Osage tennis players share their experience as first-generation Americans
On the Osage school tennis courts this spring, English might not have been the first language you could hear.
It might have been Polish, Ukrainian or Russian or Armenian, but it’s as American a story as any.
Osage junior Mark Pankiv and his sophomore teammate Vladimir Nahapetyan teamed up as doubles partners on the tennis courts and won a district title together while helping their program win a district tag team title.
But that’s not all they share.
They are first generation Americans and are living examples and reminders of some of the ideas and principles that the United States is meant to represent – that people from all walks of life can immigrate to this country and thrive.
“It’s quite special to see how my parents grew up in a poor family, came to America and are living a pretty good life,” Pankiv said of his mother and father. “I admire them a lot because of everything they’ve been through. Their parents have been through a lot and it means a lot to me.
Pankiv’s father immigrated to the United States from Ukraine and his mother came from Poland. Pankiv, who was born in Chicago, said his parents met while living in the same apartment complex with his mother living on the first or second floor and his father being a little higher up. Meanwhile, Nahapetyan was born in the lake area, but his roots spread across the world as his father came from Armenia and his mother from Russia.
When kids came on the scene, after moving to the United States, parents naturally sought to make their children’s lives easier. For Pankiv and Nahapetyan, it all started with communication for first generation Americans.
In the first four or five years of his life, before moving to the lake area, Pankiv recalled that he knew just a mixture of Ukrainian, Polish and Russian, and in fact did not know any English. during his stay in Chicago. That quickly changed, but he’s happy to still have a mix of these dialects in his background.
“I was fluent and when I arrived here my parents were afraid I couldn’t go to school here. They put me in a small private school and I kind of forgot the language and I adapted to the English language, ”said Pankiv who also went through Marek (Polish), Marko (Ukrainian) or his nickname “Pancake” for fun.
“We have Russian, Ukrainian and Polish friends in Chicago and coming here to the lake I think learning English was pretty easy because I had childhood friends who could help me. What sucks is that I kinda forgot about these languages, but I still remember some things, which is pretty cool. I learned when you were a kid it’s so much easier to pick it all up because you learn to do everything. “
It was a similar story for Nahapetyan, who is also called “Vlad” or his Russian nickname “Vova” as his sister sometimes calls him.
“They taught my sister Russian when she was little, then she came to Osage and had speech problems, so they stopped teaching me Russian and started talking to me in English,” he said. said the sophomore who also started using much more English around the same age as Pankiv.
“The Russian I know is really gone and it’s been a while. They still speak Russian around me and we still hang out with some of our Russian friends, but that has definitely faded over the years.
However, learning different languages was not the only lessons given to Nahapetyan or Pankiv. Both of their parents also sought to ensure a solid moral upbringing that shapes their characters to this day.
For Pankiv, some of the lessons that followed were the value of hard work and a work ethic, as well as the importance of family, friendship, and his faith. The last of these, he certainly doesn’t take for granted.
“I think my parents made me a decent man. They built me quite well and are very Christian people, which was difficult in Europe, ”said the junior from Osage. “When my father was in Ukraine, Christianity was not allowed. His father, my grandfather, was arrested for reading the Bible. So he encouraged me to step into the gospel and learn that – the same with my mother too – that was kind of how they made me a better person.
“Christianity is something that they didn’t really force on me, but encouraged, and it shaped me a lot. The freedom to express it is really nice.
Nahapetyan said the idea of responsibility had been a major influence for him growing up, and that it played a role in his upbringing.
“The rigor of my father shaped me to become how responsible I am. I think I’m pretty responsible and on top of all my stuff, ”the sophomore noted. “All my homework and stuff, I take it pretty seriously.”
Read more:Osage Boys tennis sweeps through individual districts with singles and doubles titles
And, of course, taking care of academics allows Nahapetyan and Pankiv to enjoy the sport and all the bonds that have formed from it. In the fall, they spent time together on the field playing Indian soccer before hitting the tennis courts this spring.
“I really like being active and my whole group of friends here at school are pretty much the soccer team and the tennis team,” Nahapetyan said. “These are the really close friends that I have. They all come from the sports I play here in Osage.
The sophomore also thanked soccer coach Jason Long and tennis coach John Baumstark for making his sporting experience more enjoyable.
Read more:Osage Boys tennis dominate Salem for first district tag team title since 2016
“I really appreciate the coaches I have here,” he said. “Coach Long is new to the system and he has done wonders, I would say. He’s a fantastic coach and Coach Baumstark is new to the system and this is his first real year because of COVID. He did an amazing job and they both put us to work and shaped me to be a better player in both sports.
Pankiv also formed close friendships with his teammates Osage and Nahapetyan. He credits sophomore Alex Baklashev, also a first generation American of Russian descent, for helping him get started in football as a sophomore and he has close ties to the footballer. junior Veton Abazi, a first generation American with family from Albania.
But overall, he considers his teammates like a second family, and Baumstark got to see some of that this spring in his first real season as a tennis coach after COVID-19 canceled the 2020 season. said he enjoyed getting to know Pankiv and Nahapetyan and all of his players much better during his first year of teaching in high school where he can see them more often beyond their role as athletes.
“Seeing them off the court or the pitch and seeing the ‘everyday’ person instead of the player has been great. I feel like Mark, Vlad and I grew up after meeting them last year and losing our season, ”said Baumstark. “This year, having a full season and being together for two months with buses and commuter rides for our games, I feel like we have a great relationship and I feel like I’m the kind of coach who , if they need anything, they can talk to me.
“They are great guys, they work hard and they are good players to have on your team because they are going to show up and perform their best,” continued the coach. “They love to do it and are great teammates and it’s great to be with them.”
Now that the season is over and summer has arrived, Nahapetyan is eagerly awaiting a potential opportunity to visit his family halfway around the world. He has only met his great-grandmother from his mother’s side so far, as far as his extended family is concerned, but that will change with plans to go to Armenia. He also looks forward to future plans to visit St. Petersburg in Russia.
“It will be my first time there. I’ve never been there so it’s going to be a fun experience, ”Nahapetyan said of meeting more of her extended family for the first time. “It’s going to be fun to see them.”
Pankiv wants to visit his mother and father’s hometown in the near future when the opportunity arises and he is in fact the only member of his family who has yet to travel to Europe.
“It drives me a little crazy,” Pankiv said with a smile.
At the same time, he liked being in Osage and said the lake area was not such a bad place.
“It was great fun growing up here. I have to realize that this place is much better than others because I feel like I don’t like this place as much as I should, ”said the junior. “We have a lot of tourists who come here and say it’s a beautiful place.
“You know in Florida how beautiful the sunsets are. Even here the sunsets are really nice.
For now, he can maintain those ties by carrying on one of his grandmother’s traditions and cooking up a few favorite Polish dishes.
“My grandmother made food called gulompki and pierogi. The gulompki is a cabbage roll filled with meat and rice and the pierogi is a dumpling filled with potatoes and is really good, ”Pankiv explained. “It’s something that I would pass on to the next generation.”
And, this next generation and this country could be better for them – the opportunity to engage and share unique cultures and backgrounds – simply because some took a chance and moved to the United States to forge themselves. a better future.
Michael Losch is the sports editor of The Lake Sun. He can be contacted at [email protected] or 573-346-2132