Exchange Students Tackle Football, English In Oregon In Unity, Ore., the Burnt River Bulls play in the 8-man football High Desert League — and they often turn out their minimum number of players. But that's not the only challenge the team faces: The majority of the players are international — and they're still learning the basics of the game, not to mention English.
NPR logo

Exchange Students Tackle Football, English In Oregon

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Exchange Students Tackle Football, English In Oregon

Exchange Students Tackle Football, English In Oregon

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Madeleine Brand.


And Im Robert Siegel.

In the world of high school football, there are small town teams, and then there are the Burnt River Bulls from Unity, Oregon.

Mr. WAYNE WISE (Coach, Burnt River Bulls) Weve had eight on our team all year.

TOM GOLDMAN: And this is 8-man football?

Mr. W. WISE: Yes, thats correct.

GOLDMAN: So that means every guy is playing every down of every game.

Mr. W. WISE: Yes.

SIEGEL: Thats Burnt River coach, Wayne Wise with NPRs Tom Goldman. And numbers arent the only challenge facing Wise this season. Its also the fact that most of his players are still trying to figure out the basics of the game.

Today, as part of our high school football series, Friday Night Lives, the improbable story of the Burnt River Bulls.

GOLDMAN: Meet the team. Caleb Andrews, fullback, Hereford, Oregon. Justus Wise, halfback, Hereford, Oregon. So much for the easy part of the line up.

Mr. KAN BAKAI UCHKUN UULU (Left Guard, Burnt River Bulls): Uchkun Uulu Kan Bakai, left guard from Kyrgyzstan.

Mr SZU-YAO SU (Quarterback, Burnt River Bulls) Su Szu-Yao, quarterback from Taiwan.

Mr. JOVAN RADAKOVIC (Left End, Burnt River Bulls): Jovan Radakovic, left end, Serbia.

Mr. JU HYOUNG PARK (Right End, Burnt River Bulls): Ju Hyoung Park, right end from South Korea.

Mr. CEM ERDOGDO (Right Guard, Burnt River Bulls): Cem Erdogdo, right guard, Bremen, Germany.

Mr. BAN DU (Center, Burnt River Bulls): Ban Du, center from China.

GOLDMAN: Six exchange students have turned the Burnt River Bulls into a virtual U.N. in helmets and pads. These 15- to 17-year-olds plopped down in the Eastern Oregon town of Unity, population of about 120, for a crash course in rural America.

Like a lot of remote areas, Unity brings in exchange students to increase funding for schools, and for the cultural give-and-take with the locals. For the new boys, its also been a crash course in a sport they had never played.

(Soundbite of shouting)

Mr. W. WISE: That all looks pretty good. Looks a lot better than yesterday. Really good.

GOLDMAN: Better than yesterday, that could be a nice slogan for this team. The initial yesterdays were brutal. None more so says coach Wayne Wise than the Bulls High Desert League opener.

Mr. W. WISE: They didnt know what to expect the first game. Their mouths dropped open. And me and (unintelligible) just both tried to explain to them that they were going to get hit or hit somebody. Every play they werent going to be up against the blue blocking dummy. And they just didnt believe it, I guess, until the whistle blow.

GOLDMAN: It blew for the last time at the end of the third quarter when officials stopped the game. Burnt River trailed 50-6. The Bulls, exhausted and aching, were down to five players.

(Soundbite of whistle)

GOLDMAN: This week, practicing amidst sprinklers will work around them, Coach Wise said. The Bulls ran some offensive plays against no defense, thats all they can do with now nine players. They added a new guy this week.

Mr. GOLIAN TUNG GURAT(ph) (Burnt River Bulls): Golian Tung Gurat from Vietnam.

GOLDMAN: At times, they look like a real football team, though its safe to say they havent mastered the basics yet. Here, Justus Wise, the coachs son, tries to make sure everyone in the huddle understands the play will start when he shouts out the second.

Mr. JUSTUS WISE: Hut. 32.

Unidentified Man #1: Okay.

Mr. J. WISE: On two.

Unidentified Man #1: Okay.

Unidentified Man #2: On two.

Unidentified Man #3: On two.

Mr. J. WISE: You know what that means?

Unidentified Man #3: Yes, on two. Yeah.

Mr. J. WISE: Right. River, ready?


GOLDMAN: They leave the huddle and set to play with Wise still not sure that Chinese center Ban Du knows when to hike the ball.

Mr. W. WISE: Hut, down. (Unintelligible) count, set, put.

BURNT RIVER BULLS TEAM: (Unintelligible).

Mr. W. WISE: Yeah.

Mr. W. WISE: Thats right, weve done it. I said remember the count.

GOLDMAN: Ban Du forgot. But says Coach Wise, thats what practice is for.

BURNT RIVER BULLS TEAM: Congratulations.

Ms. Darla Derrick (Dorm Mother, Burnt River Bulls Team): Congratulations. How many?

Unidentified Man #4: Four.

Unidentified Man #5: Five.

GOLDMAN: There is practice after practice. Back at the boys dorm, a few 100 yards from the football field, they do their English language drilling with dorm mother, Darla Derrick. For several, including Ju Hyoung Park from South Korea, English is the toughest part of football - even more than hitting.

Mr. PARK: Almost I cant understand what they say, the coach say, and Caleb say. So, I dont know what should I do. So I embarrassed.

GOLDMAN: A lot less though after last Friday. Way ahead of schedule, the Bulls won. They beat a team with 19 players 14 of them exchange students, 24 to nothing. Wayne Wise, a perfect match for this team because hes never coached football before this year, called the turnaround, amazing. Ban Du put victory into a Chinese context.

Mr. DU: We are together. We are like many chopsticks together nobody can break it. So we are eight people, beat the whole team. So I think very proud of us.

GOLDMAN: Coach Wayne Wise says at seasons end, the Bulls wont be collecting any trophies, which is why he wants them to have fun and be competitive. With the numbers of kids dwindling in the already tiny town, this could be the last year for football in Unity. If so, what a way to go out.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.