The future of Bilingual School may be in doubt, but there's no question the District of Columbia school for foreign-speaking students currently has one of the area's finest soccer teams.
Operating out of Lincoln Junior High School, Bilingual faces an uncertain future with rumors of budget cuts by the school board.
But the current soccer team is in excellent shape with the return of several veterans along with 13 new players
"We are a very strong team," said Coach Prospero Mauricio Torres, who expects Bilingual to capture the Interhigh championshp.
One of the reasons for Torres' optimism is second-team all-Met performer Amir Marques. He was the leading scorer for Bilingual last year with 15 goals.
"He has a nose for the goal. If you need a goal badly . . . he'll get it for you," said Learie Phillips, the team's academic advisor.
"I would like to be a champion again and get the opporunity to play in a higher league," said Marques.
Torres has verterans Miguel Bonilla, Rudy Mendizabal, Milton Siguenza, La Tona Yanover and Heber Letona, this year's team captain, returning. The team is depending on Letona to provide leadership.
Letona said that his main responsibilites are to talk to the officials if they make a mistake and to monitor the team's behavior on the field. Letona said it will take "a total team effort" for them to again win the Interhigh title.
Letona is considered the best defensive player on the team. "This is my orginal place (fullback)," said Letona. "I love it. I feel able to stop every forward."
Torres feels the strength of the team is the midfield, forward and goalkeeper positions. He was especially pleased with his goalkeeper, Yanover Letona.
Bilingual's main rival for the Interhigh crown is Wilson, which it beat, 2-1, last year to win the title.
Bilingual has an advantage over every team in the Washington Metropolitan area, because it's comprised totally of foreign-born players who have grown up playing soccer. Ninety percent of the players come from El Salvador. The rest from other Central and South American countries, plus Africa and the Middle East.
"The child is born with the ball between his feet," said Letona. Torres said that back in El Salvador, families that couldn't afford soccer balls would use rags to play with.
Torres feels he has an advantage over high schools with American-born players.
"The Central and South American players have very good skills," he said. He noted American-born players have good fitness, but poor technique on the field.
"One of the best ways to improve soccer is to teach to the little kids in junior high school. Soccer is not played in this area (D.C.) and it is most important to improve it."
Torres hopess the D.C. Department of Recreation, which conducts some soccer programs throughout the city, will start a winter league.
While Bilingual's players have few problems on the playing field, they face some problems "trying to cope" in a strange land. Many are homesick for El Salvador. "They miss El Salvador, even though they have a lot of opporunity in this country," said Torres.
Torres hopes that Bilingual can one day play teams from neighboring Maryland and Virginia, even Team America.
"We can beat them," he confidently said.