

During his time at the helm, the Seahawks have won better than 70 percent of their games. His club has also won six region titles — including each of their last three — and a pair of Lower State championships in 2011 and 2016.

Sure, the Myrtle Beach boys soccer coach admits the glow of such awards and accolades is alluring. In the same vein, his purpose is all the greater.

“We have all parts of planet earth (on our roster),” Himmelsbach said. “(Soccer) has brought people together. We have people of three different religions and several nationalities. But once we step on the field, everyone is speaking the same language.

“Soccer is the religion for the hour and a half that we practice. We’re all on the same page … it is nice.”

The definition of a global sport, soccer is played by an estimated 250 million people in over 200 countries. Transcending race, color and creed, the game continues to stir the melting pot that is America, providing a blueprint for how we can all get along.

“That’s the great thing about soccer,” Himmelsbach said. “When I lived in another country and didn’t speak the language it was what made me feel at home, and get accepted in the community.”

On the Myrtle Beach boys soccer team alone, players derive from the U.S. along with Mexico, Israel, Italy, Jamaica and Uzbekistan, as well as a few Russian republics. Countless other nations are represented on rosters fielded by boys and girls soccer teams on the Grand Strand.

At first, it honestly (difference in language) is a barrier,” he said. “But you learn after playing with them and getting to know them, you learn their likes and dislikes. You learn how they play. If it comes down to it, we simply can go with ‘here, here, ball there’ to communicate, and everything works out smoothly.

Myrtle Beach center midfielder Alan Vasquez

While the end product makes the process sound easy, the teams often have their own growing pains to get through. In addition to language barriers, players must build chemistry, comfortability and trust among themselves in building toward a common goal.

“At first it can be very difficult,” said North Myrtle Beach’s Andrew Smith. “Since I started playing (junior varsity) in seventh grade, our whole team always had been half white boys and half [Latinos]. There were always two or three kids that spoke really good English and could hold a conversation. Even to this day, on our team there are kids who can only confidently say ‘Hey!’ in English.”

Amazing the impact an air-filled sphere can make.

According to Myrtle Beach center midfielder Alan Vasquez, the differences that normally separate team members fade once they step on the pitch.

“At first, it honestly is a barrier,” he said of the difference in language. “But you learn after playing with them and getting to know them, you learn their likes and dislikes. You learn how they play.

“If it comes down to it, we simply can go with ‘here, here, ball there’ to communicate, and everything works out smoothly.”

Said Smith: “When we first started playing together, it was difficult. But as a senior, it’s easy to communicate and talk as a team. … I wouldn’t say we were all on the same page until around my freshman year, where things started clicking and chemistry started being built.”

Some have been with me since they were in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. To see some of the capture the English language and culture, and get to know their teammates and their upbringing, it’s been a real pleasure. In some ways, that is the best thing about coaching at this level. You get these special moments you probably could not appreciate at another level.

Myrtle Beach boys soccer coach Jason Himmelsbach

The successful merging of talents that couldn’t be more different revealed itself in this year’s playoff brackets. Thirteen area clubs qualified for the soccer playoffs, with five of those teams still in contention as of Friday evening.

According to Himmelsbach, that is a credit to work done by the entire roster to build something special together.

“I think we’ve all been lucky to have good kids,” Himmelsbach said. “In my case, I’ve seen them work hard in the soccer field and the classroom. Some have been with me since they were in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. To see some of the capture the English language and culture, and get to know their teammates and their upbringing, it’s been a real pleasure.

“In some ways, that is the best thing about coaching at this level. You get these special moments you probably could not appreciate at another level.”

Joe L. Hughes II: 843-444-1702, @JoeLHughesII

HIGH SCHOOL SOCCER

Playoffs

Class 5A

River Bluff or Fort Dorchester at Socastee

Class 4A

Myrtle Beach vs. Chapin or Crestwood

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