For his first year at the International Community School, Bill Hadam struggled with English and cried in every class. The only place the young refugee looked comfortable was on the soccer field." Bill is him running up and down the field, and - no matter what's going on in the game, no matter what's happening - he's got this smile from ear to ear," says ICS mom Shell Ramirez, who for the past few years has run the school's soccer program. "He's never played soccer without the biggest, hugest smile on his face in the whole wide world. I think that's when he gets his most joy and his pleasure."No mystery why. Most of what Bill remembers about his life in the refugee camp revolves around soccer: learning to make his own balls out of twine and plastic bags, and what positions he and his friends played. This spring, when I asked his parents' friends in Tanzania what they remembered about Bill, one after another said: "Playing soccer."
More than the red dirt roads of Mkugwa camp, the roach-infested Indian Creek apartments, or the dustbowl of the ICS playground, this sport is home, for Bill.
Physical Education teacher Dawn Jones remembers when she first realized the shy boy's talent. An older boy on her soccer team begged Dawn to let Bill come along to a game and play. "I said, OK, I'm gonna try to sneak him. I gave him a uniform and brought him to the game. I didn't even know how he's playing - does he play good? Or how he's gonna do? Then I realized: He is the best one in the group."Bill is so good, coaches quickly discovered they couldn't play him against kids his own age. "Bill, talent-wise, is exceptional," says coach Jeff Newbury, of the Decatur-Dekalb (Ga.) YMCA Soccer Club. "He's in a weird spot where he's so talented he can't play with his own age." Bill, who will turn 10 in September, now plays on a team with 11- and 12-year-olds. But because he's younger and less mature than his teammates, "he's not quite at the highest level of the next group."For most of the past two years, Bill played on the stronger of two teams in his division, always in the shadow of his friend Lagos. While Bill's an excellent player, Lagos is one of those extraordinary players at whom parents on the opposing sideline sit back and gape. He's a year older than Bill, and an artist on the field.This year, Bill asked to be switched to the weaker team in his division, where he has taken off as a leader and a star. Coach and teammates' parents have seen Bill grow in confidence as a result."He's one of the stars," says Jeff. "Whereas before he was just sort of on the team and struggling for his place, now he's Wild Bill.' "
This past season, says Jeff, "we got to the semifinals because of Bill."
This summer, soccer has been Bill's crowning obsession. He's already talking about his season this fall. With school out, his parents working all afternoon and evening, and loads of unstructured time, Bill and Lagos have spent countless hours practicing. In June, I loaned Bill a brand new soccer ball, thinking he might return it a little the worse for wear. When he gave it back this week, he had played it to tatters.