Thanks to a few down days when it was raining and the Challenge season took a pause for a weekend, I was able to read A Home on the Field by Paul Cuadros. Of course those down days were quickly followed by absolute chaos so I didn’t get a chance to finish this review when I wanted to. I should have had this posted weeks ago! ANYway…

Paul is an investigative reporter from Chicago who moves to rural North Carolina to write about the impacts of Latinos moving to many rural southern towns to work in food processing (chicken) plants. After seeing the kids playing soccer in parks on dirt fields, he gets involved in his new community and tries to get a soccer team formed at the local high school, only to be rejected time after time because football and other sports are ‘real sports’ and nobody wants to allow a soccer team to use the football field and facilities (or even the baseball field). The usual story. Except this story has more, much more.

Anyone who has tried to establish a soccer program has likely run into resistance. We soccer fans and players have a sort of persecution complex given how often we’re told “American’s hate soccer” and so on. But we shrug it off since we love the game and that’s what counts. For the most part we just want to play, get our kids to play, or watch some good games. So the story of someone running into resistance trying to form a high school soccer team is nothing profound. However, the kids in Siler City, North Carolina faced many additional hurdles because they were Latino, many were here illegally, and they were resented by many in the town. That’s what makes this such a powerful story. The events leading up to the formation of the team are rife with racial tension as the small southern town deals with a huge influx of new residents working in the local chicken plants.

The kids just want to play soccer for their school, so Paul continues to fight along with a few other dedicated souls and eventually they get a team established. Their troubles don’t end there however. The team endures a number of setbacks and roadblocks, but continues to improve and by their third year, they win the North Carolina State Championship for their division.

Living in North Carolina myself, it was neat to read about the events in a nearby town. However, what makes this book really worth the read is the bright light it shines on the undercurrents and tensions in towns dealing with a large number of immigrants and the difficulties they face. For example, since most of these kids are illegal, the bulk of the players from the state championship team never played in college because they couldn’t get admitted due to their status. One player went back over the border to visit his ill grandmother and had to cross the border again to get back to school in time to stay eligible.

Even beyond the racial aspects of this book, I enjoyed reading it simply for the insights of a coach who faced adversity and pushed his team to succeed. While some felt the 1st person writing style was the wrong choice, I enjoyed the narrative style. You’re getting the story from the person to saw it all and in a way you expect Paul to be telling the story of his team and his choices.

So pick up a copy and give it a read. You’ll discover yet another instance where a love of the beautiful game can bring together the most unlikely group of souls who accomplish great things. It also gives an excellent firsthand account of the difficulties many illegal residents face on a daily basis.

Gotta love good timing. Jarrett at Triangle Soccer Fanatics just put his review up as well.