Professor organizes diverse soccer club at SMSU

Published Friday, October 28, 2016

The U.S. National soccer team slogan is “One Nation, One Team,” but the Southwest Minnesota State University soccer club can say “Many Nations, One Team.”

SMSU students, community members, faculty, and alumni from six nations comprise the "Diversity" team. They include Libya, Nepal, Nigeria, Somalia, Spain and the United States.

Assistant Professor of Spanish Jose Losada-Montero arrived at SMSU one-and-a-half years ago. He was encouraged to find ways to create cultural links between the University and the Marshall community, and realized there was a lack of activities for adults. The soccer club at SMSU was struggling with organization and looking for an advisor, so Losada-Montero decided to use soccer as a medium to encourage interaction between SMSU and the community.

“There are many people, especially foreign students, who live on campus, work on campus, and spend their free time on campus and in Marshall,” he said. “They need activities, things to do that bring them together. Almost all the world has soccer in common. No other event brings so much diversity together.”

The soccer club certainly brings people together. The team speaks a total of nine different native or near-native languages, including Arabic (Libya), English (United States), Galician (Spain), Hindi (India), Igbo (Nigeria), Nepali (Nepal), Portuguese (Brazil), Spanish (Spain), and Yoruba (Nigeria).

The team plays in the indoor YMCA soccer league in Marshall, competing against teams from around the area during the two seasons each academic year, October through December and January through April.

The team practices once a week at SMSU, and the practices have become a common ground for many different nationalities. “Some people come because they love soccer, others come for the sense of belonging, that safe space that feels like home,” he said.

Losada-Montero designed the team uniforms himself. “It was important for us to have a uniform,” he said, “It provides a sense of belonging and helps people feel like part of a group.”

The uniform itself is blue and white to represent the sky, which has no borders. The front of the jersey says “DIVERSITY,” and the team logo honors immigrants with a ship design.

Each jersey has “RESPECT” instead of the usual name on the back. “Soccer is a team sport,” said Losada-Montero, “and we encourage a team mentality. It’s more than just racial respect, we encourage religious respect, positional respect, and so on,” he said.

“I’m trying to bring values to the students through soccer,” Losada-Montero said. Each team member volunteers in the community, including two students who coach youth soccer teams for the Marshall United Soccer Association (MUSA).

Being part of a team involves commitment to practice, showing up on time, and working with others, and these values carry over into studies. “If you’re not dedicated to what you love, it’s hard to be dedicated to schoolwork!” he said.

The soccer club is now expanding to two teams, but despite growing interest, Losada-Montero says that is the limit for now. "I'm still a Spanish professor, and one person can only do so much." He hopes to eventually build the team into a non-governmental organization in order to continue building awareness, accept donations, and create more teams.

By engaging diversity and the power of soccer, the club is doing great work to break barriers and help immigrants and international students truly feel that SMSU is where they belong.