A Norwegian exchange student who speaks six languages has become one of the leading athletes at Coolidge High School in Northwest Washington.
During his first year at Coolidge, Jon Nicolaisen, a 16-year-old junior, excelled in track and field events and earned high marks on the football teams for his kicking ability.
Nicolaisen, who was placed at Coolidge High School by the Youth for Understanding program, arrived in Washington last August. He is one of the few white students at Coolidge.
"From the first day that he came to Coolidge, the students took to him right away," said one of his classmates, track and field star Tomi Rucker, who attributed Nicolaisen's popularity to his foreign background, his athletic ability and his engaging personality.
"No matter how many questions [he's asked] or how stupid they may sound, he's always willing to answer," said Rucker.
Shortly after Nicolaisen arrived, he tried out for the football team -- and found that it wasn't at all what he had expected.
"Soccer in Europe is called football, so I asked around about joining the football team," he said. It didn't take him long to discover the vast difference between European soccer and American football.
"When I saw the hard training, all that equipment and all those big guys hitting one another, I said to myself, 'This may not be for me.'" But he persevered, and after a short unsuccessful stint at running back, Nicolaisen and Coolidge coach Sam Taylor agreed that he was better suited for the team's kicking chores.
The agreement proved to be fruitful. Nicolaisen went on to score 26 points during the season, including a crucial 35-yard field goal in a win over rival Dunbar High that all but clinched the Interhigh West title for Coolidge. The Colts went on to win the league championship, an accomplishment Nicolaisen is especially proud of.
"It was the first time that I had been a part of winning something that big," he said. "Here I was being in a country for the first time and winning a football championship. It was really a memorable experience."
Following the football season, a classmate encouraged him to try out for the track team. As Coolidge boys track coach Perry Hairston recalls, "He said that he could perform in several events, but couldn't do any of them particularly well.He said he felt he could help the team, so I told him we'd be glad to have him."
Although football had been a novelty for him, Nicolaisen did know something about track and field. In Norway, in fact, he had ranked fifth overall for his age group in the decathalon. His older brother Per is regard as one of the top decathlon competitors in Norway.
"My brother used to spend a lot of time with me on techniques in the discus, the pole vault, the javelin, the triple jump and the hurdles," said the younger Nicolaisen (whose first name is pronounced "Yon.")
After a good indoor season, Nicolaisen peaked in the East-West Interhigh track and field championship, winning the West title in the pole vault, triple jump and the 110 and 330 hurdles. He didn't fare so well in the overall league championship. He won the pole vault, but finished thrid in the 330 hurdles and fifth in the discs and had to bypass the triple jump after injuring an ankle. Despite his untimely, Nicolaisen helped boost Coolidge to finish second overall in the championship.
Meanwhile, Nicolaisen has been no slouch in the classroom either. After some early language problems, he has gone from a 2.8 grade point average to a 3.6 this past grading period. "At first, I had a few problems with English. But by reading a lot of history and listening, I have improved a lot," he said. Nicolaisen, who already speaks Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, German and English, plans to study Spanish next year.
Nicolaisen is living in upper Northwest with Mr. and Mrs. Milton Lee, whose son Michael, also a junior at Coolidge, has been Nicolaisen's football teammate on the kicking squad. Nicolaisen's plans now are to remain at Coolidge for his senior year and, if possible, obtain a scholarship to attend college in this country.
His summer plans are to remain in the District to train for the forth coming football season.