To Bosnia with Love, from Hackettstown

The Match: Argentina v. Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Date: Sunday, June 15, Father’s Day

The Venue: My parents’ house and the Bosniak Community Center in Hackettstown, NJ

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A small library opened in my town when I was in kindergarten. Around the same time, I met my first Bosnian immigrant, a boy named Asmir. Asmir was a new kid in town and he was the first person I ever met who spoke a different language.

I soon began to encounter and befriend more and more Bosnian kids in school, on the bus and on my soccer team. When I got to high school, I met even more Bosnians from the neighboring town of Hackettstown.  The captain of the Hackettstown High School soccer team that won the NJ State Championship my freshman year was Bosnian. When I started playing  on the varsity team my sophomore year, our leading scorer was Bosnian. My junior year, 2 of our 3 captains were Bosnian and my senior year, we had another Bosnian captain. In fact, many of the best soccer players in my town’s history have been Bosnian. Ismar Tandir whom my mom taught when he was in third grade, is now playing for a French Ligue 1 team. We hope he gets to play in the 2018 World Cup.

Recently, that little library grew and moved into a larger building down the road. People of Bosnian descent took over the old space and built the Bosniak Community Center of North New Jersey.

I have always felt a special connection with people from Bosnia because of my experiences growing up. They taught us Bosnian swear words. They were the first Muslim people I ever met. They often dominated soccer games.

My brother Mike now plays goalkeeper for a predominantly Bosnian soccer team in Hackettstown. The team is sponsored by a Bosnian-owned pizza place and features many of our former classmates.

I asked Mike to find out where his teammates and friends planned to watch the game so we could join. I had hoped there would be a big gathering at the Community Center, but my brother’s friend texted him back on Sunday to say several of the Bosnians our age would be watching at Applebee’s.

LOL. I’m realizing that I have some unrealistic expectations about how soccer fans in the United States gather to watch their teams. I had dreamed that the Bosnians would parade down Main Street in Hackettstown to celebrate the first World Cup game in their nation’s history. In reality, people just wanted to get together and watch at a local franchise with a bar. People assimilate. We don’t live in 19th Century ethnic communities.

At half time of the Argentina/Bosnia match, my mom and I drove over to the Bosniak Community Center just to see if there was anything going on. There were several cars in the parking lot and a tent with about 40 people sitting inside and watching the match on a TV attached to the wall. There was food inside the Center and my mom saw a few of her former students. The crowd was mostly middle-aged men and women and middle school-aged boys in soccer apparel. It was cool.

We left after a few minutes to rejoin my dad, my brother and my grandpa at home.

My dad, too, seems to have an affinity for Bosnian-Americans. He coached my brother’s team for many years and got to know some of the Bosnian parents. They were the only people screaming at him and questioning his substitutions and formations from the sidelines. We’ll call them “passionate.” Last summer, he finally shared the sidelines with those same passionate fathers during my brother’s games.

Throughout the match, the ABC announcers gave shout outs to a few communities with significant populations from Bosnia and Herzegovina. They mentioned Hartford, CT, Bowling Green, KY and St. Louis, MO. I kept waiting for them to congratulate Hackettstown, NJ, but they didn’t.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Spain was my “second team” in the World Cup, but I forgot about Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I’m rooting for them in honor of all my former classmates and teammates.

Overall Atmosphere: 10/10 Watching games with my dad, my grandpa and my family on Father’s Day and for the people watching games at the Bosniak Community Center in Hackettstown. In 2018, we may have a Hackettstown native playing in the World Cup!

 

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