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Creating a can-do culture

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Football coach Roy Ferri found a changed place when he came back to J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, VA., in 2008.

Ferri had originally coached there in the 1980s for seven winning seasons. The team consisted of big bruisers compared to today’s players—who are, in Ferri’s words, “bordering on tiny”—and who now come from Jordan, Bolivia, Morocco, Sudan and about 80 other countries. Two-thirds of them mainly speak a language other than English.

Tijani Musa, for example, was born in Sierra Leone, the West African country ranked poorest in the world. Tijani came to America when he was 12, making varsity in his second year of playing football.

 “America is 98% compared to my country, which is 2%,” he says. “Of everything—opportunities, health, food, everything.”

Football culture is new to many of these boys, some of whom quit every year because they can’t figure out why coaches yell at them.

Still, Ferri teaches them to win—to bury bad attitudes, to stop making excuses and to emerge victorious.

“In America, there’s this culture—get dirty, play with pain,” he says. “It’s one of those American foundations—that’s what you want to be if you’re a guy. These kids don’t come from that culture. I have to say to them: It’s important to play hurt. It’s important to be tough.”

The back of Ferri’s jersey says it all: “Get a day better!”

Although J.E.B. Stuart ended up with a 1-9 season last year, this year’s losses have been close and its wins decisive. What’s more, the players are learning a can-do spirit.

Assistant coach Nedal Awadallah played there in the 1990s. A first-generation American whose parents were born in Palestine, he had a rough go of it himself. “It’s good for these kids to be in a school like this,” he says. “They look around and see that everybody is from a different country and think, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”

— Adapted from “Field of Dreams,” Mary Clare Fleury, Washingtonian.

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