FOOTBALL: Markesan helping Mexican kicker overcome language barrier, learn English

MARKESAN — One thing a coach will often do during practice is raise his voice to make sure something gets done correctly.

Markesan coach John Dunleavy, who is preparing the fifth-seeded Hornets for tonight’s WIAA Division 6 first round playoff game at fourth-seeded Auburndale — is no different. The second-year coach has a deep voice, so when he belts out a command, it can carry across the field. He doesn’t just do it to hear himself talk, though — he does it because he wants 100% effort from his players.

Dunleavy’s vocal authority doesn’t quite have the same effect on senior kicker Rogelio Barajas as it does on others on the team, however, because Barajas is a native of Nayarit, hoc phi tieng anh, and doesn’t know English very well.

“It’s extremely difficult,” Dunleavy said. “I catch myself still. I’m yelling over at him for something to do, and I look over at him and it’s like yelling at myself. He has no idea what I’m saying.”

Dunleavy, who is a physical education teacher at Markesan High School, first realized he might have a communication problem with Barajas during a weightlifting training class at the school.

“We started doing some physical activity-type stuff, and it looked like he was built and put together,” Dunlavy said. “He knew what he was doing in the weight room. Another kid in class could speak Spanish, so I was having him help so I could talk to (Barajas).”

After getting to know Barajas and realizing he was from Mexico, Dunlavy asked if he had ever played soccer before. The answer was yes, not surprising considering how popular soccer is in Mexico.

It was then that Dunlavy asked Barajas if he was interested in joining the Hornets as the team’s kicker.

“It’s something new and I’ve never seen (the game of football in person) before because (we) didn’t have it in Mexico,” said Barajas, who communicates via a translator. “I’ve only seen it on TV. I really wanted to try it out.”

As soon as Barajas said he was interested and joined the team before the Week 4 game against Dodgeland, Dunlavy knew he needed to address the language barrier. It turns out, the solution wasn’t at all difficult to find, because on the first day of school, Barajas met senior Christian Vargas.

Vargas, who is also from Mexico, moved to the United States when he was just 2 years old and learned English while growing up here. He is now 18 and serves as a translator for Barajas, who goes by Roger in America, rather than by his given name of Rogelio.

“Christian has been incredible,” Dunlavy said. “He’s getting nothing out of this. He doesn’t play, he doesn’t get any glory and that’s why he’s such a cool part of this story too. He just shows up and starts working, chasing balls and helping Roger all by himself all day, every day. He comes to all the games. He’s on the sideline.”

Understanding coaches and teammates has “obviously been hard,” Barajas said, “but just hearing (them speak), I’m picking up on some (of their language) from people and talking to other people.”

Over the last five weeks, Barajas has learned phrases like “How are you?” or “what are you doing?” and “Very good,” “thank you” and “hello.”

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“I don’t know if it would work without Christian, to be honest,” Dunlavy said. “It would be extremely difficult to communicate with Roger on how or when to go out there, what to do all the time or how to manipulate him and tell him where we want him with every little situation. It wouldn’t work without Christian.”

Barajas said he was interested in playing another position along with being the kicker, but Dunlavy didn’t think that was possible because he said Barajas is “as raw as can be. He doesn’t know what anything is.”

By not knowing the speed of the game, rules or techniques, Week 4 was too late in the season for Barajas to learn a position.

When Barajas joined the team, Dunlavy and Vargas pointed him toward YouTube to find different kicking drills to help during practice.

“He had no idea the shape of the football, and on his foot where to kick it,” Dunlavy said. “We’re trying to help him where to kick it on the ball.”

Dunlavy has learned over the last six weeks that Barajas has an unbelievable work ethic. From the time practice starts, Barajas is either kicking extra points, field goals or kickoffs.

The effort helped Barajas make five of six extra points in a 51-22 victory over Orfordville Parkview/Albany in Week 5.

“He doesn’t want to stop working,” Dunlavy said. “That’s the best part about it. I’m trying to tell him to take breaks. I’ll tell Christian, his translator, to tell him to go take a water break, stretch and he doesn’t need to over work it. He won’t stop. He won’t take breaks.

“I kind of like that work ethic he brings to the table where he just keeps going and keeps going. He actually did work himself into a groin injury because he wouldn’t take breaks.”

Barajas’ only extra-point attempt in a 24-22 loss to Horicon/Hustisford was blocked the following week and he never attempted one in a 35-14 loss to Palmyra-Eagle in Week 7. Markesan had a bye week in Week 8 because Sturgeon Bay canceled its season.

In Week 9, Barajas helped the Hornets defeat Pardeeville 26-14 by making two of three extra points.

The progress Barajas has made has impressed Dunlavy so much that he wouldn’t hesitate to call on Barajas to attempt a field goal from as far as 35 yards.


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