It’s common knowledge that the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most diverse communities around the world. Yet many living here are likely unaware that there may not be a better snapshot of the Bay Area’s melting pot than the 2017-18 junior varsity boys soccer team at Wilcox High School.
The Wilcox JV team includes five players who naturally refer to the school soccer team as a football club. In all other countries, soccer is known as football and the Chargers are chock-full of international talent from around the globe.
Tommaso Peritore and his younger brother Vittorio Peritore grew up in Italy and only moved to the United States three years ago when their father got a new job in the area. Yuji Kusuyama moved here less than two years ago from Japan for the same reason. Rapheal De Mattos grew up in Brazil and moved to the U.S. four years ago when given the opportunity to live with his Aunt and Uncle and learn English. Last, but not certainly not least, Chargers’ goalkeeper Fabian Richter moved to the U.S. less than a year ago from Germany.
“You know it’s actually really cool, all these kids come from countries where football is the number one sport, so there is banter back and forth,” chimed Chargers Head Coach Josh Foley. “The language and communication part was almost effortless at times. It’s the language of soccer, you just understand from playing the game. It’s a barrier that can be crossed by just playing a sport. When someone yells ‘in the middle or down the line’ they pick that stuff up quickly. Even if they don’t speak perfect English yet, they know what you mean because it’s the sport they’ve always played.”
“It’s great to have so many teammates with different backgrounds,” remarked Vittorio Peritore. “Everyone plays in different ways, which is great. We can learn from each other and different guys bring different strengths to the team.”
“It was the main activity [in Italy], during the afternoon with friends. That’s what we would do, we would play football,” chimed Tommaso Peritore on growing up in Italy. “To be honest I didn’t expect soccer here to be this good, but there are a lot of people here who are passionate about it. It is really cool to have moved here and still be able to play the sport that I love.”
“I went back to Japan over vacation and saw my Grandma and Japanese friends. We ate traditional Japanese food and I got fat,” chuckled Kusuyama. “But it was a good trip.”
A perfect example of the remarkable diversity established in this area is that Kusuyama has been able to lean on American born teammate Shunske Yamada, who grew up bilingual speaking English and Japanese. His parents moved from Japan before he was born and raised him not only with the Japanese language, but Yamada and his family still recognize and celebrate traditional Japanese holidays and culture at home.
“He is a good Japanese friend, he helps me out a lot,” acknowledged Kusuyama on Yamada. “When I came here and didn’t understand everything about school and club, he helped me out a lot. He’s a good friend.”
Like Kusuyama, De Mattos didn’t know English until moving to the U.S. but took the leap to move halfway across the world when given the opportunity. Now fluent in English, De Mattos still displays his Brazilian flare.
“We eat a lot of Brazilian food, we have a lot of parties, like late parties,” chuckled De Mattos. “My uncle is American, but he’s used to all of it now.”
While Chargers’ goalkeeper Fabian Richter hails from Germany, his mom is actually from Spain and he prefers to cheer for the Spanish national team. Having just moved to the U.S. in January of 2016, the change is still fresh for Richter, but his parents raised him trilingual. Even with his own diverse background, Richter says he was in awe of all the different nationalities when joining the Wilcox team.
“I imagined we might have some Mexican players, obviously, with Mexico bordering California, but the fact that we have so many from Europe and other places too, it’s amazing.”
This melting pot of a soccer (or football) team has quickly developed a close knit camaraderie off the field. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that on the field they have combined for some impressive soccer. Thus far on the season the JV Chargers are 11-1.