Rand McNally lives here, on a green patch of grass in the middle of the city, surrounded by a college campus that is growing by leaps only when its not growing by bounds.
Rand McNally – and his sidekicks, Mapquest and GPS – lives in an office occupied by a man named David Bokhart, for whom geography is not just something you learned back in fifth grade between lunch and recess. Its a living, breathing thing, the reality of the times for someone who, like Bokhart, coaches soccer at the collegiate level.
Bokhart is the mens soccer coach at Indiana Tech, which takes on crosstown rival Saint Francis this weekend in the Shindigz National Soccer Festival. And the Warriors are as a good a place as any to start if you want to talk about how the worlds game is nowhere as worldly as it is on American campuses these days.
Bokharts roster, you see, boasts players from seven different countries.
In no particular order they are the United States, Canada, Ireland, England, Ecuador, Bolivia and Dubai, and if that occasionally makes Bokhart wonder whether hes addressing his soccer team or the U.N. Security Council, its hardly anything unusual. Across town, at IPFW, mens coach Mike Harper has six players from Ontario and a 6-foot-7 freshman goalkeeper from Germany, Raphael Kotzock. And over at Saint Francis, mens coach Mitch Ellisens roster includes Tito Amador, a freshman midfielder from Ecuador.
Hes here because Ellisen liked what he saw of him on video, and Amador liked what he saw, too.
He really liked our business program, Ellisen says.
Which is how it works, apparently. Once upon a time it was American soccer players who chased the game around the world; now the world chases it here, drawn as much by the academic hook as the athletic one.
Some of the guys may be from somewhere else originally, but have been in the States for a while, maybe at a junior college, Bokhart says. A lot of it is networking. A lot of is students who maybe are looking for an engineering program, so Indiana Tech pops up for them on a search.
Its really a mixed bag. Weve been in touch with each of these guys in a little different way. Theres no formula and no set way of doing it.
That goes for the soccer pitch, too. No one knows that better than Bokhart, with his Seven Flags over Fort Wayne lineup.
I think at our own level were kind of a mini English Premier League team or a World Cup team, Bokhart says. We have so many different things we can do and so many different looks we can show people. The challenge is really organizing and managing the group to appreciate the qualities they have and the differences they bring.
How well that works, hell soon find out. Until then, hell get continue to be amazed at just what a unifying force the game can be.
In the locker room, theyre a bunch of guys from different countries speaking different languages, with different ways of looking at the world. And then they step onto a soccer pitch, and something transformative happens.
The way they interact on the field is entirely different from off the field, Bokhart says. When they cross the line, they recognize the game and recognize talent when they see it. Its almost like a form of communication, as if theyre all speaking the same language.
I think soccer is kind of that world language for a lot of these guys.
And so much more besides.