- Associated Press - Thursday, October 30, 2014

GOSHEN, Ind. (AP) - Laos’ loss has been Goshen’s gain.

Viratham Mounsithiraj, his parents and his five siblings arrived in Centreville, Michigan, about 35 miles from Goshen, in 1980 as refugees from communist-ruled Laos.

Today, Mounsithiraj, 44, is in his 11th year as Goshen High’s boys soccer coach and his fourth as a counselor at nearby Fairfield (that, after a long tenure as a social worker at Centreville High). In each role he has tried to push students to capitalize on opportunities.

On Saturday, he’ll become the first Elkhart County head soccer coach, boys or girls, to twice guide a team into the state finals, when his Redskins (19-2-1) face Indianapolis Brebeuf (19-4) in the 2A title game at Carroll Stadium in Indianapolis. Goshen also qualified under Mounsithiraj in 2007.

“I don’t know the whole story myself,” Mounsithiraj told The Elkhart Truth (https://bit.ly/1p6j5Ax ) this week of his family’s escape from Laos when he was 8 years old, the fourth of six siblings separated by about six years. “I didn’t know what we were doing until we were leaving. I thought we were going on a family trip, then next thing, we’re crossing over to Thailand (by canoe).”

Mounsithiraj’s father, Theuang, was a government worker in Laos. Mounsithiraj says his parents’ decision to leave stemmed from that connection.

According to a 2001 Elkhart Truth story about Thavisak Mounsithiraj, Viratham Mounsithiraj’s older brother, their father had been secretary of the treasury in Laos, a country in Southeast Asia. When communists took over in 1975, Theuang was sent to a re-education camp because of his beliefs and stripped of a plantation he owned.

Theuang and his wife, Damdouane, eventually feared for their children’s safety and plotted a 1978 exodus that took place with the assistance of armed guards.

The family spent over a year at a refugee camp in Thailand.

Then, sponsored by Locust Grove Mennonite Church in Michigan, the Mounsithiraj family landed in Centreville.

Mounsithiraj says he’d like to learn more about his background and “maybe write a book someday,” though his father passed away in 2006 at age 65 and his mom in January 2013 at 66.

Mounsithiraj says his journey has helped give him an appreciation of opportunities available in the U.S. for those who will work for those chances.

“I get most excited when I see kids do well in school,” Mounsithiraj said. “What’s pleased me most as a coach is when we have players who take advantage of their abilities and get into (college). And what’s disappointed me the most is when we’ve had players who could easily play in college, but didn’t make it because of their GPA.”

Mounsithiraj spoke only Laotian when he came to the U.S. That’s helped him empathize with some of the Hispanic-raised Goshen players who have had to learn English.

“Our stories are different,” Mounsithiraj said, “but I think it helps me understand their perspective.”

Mounsithiraj’s understanding of soccer speaks for itself, and if not, his 126-56-24 record with two Northern Lakes, four sectional, two regional and two semistate titles will fill in some of the blanks.

“He always knows a lot about the other team,” senior tri-captain Kyle Ramirez Ingold said this week. “He knows what formations and what tactics and everything we need to do, and what we need to do in practice to be at our top level.”

“V’s very enthusiastic about being a coach, and I think it rubs off on his kids,” said Northridge’s Tood Woodworth, who battled Mounsithiraj each of the last 11 years after having him as an assistant for four. “While there’s an intensity to what he does, he’s also very friendly, and I think kids warm up to him.”

Mounsithiraj never played soccer in high school. Centreville did not offer it. Instead, he played football and basketball, and ran track for the Bulldogs, all while competing in recreational soccer leagues to continue a sport he was first introduced to in Laos.

It’s a sport each of five Mounsithiraj siblings have stayed connected to by coaching in the area, not that there was any formal plan to do so.

“I just think in some aspect, all of us like teaching, we all like being around kids,” said Mounsithiraj, who has been married to his wife, Amy, for 18 years and has two sons, ages 11 and 8. “I think all of us work well with children. Not necessarily all of us like the classroom setting, but we all love the sport, and four of us have been camp counselors.”

As for Mounsithiraj’s own GHS program, he’s as quick and as emphatic as a line-drive PK to deflect credit to Athletic Director Larry Kissinger for what the school provides and to his assistants for their efforts.

Joe Sabo and Matt Bjorkland have been with Mounsithiraj since that 2007 state finals trip, while Myron Bontreger, a former Bethany Christian head coach, steered this season’s virtually untouchable junior varsity squad to a 16-0 record with just one goal allowed.

Mounsithiraj says a strong feeder program is a must. He points out that nearly all his players have been coached by Millard Graber through the Goshen Stars club team and/or the middle school team.

“I’m just proud of the fact that every year we get more kids to come out and try soccer,” Mounsithiraj said. “We have a lot of people who make it fun for the kids.”

___

Information from: The Elkhart Truth, https://www.elkharttruth.com

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