When international students come to America, they want to get the most out of the new culture they’ve dove into.
In high school, that could very well mean competing in the array of sports offered. In the Blue Water Area, thousands of airline miles have been logged among the handful of foreign exchange student-athletes on the field.
Not only does it help the country’s newest students get the most of their experience, but in many cases it can be the missing piece a team needs to make them great.
From Denmark with skill
More than 4,000 miles away from his house and family in Copenhagen, Denmark, Alex Meiniche has found a home and group of brothers in Richmond.
Before looking at Meiniche’s journey to the Mitten State, it’s worth noting what the Blue Devils soccer team looked like before the season.
Richmond was returning 15 players from the talented 2014 team, but they were a piece away from state title-contending team. They needed a physical, strong striker on top of their offense.
Well, as if they hit a lottery, Meiniche’s 6-foot-5 frame and crafty footwork has given Richmond 24 goals and a player that has made them the BWAC’s team to beat.
“He does what we need him to do,” assistant coach Steve Schuster said. “We’re able to put him up top by himself and he’s strong enough to hold the ball. He gives us some options on set pieces and corner kicks that we didn’t previously have because of his height.”
While Meiniche fits Richmond’s system, let’s just say the American game didn’t really fit his game at first.
Over in Europe, where Meiniche has played soccer for 13 years, the game is more physical. Meiniche learned the hard way that the high school game in Michigan isn’t as accommodating to the rougher style of play.
“In my first game (for Richmond) I got my first yellow card 15 seconds or something into the game,” Meiniche recalled. “I made a tackle, the player stole the ball from me, but I was really surprised … I was surprised, maybe (at most) it would’ve been a foul over (in Denmark).”
While Meiniche is doing his part in Richmond’s big season, soccer certainly isn’t the reason he crossed the Atlantic. There were two big reasons he wanted to live the American life for a year: 1) To improve his English, which is one of four languages he knows, and 2) he had family members who have done it and loved it.
While the English has been the most notable difference between here and Denmark, a rather comical language-based notable has been a big change.
“You’re not really allowed to swear here, especially in the high school. Where in Denmark if you swear, no one really cares to be honest,” Meiniche said. “I try not to swear during games, but sometimes it slips out. But I do try to keep it in Danish when it does slip out so the refs don’t know what I’m talking about.”
Coaching the world’s athletes
When it comes to coaching, bringing in an international player to the team is an exciting mystery.
Have they played the sport before? How well do they play it? And, of yeah, will there be a language barrier?
Up in Deckerville, Lukas Auerswald came in from Germany giving head coach Bill Brown all those questions. Luckily for Eagles, Auerswald has played football in Germany for a few years now
“It’s ironic, the other day at practice … I asked ‘What’s your drive to come over here?’” Brown said. “He said he wanted to see what America was really like, and he wanted to play football over here, and that’s pretty cool.”
Auerswald, who lives with teammate Reese Bays-Kramer, was just what the Eagles needed too. He’s a physical defensive back, and he’s been starting at defensive back from the start of the season.
Sometimes when international students come over and play football, it can be like starting out as a freshman since they have to learn the rules and proper way to play.
However, if it’s a sport like soccer that is known by the world, bringing in a new player is a little easier.
Port Huron Northern has two players in Daiki Toyoda (Japan) and Carl Pregardien (Germany), who also plays football. Head coach Bryan Becker said that while there is a challenge with communication at times, getting together on the field makes the transition to America a little easier.
“There’s a language barrier that we’ve have a lot of fun working with, and it’s nice that the game of soccer is universal so he always knows what to do on the field,” Becker said.
A look at the rules
So, how can foreign exchange student-athletes come in and play immediately and someone from Michigan has to sit out a semester after they transfer? What’s the deal with that, huh?
Well, all international students are immediately eligible, but if they stay one extra year they will not be eligible to play their second year. It’s known as the “play one, wait one rule” in order to give them the student-athlete experience since most international students stay for just one year.
Of course, there are some stipulations within the Michigan High School Athletic Association. The student-athlete needs to be placed by a Approved International Student Program in order to play a varsity sport. If they are not based out of an AISP program, they can compete at the sub-varsity level after sitting out.
Let’s say an international student was enrolled at a high school at another state for one year, but transferred to a Michigan school the next. They’d be unable to play as they would fall under the play one, wait one rule.
Capac: Annika Turunen (Finland), cross country; Hiro Ishii (Japan), soccer
Peck: Bianca Disch (Switzerland), volleyball
Marine City: Elisa Farnese (Italy), swimming
Marysville: Lisa Jaeger (Germany), cross country
St. Clair: Salendia Bogar (France by way of Haiti), volleyball; Sarah Homaei (Norway), cheer; Sasis (William) Im-Aroonrak (Thailand), soccer
Richmond: Alex Meiniche (Denmark), soccer
Port Huron Northern: Daiki Toyoda (Japan), soccer; Carl Pregardien (Germany), soccer and football