Having moved to Whitehall from Ethiopia before his seventh-grade year at Rosemore Middle School, Daba Hordofe admits it took him some time to adjust to American culture and he still gets homesick.
Competing in athletics has been a valuable tool in his adjustment. Now a sophomore at Whitehall-Yearling, Hordofe has emerged as the top runner for the boys cross country team, and his performances continue to impress coach Robert Taylor.
"There's a big difference here," said Hordofe, who added he would like to return to Ethiopia someday. "There's a lot of changes here. I like it here, but I like Ethiopia better. It's different how they do sports here. We barely had sports competitions in Ethiopia. There's no sports competitions at school, maybe once a year."
Last season, Hordofe settled for 72nd in the Division I, district 2 meet in 18 minutes, 53.2 seconds. He then refocused his commitment in the offseason, with guidance from Taylor.
"He's a very competitive runner," Taylor said. "He's an outstanding runner. In running, he's two different people. Pre-race, he's hard to approach (and) he's distant from his teammates. He'll focus and meditate, thinking about the race. After the race, he's all smiles (and) he's friendly. He talks to his teammates. Before the race, he's so into his zone. It's really fun to see that."
With his father, Gudate, already living in central Ohio, Hordofe and other family members joined him as he prepared for seventh grade.
Hordofe had a strong track and field season in the spring and has carried that into cross country, earning medals in every meet.
"I knew he was going to be a good runner," Taylor said. "Track is when I got excited. He had a great year for a freshman in track."
Hordofe finished 19th (17:44.9) of 317 runners in the Saturday Night Lights Invitational on Sept. 2 at Centerville.
"That was one of my favorite meets," he said. "I like going there. ... Every time I go to a meet, I try to get a medal."
"That was a big race with a lot of strong competition," Taylor said. "He did really well there."
Hordofe was 29th (18:37.4) of 148 runners in the Erin L. Nance Fall Distance Classic on Sept. 28 at London Country Club as Whitehall finished 15th (377) of 21 teams behind champion Olentangy (55).
Yared Yesuf, also a native of Ethiopia, was 62nd (19:34.5), followed by Eyobong Ita (63rd, 19:36.1), Sam McQuate (119th, 22:24.3), Jordan Burchnell (120th, 22:35.5) and Carter Paddock (140th, 26:14.3).
Hordofe joined the cross country team last year upon urging from classmate Naeb Hailu.
"We told each other we were just going to do it for fun," Hordofe said. "He's the one who pushed me to do it. He talked me into running because I didn't want to do it. Now I'm having fun. I enjoy running. It's keeping me in good shape, and it's helping me with soccer and track."
Hailu has since transferred to Reynoldsburg.
With guidance from his parents, Gudate and his mother, Dumitu, Hordofe also excels in the classroom and has a 3.89 GPA. He says his favorite subject is math.
"He's an excellent student," Taylor said. "He's a very conscientious worker. I had him in (history) class and he got an A."
Hordofe also is a midfielder and forward for the boys soccer team, but Taylor believes cross country gives Hordofe the best chance to enjoy success in athletics.
Taylor said Hordofe's story is one of many bright spots in the school.
"Sometimes Whitehall's reputation is not always the best around the city, but when you work here and live here, you get to know these kids," Taylor said.
"There are a lot of great stories here. There are a lot of struggles and challenges to coach here, but it's rewarding when you get a team that pulls together and starts to figure things out, and they make a lot of progress and do really well."
Football team looks to build on win
The football team will look to build on its most impressive effort of the season when it visits Liberty Union on Friday, Oct. 4.
The Rams improved to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the MSL-Ohio Division with a 60-13 win over Grandview on Sept. 27.
Liberty Union fell to 0-5 overall and 0-1 in the league with a 21-12 loss to Bexley on Sept. 27.
Juvaun Blackshear rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Rams against Grandview. Ni'Kai Cameron completed 13 of 22 passes for 237 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and Christian Gordon had seven catches for 84 yards.
Charles Miller had a 51-yard touchdown run and a 77-yard interception return for a score.
Whitehall limited Grandview to 160 total yards while accumulating 592 yards.
"We had a great week of practice and we had some adjustments we had to make with personnel," coach Rod Lightfoot said. "I knew if our kids played together they could do something special, but I didn't expect 60 (points)."
Liberty Union had a 314-229 advantage in total yards against Bexley. Kobe Barnett scored on a 3-yard run and Cayden Carroll connected with Jack Brown for a 9-yard touchdown pass.
"I told the kids we have to build on what we did (Sept. 27), we can't take steps backwards," Lightfoot said. "We still have a lot of things we have to correct. The way this league is anybody can beat anybody any Friday."
Boys soccer team loses to Academy
After falling to Columbus Academy 2-0 on Sept. 25, the boys soccer team rebounded to tie Hilliard Bradley at 1 on Sept. 30.
Whitehall and Bradley both capitalized on penalty kicks late in the game, with Jesus Yanez scoring for the Rams.
Whitehall is 4-4-3 overall and 1-1-1 in the MSL-Ohio.
Goalkeeper Jared Alvarez had six saves against Academy and five against Bradley.
"We missed an opportunity to be in control of our league title hopes," assistant coach Geral Leka said.
"There are still three league games remaining."
Below are the coming schedules for the Whitehall-Yearling boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
*Oct. 5 -- Home vs. Worthington Christian
*Oct. 7 -- Home vs. Wellington
*Oct. 9 -- At Buckeye Valley
Oct. 5 -- At Zanesville Rosecrans
Oct. 3, 5 -- Division I sectional at Upper Arlington. The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to district Oct. 10 and 12 at Reynoldsburg.
*Oct. 8 -- At Worthington Christian. The Rams lost to the Warriors 25-11, 25-7, 25-15 on Sept. 12.