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Giving Thanks for a Winning Soccer Team

Woodburn High School in Woodburn, Oregon

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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Thursday is the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. Americans gather with family and friends to share a meal. Some celebrate the holiday by telling what they are most thankful for.

This holiday season, a group of student-athletes in Woodburn, Oregon, has given its community something to be thankful for.

The Woodburn High School boys soccer team has reached the state soccer championship playoffs for twenty-five straight seasons. But the Bulldogs had never won the state championship -- until this year.

Their victory on Saturday also represents a win for their mostly Hispanic hometown.

Writer Steve Wilson spent a year recording the successes and problems of the team. He wrote a book called “The Boys from Little Mexico: A Season Chasing the American Dream.” It tells about a community struggling with issues such as immigration and cultural changes.

Steve Wilson visits with Martin Maldonado-Cortez and Miguel 'Angel' Arellano, two players in the book, 'The Boys From Little Mexico.'
Steve Wilson visits with Martin Maldonado-Cortez and Miguel 'Angel' Arellano, two players in the book, 'The Boys From Little Mexico.'

Migrant farm workers from Mexico started coming to Woodburn, Oregon about fifty years ago. Many of the workers stayed and made the town their home. So the town became known as "Little Mexico."

Steve Wilson thinks the Woodburn boys soccer team’s continued hard work and effort to win the state championship is similar to their cultural experiences.

Like many Mexican-Americans, the boys on the Woodburn team faced major problems. They include poverty, a language barrier and immigration issues. Mr. Wilson wondered if those challenges were preventing the team from reaching its goal of winning a state championship. So he decided to follow the team for an entire season. He got to know the players, coaches and supporters.

One of the players he writes about in the book is Martin Maldonado-Cortez. Martin says he and the other boys on the team knew that Woodburn had a bad image.

The town has a population of only twenty-two thousand people. But it faces many of the same problems found in large cities. These include gang violence and illegal drugs. He says when the team went to play other schools the people did not act friendly toward them.

Martin says his coaches told him to show pride in his culture. They told him to make an effort to be successful in life -- and not just on the field.

And that’s the VOA Special English Education Report. Our programs are online with transcripts and MP3 files at And you can find us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember.


Contributing: Chris Lehman, Lawan Davis