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Carnett: Growing up in an international world

October 29, 2012|By Jim Carnett

My 13-year-old grandson, Ethan, is quite a soccer player, if I do say so myself.

He's played club-level soccer for the last several years in his North Carolina community, and he's a star on his middle school's varsity soccer squad. Whenever we travel east, I catch his games.

I've become a soccer fan myself. Well, more precisely, I'm an Ethan fan.

Hard work and dedication have turned him into a fine player, but genetics factor into the equation as well. Like the sport itself he's a citizen of the world, and his soccer skills seem to reflect his family's World Cup-esque diversity.

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His fraternal grandfather was born in Liège, Belgium, and grew up playing the sport on the banks of the river Meuse. His fraternal grandmother hails from Jalisco where Chivas de Guadalajara is the most successful club in Mexican football. His Dutch-Indonesian maternal grandmother was born on the isle of Java and reared in Amsterdam, where the Dutch football club, Ajax, dominates.

And how do we close this perfect genetic loop with the ideal maternal grandfather? Sadly, with my underwhelming dossier!

I was born and raised in Orange County — a place considered a soccer wasteland throughout my childhood. To be sure, O.C. was a soccer-free-zone when I was Ethan's age, in 1958. We were years away from the first humble beginnings of AYSO.

While stationed with the U.S. Army in Korea in the mid-1960s, I had my introduction to soccer: kids kicking round bundles of rags in dirt alleys. I've never played soccer in my life, except for a couple of pickup matches in a college physical education class after my military discharge. I had no idea what I was doing.

Ethan's maternal great grandfather was a talented soccer player in Indonesia. Ethan's fraternal uncle was an American collegiate goalie, and his dad was a pretty fair American high school player.

His many Dutch, Mexican and Belgian second, third and fourth cousins play the sport at a variety of levels.

Though I contributed precious little genetically to Ethan's football acumen, I bought him his first soccer ball when he wasn't quite a year old. In fact, he began kicking that ball as soon as he started to walk. It preceded him into and out of every room in the house.

I also bought him a mini NBA basketball hoop hoping he'd learn to slam dunk. I'm still hoping.

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