Different but united

Chin athletes thrive playing sports that are nontraditional for their culture


Marissa Muñoz

Phunhra kaimi Van Dawt Lian in shot a lut maw lut lo ding a zoh. Amah lawng Laimi lektu an team ah a um.

Sophomore Van Dawt Lian and freshman Nicole Malsawmsangi both found the sports that they were interested in during the sixth grade. Years later, as a sophomore, Lian is playing for the JV boys basketball team, and Malsawmsangi, as a freshman, is cheering for the football team with the freshman squad. 

Although they play different sports, the trait they have in common the fact that both athletes are playing sports that Chin students don’t traditionally participate in. 

For Lian deciding to play basketball in high school was not a hard decision because he has been playing since he was young.

“I started playing in sixth grade because that’s when I noticed that I was taller than most kids,” Lian said. “From there, I switched from soccer, which is a sport that most Chin kids play, to basketball. Playing basketball just came naturally to me.”

Malsawmsangi also has been doing cheer since sixth grade, when she was convinced by her friends to try out for the team with them. The movies she watched as a little kid also made her want to try cheer when she became older.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve been watching cheer movies, and the movies inspired me to try cheer when I came to the U.S.,” Malsawmsangi said.

Nicole Malsawmsangi
Freshman Nicole Malsawnsangi cheers for the SHS fresman football team in the fall of 2019. She reperesents the Chin community for the squad.

Lian, on the other hand, received a lot of encouragement from his older brother, who also used to play basketball. Coming from a Chin family, basketball was never a huge part of his life, so training with his brother was his only option.

“He taught me most of the things that I know,” said Lian.

Like any other athlete, both students have motivations that drive them to work harder and get better. 

“When I see other people doing skills that I can’t, it makes me want to practice harder,” Malsawmsangi said. 

For Lian, his main motivation right now is to get into varsity by the time he becomes a senior.  

Although Malsawmsangi was the only Chin athlete on her team, she assimilated well and became a part of the team very quickly. 

“She’s a really fast learner so it wasn’t hard for her in that regard,” said Nicky Givens, Malsawmsangi’s coach. 

Malsawmsangi also agreed with Givens. Even when she was just starting cheer, she did not have a difficult time. 

“They taught us everything from the beginning and a lot of the other cheerleaders had just started cheer so there wasn’t any trouble,” Malsawmsangi said. 

However, for Lian, he had trouble playing basketball more seriously than playing for fun with friends. 

“We had our challenges in the beginning,” said coach Isaiah Cousins, Lian’s coach. “One of the biggest challenges was that he had never played around referees and teammates, so there were basic terminologies that he wasn’t aware of and used to.” 

However, Cousins says that Lian’s willingness to learn, his work ethic, competitiveness and effort make up for it. He also says, with continuous effort and learning, Lian will be good enough to move to varsity.

Even though the sports are not widely known among the Chin community, and their parents don’t know extensively about the game, the two athletes’ parents still support them immensely. 

“My parents are very supportive,” Lian said, “They can’t always come to my games because they have their own work schedule, but they always try.” 

According to Malsawmsangi, her parents, especially her mom, showed their support by driving her to practices even during the summer. 

She also hopes that more Chin kids will be open to playing sports that are untraditional in the Chin community. 

“There is a stereotype (that Chin kids can’t play all these American) sports, and I’m the only Chin person in cheer, so (people) get really surprised,” Malsawmsangi said. “So, I hope that if more Chin kids play non-traditional sports, the stereotype and surprise will end.”

Lian also wishes his participation may encourage Chin students to try new things.

“You shouldn’t be afraid to try new things because everything you do is going to receive some ridicule, so if you enjoy it and you like it, then just go on and do it,” Lian said.