Due to COVID-19, there are significantly fewer international students currently at Kokomo High School, but one of the few is leaving a mark as a student-athlete for Kokomo tennis.
Miguel "Miki" Sanchez, a junior from Cordoba, Spain, played a key role in the Wildkats securing the sectional title this season.
Sanchez said he was an experienced and skilled padel player in Spain and played ever since he was a child. The natural similarity to tennis made the transition relatively simple.
"The first week was a little bit harder because to bring yourself to a new place with new people and new language, it’s always difficult," he said. "Now I feel like I'm home with friends and with family."
Unlike America, organized sports weren't a part of the school system in Cordoba, he said, so having school and organized team sports after school was a real treat, versus tracking down the club teams and trying to get involved.
He was paired early on with sophomore Jacob Walker as a doubles partner, and their chemistry carried them to a critical point that helped the Wildkats win 3-2 over Northwestern in the sectional finals.
"We were so happy. We didn't expect to win this much. But we did our best and were so happy to win," Sanchez said.
Head Coach Shawn Flanary said Sanchez stepped up at the perfect time since they had three or four players not return, some due to injury and some due to COVID.
"When we learned we had a kid coming in that plays padel, we were like, 'Well, he's had a racket in his hand of some sort,'" Flanary said. "There's a lot of similarities, but there are some differences. But he's a quick learner, and he did exceptional. He gave us probably that shot that we needed in doubles knowing a lot of our experience there wasn't back. "
Derek Hansen and his family took in Sanchez in late August as a host family, and according to Hansen, Sanchez already is a regular family member in everything but name.
He said Sanchez and his son, Brandon, have been nearly inseparable. When Hansen learned that an international student was coming to Kokomo who hadn’t secured a host family, he jumped at the chance to offer him a place to stay and a family to be around. Hansen said hosting an international family was something he always had wanted to do.
"I checked with my wife on that Monday, and by Thursday, it was a done deal. Everything had already gone through. By Saturday he was moved in," Hansen said.
Sanchez is as good a student as he is an athlete, Hansen said, adding that Sanchez isn't shy about hitting the books and treats them as seriously as sports.
Sanchez said winning sectionals and coming through in a big way for the team was amazing, and he's all about getting the most of his experience here in the United States.
"I'm a person that's not shy. I'm here to enjoy my experience. So I can deal with all the people, and I want to talk with everyone," Sanchez said.
The Wildkats' season came to a close during regionals with a loss to West Lafayette, but winning sectionals in a challenging year was a bright spot for Kokomo tennis as the team brought a new trophy home.