International students jump into basketball at Oak Grove Lutheran
By the time students are high school juniors, most have spent years in their selected extracurricular activities.
But this year, Oak Grove Lutheran’s junior varsity girls’ basketball team welcomed two juniors who were newcomers—both to the sport and to the United States.
Esther Mwiza from Rwanda and Saki Fukuhara from Japan arrived in Fargo-Moorhead just before school started last fall. As they acclimated to new homes, school, culture and climate, they found making friends to be a bit of a challenge.
So they joined the basketball team.
Saki had played basketball for one year of elementary school in Japan, and Esther had played “just for fun” in Rwanda.
Saki recalled being very nervous at the start of the season. Esther, who had been a member of a high-level dance group in Rwanda, described it as “kind of devastating. You’re used to being one of the best, one who teaches others, and now you’re on the bottom,” she said.
But both were quickly pulled into drills, working on dribbling, shooting and plays alongside their teammates, many of whom were building on years’-worth of skills.
“It takes a lot of courage for them to step out of their comfort zones,” said Oak Grove girls’ basketball coach Chad Slyter. “For them to want to be included is pretty special.”
Esther and Saki said it was hard work, but it paid off.
“During practice, people were cheering each other,” Saki recalled. “I just love that.”
In fact, she said, even during free-throw drills, where players took turns shooting, the support continued. “If you missed (your shot), people have to run because of you,” she recalled. “Even so, everyone cheered for each other.”
As the season ends, both Esther and Saki said they carry special moments with them: Saki recalls the three-point shot she made at the beginning of one game. Esther remembers being given the chance to take a shot in the final seconds of another.
“I feel like they’re trusting me now,” Esther said, “because they’re giving me the last shot.”
Coach Slyter said having Esther and Saki on the court was good for the whole team. “To see their excitement is one thing, but to see their teammates excited for them is great as well,” he said.
Now both Esther and Saki say they know so many more people.
“It increased their friendships tenfold,” said Kristi Kegel, international student coordinator. “It increased their English, it increased their self-assurance and self-esteem—all of it. It did amazing things, and that courage goes with them.”
Oak Grove Lutheran School serves students on two campuses in Fargo. The school started in 1906 as the Lutheran Ladies Seminary, a high school for girls. Boys joined the student body in 1926. Oak Grove’s mission calls for expressing God’s love by nurturing students for academic achievement, lifelong Christian commitment, and loving service throughout the world.