Different paths to Palisade: Foreign exchange students experience American sports with Bulldogs
Alp Karaboga, Lassi Leppanen, Daniel Seebode and Indira Adigamova had no idea what they were doing.
The four Palisade High School student-athletes participated in fall sports that were completely new to them.
Karaboga, Leppanen and Seebode played football and Adigamova ran with the girls cross country team.
All four are foreign exchange students who joined athletics to get the most out of the American high school experience.
“I came here for the cultural experience and I was eager to try high school sports,” Adigamova said. “I was most impressed that the American high school sport is very high developed.”
The three boys had zero experience on a football field before arriving in Palisade.
Karaboga, a free safety from Istanbul, Turkey; Leppanen, a kicker from Oulu, Finland; and Seebode, a linebacker from Wolfenbuittel, Germany, all said they struggled to understand the rules and strategy of the game.
“It was a hard sport, but I wanted to give it a shot because I’d never tried it,” Karaboga said.
Despite playing other sports in their native countries, all three players arrived to the practice field during two-a-days and were pushed to their physical limits. Once the school year began, the players lifted weights with the team in the morning before having afternoon practice.
“The toughest day of practice I ever had was weights in the morning and football practice in the afternoon,” Seebode said. “But it’s made me fitter and tougher because when I first came here I was a little bit fat.”
If the name Seebode sounds familiar, it’s because Daniel’s older brother, Benedict, was an all-Western Slope League basketball player at Palisade in 2007 when he was an exchange student.
Daniel, who will also play basketball for the Bulldogs, said his brother encouraged him to give football a try.
“My brother said it was cool and said he would have done it if he came here again,” Seebode said. “Football is really tough, and to be honest I still don’t understand everything yet.”
The three played mostly junior varsity, but quickly became part of the team. Palisade coach John Arledge said Karaboga, Leppanen and Seebode earned the other players’ respect.
“The guys respect the fact they left their country, their friends and family to be here doing something they have no idea about,” Arledge said. “They might have seen it on TV a few times, but the violent nature, the mentality of the players and coaches, it’s a totally different sport.”
Arledge said he got the impression his intense nature took the foreign players by surprise.
“I think Alp looks at me like I’m a Yosemite Sam cartoon character,” Arledge said. “I think they think we are all crazy, but it’s going to be a great story to go back and say I played football.”
Leppanen is the only one of the three to see time in a varsity game, finishing the season 3 of 5 on extra points.
“For me I don’t have much strategy, I just kick the ball,” Leppanen said. “It’s an intense sport and it’s been a lot of fun.”
Despite their lack of experience, Karaboga, Leppanen and Seebode weren’t treated differently. All three players never shied away from any aspect of the game.
“If they were in there for JV or scout team during the week they knew they are going to get knocked around,” Palisade junior varsity coach Pat Steele said.
“They don’t get treated any different but at the same time, the guys understand the learning curve is different, so there are several kids who go out of their way to help them.”
Adigamova knew she wanted to play a sport at Palisade.
The 17-year-old from Kazan, Russia, first tried volleyball, but Adigamova had very little experience and didn’t make the team.
“Here it’s so professional, in Russia we play (volleyball) in PE class, but it’s so informal and nobody can play properly,” Adigamova said. “I was so impressed by the way they played.”
After trying volleyball, Adigamova joined the cross country team.
“I used to run in the mornings with my friends to be in shape,” Adigamova said. “So it was a good experience to run here with a team of people who are really good at it.”
Adigamova wasn’t the best runner for the Bulldogs, but said she enjoyed every minute spent with the team and plans to run track in the spring.
“I wasn’t very good, I was always last on my team,” Adigamova said. “But it helped me make new friends, and everyone supported each other, which was so awesome.”
For foreign exchange students to be declared eligible to participate in athletics, it has to be approved by the school’s conference. Since there are many different organizations that work with exchange students, the Colorado High School Activities Association compiled a list of programs on its website to make the transition to athletics easier.
The school has to complete the Varsity and Sub Varsity International Student Waiver Form, which allows them to compete for three consecutive sports seasons.
“If it’s an approved program, it’s really is easy,” District 51 Athletic Director Paul Cain said. “They get one calendar year to play after being approved.”
Once approved, it’s then a matter of getting to get involved with their sport of choice.
Last season, the Fruita Monument boys basketball team had 6-foot-5 Gustaf Alin from Finland. Alin had plenty of natural ability for the game, but it took him awhile to get used to head coach Dave Fox’s approach.
“There was a big learning curve,” Fox said. “There was a little bit of a language problem, and learning some of the defensive parts of the game made it hard for him.”
Alin began to progress after the Christmas break, and was a major contributor for the Wildcats during their 10-0 run in the Southwestern League.
Fox said having Alin on the team gave him perspective on the way he coaches.
“I realized that there are times when we throw a lot at kids,” Fox said. “So working with him helped me to be patient and once he figured it out, his contributions were vital to the team.”
Arledge said the three foreign players helped give the other Bulldogs a unique experience.
“They didn’t make much of an athletic impact, but they made a huge cultural impact to open our eyes,” Arledge said. “We have kids who haven’t really been outside of Mesa County or western Colorado and they’ve gotten a new perspective on the world and that’s been really good.”