April 11, 2024 / Modified apr 12, 2024 11:43 a.m.

It’s what brings it all together: Sports in multi-cultural places

Hear about an Arizona community college's surprisingly international soccer roster, then get introduced to an afro-Brazilian martial art.

050112 Capoeira Mandinga 617x347 Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art form that was started over 450 years ago in response to the oppression of Africans who were brought to Brazil as slaves, has gained in popularity here in Tucson. We visit Capoeira Mandinga Tucson, where masters from Brazil, and the US recently convened for a week-long event highlighting this unique cultural tradition.
More than a Game

More Than a Game Season 2, Episode 6

(Download MP3)

Sports can be a way for people of different cultures to unite. Arizona Western College's men's soccer team boasts a roster that is mostly players who travel continents to play the world's game in Yuma. We hear from the team's coach, Kenny Dale. Then AZPM reporter Danyelle Khmara tells us about how capoeira found its way from Brazil to Tucson and its place in her life.

Episode Transcript:


TP: I'm Tony Perkins. And this is More Than a Game, the podcast that takes you beyond the boxscore, and tells the Arizona sports stories you've never heard.

On this episode, why a junior college in the desert brings in soccer players from around the world, and practicing an afro Brazilian martial art.

If you look over the roster of Arizona Western College's men's soccer team, you may be surprised by the hometowns of many of its players.

A roster most would expect to be dominated by cities in Arizona or California is much less bound by geography, with players hailing from Osaka, Japan; Paris, France; Bolgatanga, Ghana and many others. The community college in Yuma sports a notably international roster, with only eight of its 32 players hailing from within the United States. More Than a Game producer Zac Ziegler spoke with AWC head coach Kenny Dale, about how the team became known as a landing spot for international players, and what it's like to bring players from across the globe together to play the world's game in southwestern Arizona.

Zac Ziegler: I just looked over your current roster in about three quarters of the players are from outside the US. So yes, soccer is the world's game, but that struck me is unusual for the US junior college level. What is the typical international presence in collegiate soccer in the US?

Kenny Dale: Well, at the community college level, there are a lot of schools with a lot of internationals. And I think there are a number of factors that would explain that. One is cost. Community colleges typically have a much lower cost than university so that's attractive to international students. Arizona Western College has no SAT or ACT requirements, and no TOEFL requirements. So I think that's attractive to people who come from foreign countries where English is not their first language. So those two factors are important. But even at the national tournament, most of the teams we see have the same composition to their rosters. So it's been a very interesting journey over the last 19 seasons, I guess. Our roster has been sometimes more international, sometimes more domestic. We used to have a lot of California players. We've had a lot of players from Yuma over the years. But we have a blended roster today.

Kenny Dale VIEW LARGER Arizona Western College men's soccer coach Kenny Dale

Well, I think America is the greatest country in the world. And if you've traveled overseas, as many people have. When I've traveled overseas, I meet people. And within the first five minutes, they talked about how their dream is to come to America either as tourists or students or for work opportunities, or just to learn the language or just to see it. So America is legendary across the globe for people to come here and just experience the culture. So we have a number of young men that have always wanted to come to the United States. And they work their way through the F-1 visa process. And Arizona Western provides a platform for that, as well as many of the other community colleges across the nation.

ZZ: Yeah, that's that's kind of surprising to me. I mean, you know, when I think about college sports, like I get college basketball, college baseball, having quite a few international players, mainly because like the NBA and the MLB are both in the US. Those are the top flight pro leagues. But that's not so much the case with soccer, you know, the MLS is a good but not top flight league. And guys who came out of US college programs aren't exactly common sites in La Liga or the English Premier League. Why do you think you have players coming from overseas to play college soccer in the US?

KD: Well, that's a great question. And that's true. The good news for the young players of today compared to my day is that they have YouTube. And we also began recruiting international players between about 2005 and 2009. And we've created kind of chain recruiting, where everyone has a younger brother or a younger teammate from their home country that comes through a few years after them. So that's part of how we've built our recruiting network through former players. And I think the other way is the YouTube has made it so easier when I first got into college coaching. I was the University of Arizona women's soccer club coach in 1988. And when we first got into college coaching, young players had to send a VHS tape of themself playing soccer of their highlights and their vital information and why they wanted to play at your institution. So YouTube has changed the game for young players in terms of recruiting. They can make a highlight tape now on a cell phone, and they can upload that to a YouTube channel and send that out to 500 coaches if they want.

ZZ: So we've talked a little bit about this, but you know, don't spill any trade secrets for me. But what's your recruiting pitch when you're getting in touch with with these young men and trying to get them to come over and play some soccer in Yuma?

KD: That's a great question. We tell them that, have you been to the United States? If they say 'no,' and they say what's Yuma, like we say it's just like Los Angeles exactly the same. And then when they get here, we say, 'see palm trees, we have palm trees, Los Angeles says palm trees, we have streets and cars and bus stops.' And so we, we kind of joke with them about that. But we present ourselves to them as a stepping stone to a larger university at a larger city, in a different part of the country. And there's a feature going on these days that I find interesting, where there are foreign students, especially with the NCAA rules about the transfer portal, there are foreign students who come in and say, I only want to play here one year, and then I want to see a different part of America. So one young man that played for us a number of years ago from Spain had come from Montana down to Arizona, and then he and he told the coaches that he was talking to I want to come in for one year, and then I want to try a different university or a different area to get a different experience, which I found fascinating. So it's really changed for the international athlete and the American athlete that they can have different experiences at different institutions. And more importantly, when you're in a different part of the country, there's a different regional culture, there's regional cuisine, so they can get a blend of all those experiences. The other advantage for an international student coming to a community college is that they don't have to make a final choice. And the cost is low enough that they can come to our place for one semester, one year or two years, and then transfer on to a different location.

ZZ: Yeah, it sounds like it's almost kind of a chance to study abroad and know where your soccer games are going to be and how you're going to get to meet some people.

KD: That's true. It's like dipping your toe in the pool. You know, you don't just want to dive in the deep end sometimes. And a lot of these young people from around the world have never been away from home and they've never been to the United States or they've traveled regionally in their in Europe, or in South America. They've traveled a little bit internationally, but not something as far away as the United States. And as our success has grown, we we hear from more and more and more athletes every day. So in a given day, I'll have emails from maybe 50 players every day. And then I have two full time assistants, Fabian Munoz, Admir Balicevac , they'll get 50 also, and my other assistant, Bello, works in the dorms. He's from Ghana. So he'll hear from a lot of young people from Africa.

ZZ: So you just mentioned you've you've got coaches on your staff who are international, your, your team, I mean, I was looking at you've got players from Asia, from Africa, from Eastern and Western Europe, North and South America. That's a lot of different languages, a lot of non English speaking places. What's communication like for when you're in practice on the field or when everyone's you know, hanging out in their free time?

KD: That's a really good question. The thing that helps us the most with that is the sophomores. We have a lot of Japanese students. So when we have some sophomores that are Japanese, they're a year ahead of the new players. So they really provide a lot of assistance in terms of translation. We have a very good international students program that goes way beyond athletics. So we have a full time international student recruiting coordinator, Jolie Olingende is her name and she was a student athlete at Arizona Western, I don't know 12 or 13 years ago. And she really is vital in terms of the assistance with the F-1 visa process. A lot of universities don't have a full time person in that position. So when international students reach out, colleges and universities reach back to them at different levels of interest, and assistance really, that's what it comes down to. And our place is pretty small, the National Junior College Athletic Association has a much easier eligibility process than the NCAA does. So that's one of the things that attracts international students to the community college level.

AWC soccer AWC's Shuntaro Endo (left) and Terry Makedika during a November 12, 2023 win over Casper College.

ZZ: So sports, especially soccer, there's so much, you know, slang and jargon. And it changes from country to country. I mean, heck, the sport's name changes from country to country, do you catch a certain a certain language's prevalence being the one that everyone kind of seems to gravitate towards the terms from?

KD: Well, one of the things we do in the beginning and preseason, we do a video presentation where we stand on the field. And we list vocabulary terms. And even around the United States, there are different terms for the same process or same position on the field, or same situation tactically. So when I, I grew up in Tucson here, I attended the University of Arizona, and then I went and played soccer in Georgia. And they had different terminology even than we had here in Arizona. So the language was the same, but the terminology was totally different. So we do some soccer specific vocabulary videos with our international players. So they know if they're on the field and they hear the coach yell, far post or mark up or sideline, everything, center circle, we go over all the terms. And we asked them if they have any questions, because even young players from the United States have been raised in different coaching systems. So even across the United States, the terminology is not the same. Now international players face the double challenge of not only new terminology and a new climate, but also a new language. So the sophomores are very helpful with that. And we have a lot of pauses in our training sessions. And I have a tendency to say, 'Are there any questions?' And then a long pause, because they have to be encouraged to ask the question either on their own or through a translator, who is usually someone else on the team. And we take it very slow, especially at the beginning to make sure there's understanding. Because if there's not understanding, then there's going to be a lot of frustration.

ZZ: So, these are people coming from from overseas, I'm guessing there times can be a little culture shock getting used to life in the US, how do you or even, I can imagine probably the other players too, help them get over that and get acclimated to life here?

KD: We have an Office of Accessibility Services, that's very effective at helping students adjust. If we have a lot of first generation students that even if they're American, they're first generation. We do a lot of presentations from that office to our team. We have bystander training, we have Title IX training we have a lot of cultural information comes from not only our International Student Admissions coordinator, Jolie, who I mentioned before, but also our accessibility office, and we have them come in and talk to our players about what is appropriate and acceptable in American culture that may not be appropriate and acceptable in their culture. One of the challenges we have found. Two challenges, I'll speak about two challenges we have found, some young men come from a culture where the respect for women is very different in their country than it is in our country. So we have had, over the years a number of athletic trainers who were female, and we had some young men saying, 'she can't be the medical expert, because I don't trust her.' And, you know, we've had to explain to them while she's had the same training, and the same qualifications and the same credentials as the gentleman, the other trainer sitting over there who happens to be working with a different sports. So if you don't respect that, then we can't have you playing for our team. And so gradually, they have to learn that part of American culture. The other feature that we've seen that is really fascinating. When we travel, we know our bus driver's name, we say please, and thank you to food servers, to athletic trainers, from other schools, to landscape crews. And in some cultures around the world, people who work in the service industry are not really acknowledged in some cultures. So one of the things we tell our young players is people who are working on our behalf whether it's an athletic trainer, an academic advisor, somebody providing a service at a hotel or restaurant, those people need to be respected because they are working for our benefit.

ZZ: You mentioned earlier, you absolutely love this country. What's the thing that is the most fun thing to get to introduce these players to who are just coming to an all new culture?

KD: the greatest thing for me, by far is when the local boys get an opportunity to have a cultural exchange with someone from Brazil, or Japan, or Serbia, and they make lifelong friendships. When we started bringing in international players, the local community was not thrilled at all. Yuma is a comparatively small town with five high schools. And there was a perception that, hey, everybody on your team should be from Yuma. And all of your scholarship money should go to people from Yuma. And sometimes we do bring in a lot of very good Yuma players. But a young man sees the horizon. So not every young man who's 18 in Yuma wants to stay in his hometown, especially because Yuma is a comparatively small town. So my favorite part of the entire experience is hearing from players who've graduated three or four or five years before traveling to anywhere around the globe, France, England, Brazil, Japan, to visit their former teammates, and gain a cultural understanding. And the international players get to come in. The first thing the international players do, if they don't know it, already, they learn Spanish from all of our, many of our local Hispanic players start teaching them Spanish. And so I think they're very excited about that. There's nothing, nothing more entertaining than hearing a young French player learning to speak Spanish, so they really enjoy each other. And it's a great opportunity for exchanges both ways. And they have been able to visit places all over the world. And that's, that's been very, very exciting for me to watch. Because as a coach, I just kind of can stand back and watch the interactions and watch them trying to teach each other their languages or their customs and they trade clothing. So I'll see a local Hispanic player come up to practice in a in a French t shirt. So I know they're making interactions. And it's slow at the beginning. It's difficult at the beginning, not just because of cultural and linguistic differences, but cultural differences, even differences in soccer. And, and, but over time, the relationships and the friendships that they build are really the biggest payoff and the successful transfer rate that we achieve is very, very exciting for me.

ZZ: All right, Kenny, thanks for taking the time to chat with me and talk a little soccer.

KD: Thank you very much Zac.

TP: That was Kenny Dale, head coach of Arizona Western College's men's soccer team. A quick point of disclosure Kenny's sister, Deb, works for AZPM.

Arizona Public Media's Danyelle Khmara fell in love with the Brazilian martial art capoeira here in Tucson, both for the exercise, but also for the community it brought her into, and a new bond with her teenage son. She brings us that story.

Anne Pollack: Capoeira is all about a struggle and finding the strength and the flexibility to find solutions. And so that applies to every aspect of life.

Danyelle Khmara: That's Anne Pollack, or as I call her, Mestra Luar. My teenage son and I have been training at her academy, Capoeira Mandinga Tucson, for two and a half years now. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art and music is a big part of it. It has its own songs and instruments. The lead instrument in the roda is the berimbau, a single stringed bow attached to a gourd and played with a stick, a stone to create different tones and a shaker.

AP: Is everyone ready for a nice roda? You guys all look a little asleep. Yeah, so welcome. And let's just I would love it if everyone not only got in the roda and played but it's great having new people on instruments

Roda means circle. And so the roda is where you bring the game of capoeira and capoeira is a fight, and it's a dance. And it's also a game, you know, like a sport, right? And these days, a lot of people need to think of it that way as it's definitely a martial art. People ask me, Is it a martial art or dance? I say you need to think of this as a martial art, you know, because otherwise you'll get kicked, right? I moved in to San Francisco in 1986. And I happen to move into an apartment where one of the first women in the United States did capoeira. And then my friend who had also moved into this apartment, started doing capoeira. So the two of them were like, You got to start you'll love this.

DK: She was in her 20s and started training with the third Capoeira mestre in the US U.S. Mestre Marcelo who gamers may know as Eddie Gordo from Tekken,

[videogame audio] A Brazilian superstar fighting capoeira Eddie Gordo

DK: Marcelo was filmed for the moves of the capoeirista characters in the game.

Anne did fall in love with capoeira. And not long after, she went on her first capoeira trip to Brazil.

AP: This was the first international, you know, integration of capoeira. And there had been, you know, trips led before for some Americans, in fact, the woman whose apartment I moved into had gone to Brazil. But, you know, very few Americans had traveled and doing Capoeira before, Anne moved to Tucson in the mid 90s, with 10 years experience under her belt, and she started teaching at the University of Arizona rec center.

And so, capoeira was starting to grow in its popularity. But if you talk to people in the general Tucson community, they'd be like, capo-what? you know, and so it was not very well known. And then Only the Strong came out,

[movie trailer] Taking the kids everyone has given up on. Man you don't know nothing about anybody, and giving them something to believe in. You, I want you turn that music up. I said, Turn it up, like that. Capoeir everything starts out with the judo it's pretty funny, doesn't it? It's the basis for moves like this. And this

AP: That really was the first movie to open American eyes to what capoeira was, and even today, you'll find people like, Oh, do you know the movie Only the Strong? And it's like, Yes, I know, the movie Only the Strong and I know Mestre Amen, who is the star or the not the the actor star, but the actual capoeirista. People come to Capoeira for different reasons. Some people come to it for the music, some come because they want a good workout. But I think what keeps people in Capoeira is the whole culture of it. And so that's learning a culture different from your own, in this case, an afro Brazilian culture, a unique Capoeira culture. But especially in the last, you know, 25 years, it's become bringing the world together.

DK: Capoeira was created hundreds of years ago by enslaved people who were kidnapped from Africa and brought to Brazil to work on sugarcane farms. So if you've ever seen capoeira, and you're not sure if it's a dance, that's because they created it to hide the fact that they were training to fight.

Tiago Ribeiro de Souza: My name is Tiago Ribeiro de Souza. They came up with Capoeira because it looks like a dance. It looks like you're dancing. And the idea is, you're trying to fool the people looking at what's happening, right? There's a lot there's a lot of trickery in Capoeira and the idea is you're first and foremost, you're fooling whatever is whoever is looking at it, because there's the music and the singing, the singing has the history of capoeira. So it's so it's one way that they learn how to bring back the culture, right?

DK: Tiago started Capoeira as a kid growing up in the state of Goiás in Brazil.

TD: Yeah, when I was a kid, it was very common for people should do two things. One, the soccer and the other one is capoeira.

DK: At some point during college, he stopped training and life went on. About seven years ago, he moved to Tucson with his wife and their young son.

TD: And we were here for maybe five years, four years, and a friend of my kids from school, came to capoeira. In one day, we're talking to their parents and they say, oh, yeah, my kids are doing capoeira, it's a Brazilian art, martial art. And I was like, what there's a capoiera group in Tucson, we have to go.

DK: Living in the US. Tiago wanted his son to have that contact with the Brazilian culture.

TD: Capoeira is such an important part of the Brazilian culture. There's so much of the Brazilian culture in capoeira, the the malandragem, the you know, the trickery of capoeira, it's very ingrained in in Brazil, in everyone, not only people that take up capoeira. So we have this this thing about, you know, the trickery and the playfulness, the music, it's very ingrained in our capoeira in Brazilian culture, and I hope he retains that and keeps it for his life.

Well, the rodas with other people from other groups and going to other rodas are like the funnest part of capoeira.

DK: My son, Rio turned 18 last summer. We don't do all that much together these days. He's kind of like my roommate now. Except one whoever mind to feed the cats and go to bed at a decent hour. So for me, as fun as it is being in the roda, my favorite part of capoeira is being with him. Do you think you'll keep doing it like into adulthood?

RK: I don't know what I'll do.

DK: Do you like doing it with with Hadrian with your friend?

RK: I think we have good games, I think we have interesting contrast for our styles of play. He plays fast, and he knows a lot of is able to connect his moves and keep going fast. And I do a lot of ground moves.

DK: And when do you think about when you go in the roda with me?

RK: I think that we're both like, kind of improving like at similar rates. And I think it's fun to like, see how you're gonna react to move I do and like the other way, and how like I'm gonna react to your moves.

DK: I think it's really fun that we do it together. It's like makes me really happy.

RK: Yeah.

AP: And so the roda is what brings it all together and, and gives you, the community and gives you the understanding of how the techniques can be applied when you're actually using them against another person or with another person, because in addition to being a fight against someone, it's also a conversation. And so that's your chance to have that dialogue.

TP: That was AZPM reporter Danyelle Khmara. And that's it for this episode of More Than a Game. Join us next time as we dive into the world of collegiate clubs sports.

This show is produced and mixed by Zac Ziegler.

Our news director is Christopher Conover.

Our logo was designed by AC Swedburgh.

Thanks to our marketing team for their help in launching this podcast. This show is part of the AZPM podcast family. You can find all of our podcasts, news and video productions at azpm.org. Thanks for listening. I'm Tony Perkins. See you next time.

AZPM podcasts are made possible in part by donations from listeners like you learn more at support.azpm.org Thank you

By posting comments, you agree to our
AZPM encourages comments, but comments that contain profanity, unrelated information, threats, libel, defamatory statements, obscenities, pornography or that violate the law are not allowed. Comments that promote commercial products or services are not allowed. Comments in violation of this policy will be removed. Continued posting of comments that violate this policy will result in the commenter being banned from the site.

By submitting your comments, you hereby give AZPM the right to post your comments and potentially use them in any other form of media operated by this institution.
AZPM is a service of the University of Arizona and our broadcast stations are licensed to the Arizona Board of Regents who hold the trademarks for Arizona Public Media and AZPM. We respectfully acknowledge the University of Arizona is on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples.
The University of Arizona