High school athletics serve as guide in an unfamiliar society
On the field or the court, the only color of any consequence is that of the jersey. Language barriers break down by X’s and O’s on the chalk board or eye contact and a quick nod.High school students can use athletics as an escape from the pressures that come with the journey into adulthood. For Latino students like Roaring Fork High School junior Christian Tena, athletics also serve as an entry point and a guide in an unfamiliar society.”Sports has been an advantage in my life,” said Tena, who is also a key member of the Rams’ football team. “Sports is what’s gotten me here – (getting) to play sports and interacting with other people, even from other towns. One of the higher things in my life is being able to play sports,” he said.Tena, 17, was the only Latino student on the 2004-05 Rams basketball team, but there were no labels on the team, head coach Roger Walters said.”They are a really, really close group, and Christian was right in the middle of it as far as being on of the fellas,” said Walters, who added the Rams often went to the Tena house for team dinners.Tena, whose family is from Chihuahua, Mexico, was born in El Paso, Texas. He also spent time living in New Orleans before coming to the Roaring Fork Valley 12 years ago. Despite being raised in the United States, Spanish was the only language spoken at home, and Tena didn’t need English much in his daily life as a young child before coming to the Roaring Fork Valley.”Elementary school was hard for me,” Tena said. “I came here speaking no English, and, at the time when I came, there were barely any Latinos, which made it even harder.”Tena’s English developed, as did his social and athletic skills.He played soccer in his younger years and made friends both on and off the field. When many of his friends began playing football, he, too, made the switch from soccer. He watched his brother, Jesse, play basketball for the Rams until Jesse graduated in 1999.”My brother was the one who basically inspired me,” Tena said.Following in his brother’s footsteps on the basketball court, Tena is one of the Rams’ top players, particularly on defense. His tenacious, physical style makes him the player opposing fans love to hate. He said he never has encountered any racial problems in Carbondale from teammates or home fans. The “once in a while” racial taunt he hears from the opponents’ section, he shrugs off as “not a big thing.” He does notice, however.”It shows a lot about people,” he said. “It can define someone.”But it certainly won’t keep Tena off the field or court. Not much will. He played three quarters of the 2005 regional championship game with a badly injured foot. The following Monday he had a screw inserted in what turned out to be a fractured bone. Three days later he was back on the court, helping the Rams to a second-place finish in the Class 3A state tournament.Injuries obviously can’t keep him off the court, and he makes sure nothing else will either.”Sports has helped with my academics. It’s gotten me through,” he said. “I love to play sports. It’s just one of those things I love to do. Basically, I take sports as a reward after school.””I think (athletics) are important to all kids,” Walters said. “I think it helps all the kids have something to do, to succeed at, and it, in turn keeps them busy and out of trouble.”
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