Racial harmony has Vikings singing into state semifinals | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Racial harmony has Vikings singing into state semifinals

Dan ThriftThe Vikings are more of a team in 2002 than in past seasons because the players have become racially harmonious

Not long ago they dressed in different parts of the locker room and traded punches.

“In the past, they put us lower because we were Mexicans. Now it’s changed,” said STHS junior Enrique Avina.

Now they go to the same parties, dye each other’s hair and hang out together at school.

South Tahoe High no longer has two varsity boys’ soccer teams — the Latinos and the Caucasians. They have a unified team that has capitalized on the rewards of racial equality.

South Tahoe has yet to lose in 25 games, winning 21 times. They enter the Nevada 4A semifinals on Friday as the state’s only unbeaten team.

“I think it’s pretty good to get the Latinos and American people together because we can teach people how to get along,” said junior Victor Mariscal. “We can be a team with Latinos and Americans.”

By working collectively instead of separately the Vikings have become a unified force rather than a fragmented one as in previous years.

“We’ve had problems in the past where we’ve had difficulty with the team chemistry as far as the racially mixed team, but Tahoe has always been a racially mixed team,” said Joe Winters, STHS’s boys’ varsity coach for the past nine years. “Soccer is an international game and these guys know it. They live, eat and die this game, and with that they don’t see race. They just see soccer skill.”

Senior Noe Estrada nearly quit last year’s team because of racial tension, but was talked out of it by Winters. This year, Estrada is a team captain and the Vikings’ unquestioned leader.

“We don’t fight that much. Sometimes we do, but we come back as friends, not like the previous years when they were talking about racism and stuff,” Estrada said.

One of Estrada’s best friends now is junior Chris Borek.

“We used to not even talk and now I always go over to his house, and he dyed my hair,” Estrada said.

Winters usually hosts a barbecue before the season and gathers them for pregame meals, bringing the team closer together. What he didn’t give him this year is his worn-out racial harmony speech.

“Some of these guys were on varsity last year and sensed some of the frustrations we had last year as a team, not jelling, not getting along,” Winters said. “They wanted to put all that aside and focus on winning. I think the pain of losing early (at zone) last year sunk in deeper than one game. They looked at the whole picture and what it was going to take to win this year.”

This team is so together that they decided it was best for everyone to have the same hair color. Last Friday, prior to thumping Reed 3-0 in the Northern 4A Regional Championship, the team went to the bleach-blond look. For some reason Alex Torres’ spirited blue and gold Mohawk was never considered.

“I went to die my hair with the Latino guys. They’re my friends as much as anybody,” said junior Leon Abravanel. “If we didn’t have Hispanic players on the team, we wouldn’t be where we are (and vice versa). We need each other.”

Abravanel and Torres exchanged words in the first half of the regional championship but quickly resolved their differences. When Torres was viciously knocked over late in the game, Abravanel was one of the first to check on his condition.

The Vikings’ unity occasionally grates on Winters.

“One time we were going through Stateline cheering, ‘OlZ, OlZ, OlZ,’ and coach got mad,” Estrada said.

But the victorious cheer was music to Winters’ after the Vikings gave their coach his second regional championship on Saturday.

He hopes to hear them sing it two more times before the season ends Saturday.

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