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Korean exchange students making a difference at RC
Paul Cho, a native of Korea, celebrates a goal with Ripon Christian teammate Danny Vander Molen during a nonleague game with in-town rival Ripon. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

Back in August, Ripon Christian soccer was taking the necessary steps to become a team.

The Knights were managing through the normal preseason rigors of conditioning, technique drills and a little bit of scrimmaging. Along with those standard steps of foundation the Knights had another task, and they were probably the only team around that faced, accepted and conquered the task.

Ripon Christian got its season going by getting to know players from another Country

The Knights varsity soccer program introduced eight players from Korea and the Southern League. Dan Choi, David Yu, Joon Kim, Jun Seo and Paul Cho were all integral parts of the Knights’ varsity squad, helping the team earn its first Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth since 2003.

Opening the season Ripon Christian had all sorts of questions, but somehow the program flourished in the midst of language barriers, timing issues and some of the simple difficulties of playing alongside players you’ve never seen play, or have ever seen for that matter.

“It hasn’t surprised me that we’ve infolded these guys into our team,” Ripon Christian head coach Keith Terpsma said. “I have three kids starting from the Korean exchange program and they’ve pretty much replaced the three seniors I lost from last year. The rest of the guys have been playing together for a few years.

“The fact that these three starters have come in with a few off the bench has really supported the rest of the team.”

With the obvious obstacles that were presented to the group the team flourished. Ripon closed out the 2012 season with a 12-4-4 mark and an 8-3-3 mark in Southern League play. The group garnered one of three playoff spots awarded to the league. The Knights open play at 3:30 p.m. against Global Youth Charter in the Division-VII bracket.

The Knights’ sole purpose is to close out the season on a winning streak and land a Sac-Joaquin Section title for the school. With a nine-year playoff drought engraved in the programs’ recent history, landing a section berth was definitely a big deal for the Knights’ American players.

And even though the exchange students are new to the program they had no difficulty enjoying the postseason berth.

“As a group, we were just thinking that we were proud of ourselves,” Yu said of the Korean’s impact on the Knights’ playoff berth. “Even my mom in Korea, she was so happy that we made the playoffs.”

As challenging as the exchange program has been on the Korean students, Ripon Christian’s student body has made an interesting situation a long lasting memorable moment. The growth that Ripon Christian’s students have made through the experience will undoubtedly be a quality tool for the players in the game of life. A great deal of that credit goes to the Knights’ head coach.

“Only a few of the guys have real good English skills, so I think early in the season the original players had a hard time communicating and feeling comfortable with the communication aspect,” Terpsma said. And so we had a conversation with each other about not being shy with each other. If the Koreans had any questions, or needed anything repeated they could ask and nobody would think less of them.

“What’s nice is that the Koreans have skills coming in; they understand the game of soccer.”