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Juan Flores is giving back to Worthington

Juan Flores coaches the undefeated Worthington boys 17-and-under soccer team. His life took a positive turn, he said, when he was invited to play on a traveling team.

WORTHINGTON -- Juan Flores is a very successful youth soccer coach.

He's also a role model and a bridge between the cultures.

But to Flores himself, he's just a lucky guy who was pointed in the right direction and a guy who, now that he's older, wants to give back.

"All this that I'm doing here is my giving back to the community," said Flores Monday afternoon, just hours before his Worthington boys 17-and-under squad defeated Waseca 8-0 to improve its summer record to 8-0.

Flores came to Worthington from Mexico at age 10, in 2002.

"It was hard for me to adjust. The language obviously was a problem. I couldn't communicate for the first six months. I knew just enough to get by," he said.

His life took a positive turn during that first year. He had been spending his free time at school kicking a soccer ball around at recess when, one day, one of the kids on the traveling soccer team saw him, thought he looked pretty good at handling the ball, and said he should talk to his coach and become part of the team.

"In Mexico, I never got to travel out of the town that I lived in. It was just the same guys, the same field."

The traveling team gave Juan a set of friends, a new outlet for his soccer interest, and a new start. He went on to play soccer at Worthington High School.

"I feel that if those people would not be involved, I don't think I would have known about the whole traveling team," he says today. "I wouldn't have been involved in the game as much. I might have lost some of the love of the game. I don't think I would have developed as well as I did."

Meanwhile, he worked hard to master the English language, spending three or four hours a day using flash cards, searching the Internet for language helps, and reading books. His school teachers helped and encouraged him. But he didn't need any encouragement to know that he would better himself by becoming more proficient in the language of his new country.

"Just because I knew that if I knew two languages, it would help me in the long run," he said.

In the fall, Flores will be a junior at Buena Vista College in Storm Lake, Iowa, majoring in elementary education with a minor in Spanish. His goal is to teach Spanish at the elementary level.

C.J. Nelson, program director at the Worthington YMCA, is a big fan of Flores, who began his Y tenure in the soccer program, then participated in day camp, and finally spent time at the front desk signing people for programs, answering questions and manning phones. His ability to speak both Spanish and English, Nelson said, is a valuable asset.

"Ever since he started working for us we've had many people make positive comments about him ... He is just a great asset to the Y," testified Nelson, who added that Flores' upbeat personality is another bonus. Flores likes to joke around and make others feel comfortable around him, Nelson maintains. He's interactive. He likes people. He will get silly around kids, and he doesn't mind the reactions he gets.

The reaction he gets from his 17-and-under team is winning. Many of the team's victories this summer have been heavily one-sided. There was one close game, a 2-1 trimming of Waseca. But with Monday's 8-0 blanking of that same Waseca team, there is no doubt now that Worthington is the team to beat in the upcoming district tournament.

The district tourney is July 14 in Fairmont. Worthington will compete against Waseca, Fairmont, St. Peter and New Ulm for the right to compete in the state tournament on the following weekend.

For the moment, the Worthingtonians' chances look good.

"I feel like we're better skill-wise, and way better developed than the other teams. I feel that we're more advanced than them. We see the game differently," Flores said.

Fourteen of the 17 players on the Worthington club are Hispanic kids. And the Hispanic kids tend to be excellent soccer players, Flores admits.

"Soccer is the most played sport in the world. When the kids come here, they already know the fundamentals of the game," he said.

But he also said there's nothing to prevent anyone from being good at soccer. It all comes with dedication and practice.

"We looked at the roster at the beginning of the year and we thought we were going to have a decent year," he said, adding that the goal is always to work together as a unit and encourage contributions from everyone.

As for the game of soccer itself, you'd have to forgive Flores for believing it's the greatest sport of them all.

"In my eyes, it is. I'm going to be honest with you," he explained with a smile. "It's a beautiful game."

It's an intense game, he said. "It's like a Game Seven of the NBA Finals."

Except, perhaps, when the 17-and-under team plays. In most of those cases, the game is usually over before it starts.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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