Once in a lifetime

Published 9:09 pm Friday, April 10, 2009

Katya Seraya didn’t get into the game when Chilton County’s soccer game defeated Tallassee, 2-1, on Thursday, but for her, just being on the team is rewarding enough.

Seraya, 16, is a foreign exchange student who never would have had an opportunity to play soccer, or football, in her native Russia, where the sport is a source of pride and taken as seriously as American football is in the South.

After some hesitation, Seraya tried out and, to her surprise, made the team. But then a stack of paperwork required by the Alabama High School Athletic Association had to be filled out, and weeks went by with no word about her eligibility.

“How about a 3-year-old at Christmas time,” CCHS coach Dan Velasquez responded when asked about Seraya’s reaction to being told she could finally play with the team.

Then, on April 3 at Shades Mountain, Seraya got to play.

“She said, ‘Are you sure you want me to go in there?,” Velasquez said. “She was scared to death, but she did fine.

“It’s been a thrill having her on the team. She just appreciates everything—I mean from running laps to going in a ballgame. And she never complains. Never.”

Seraya has a magnetic personality and quickly became popular with teammates. In fact, the team threw Seraya a surprise birthday party, complete with presents and two cakes—one with “Happy Birthday” written in English and the other in Russian—after the Tallassee game.

“That was so fun,” she said. “They got [the Russian spelling on one cake] exactly right. I didn’t know they were going to do that. That was really funny.”

Seraya said soccer is her favorite activity in America, but shopping runs a close second. “If you’re going to take me to the mall, you can just leave me there,” she said.

“She goes to the mall, and I just have to put a time limit on it,” said Ken Segars, who, with his wife, Jennie, are Seraya’s host family. “She’s a shopoholic. That surprised me as much as anything. Our perception of Russia is kind of a gray, dark, cold world, but they’re just like we are in so many ways.”

Seraya also said the United States has taken some getting used to. A reliance on personal vehicles, for example, is much different than her hometown of Ussuriisk, where more people walk or use public transportation. Seraya said she gets carsick after riding a short distance.

Seraya has been here since August 2008 and will leave May 12.

“It has been an experience,” she said.