Queens of the court
WEIRTON – Take a walk down the hall of any given high school and you’re bound to see a student texting on their cell phones. More often than not, you’ll see a teacher snatching a cell phone away from a student for texting during class.
Weir High juniors Barbie Sulimanova and Claudia Diaz don’t find themselves in that kind of trouble, though.
Finding them texting at all is a rarity in itself – believe it or not.
“Texting is tough,” Diaz said.
“Figuring out all the abbreviations is weird,” Sulimanova added. “There’s so many fake words with three letters, it doesn’t make much sense.”
The girls are foreign exchange students. Diaz, 17, hails from Spain and Suliminova, 16, is a native of Slovakia.
“I barely speak English,” Diaz said, although she is quite fluent. “Learning how to text in English is even harder.”
The skills they lack on the keypad and touch screens is more than made up for on the tennis courts.
Diaz and Sulimanova represented the Red Riders at the 2014 West Virginia state tennis tournament held in Charleston, last week.
As a doubles team, they advanced to the semifinals. Sulimanova was a singles finalist, falling to Oak Glen’s Madison Juszczak 6-3, 6-4.
She became the first Weir girl to make the state finals, and just the third student-athlete in school history. Mike Miller made it that far in 1965, while Chad Camp did in 2004.
“I was surprised to make it that far,” Sulimanova said. “I’ve never played in a tournament like that before. Almost every girl that was playing had the experience of playing at states before. And it was all new for me.”
She has played tennis most of her life. Before arriving in Weirton, Sulimanova was a member of a club team in her hometown.
Diaz played tennis as a kid before stopping six years ago. She then picked up paddleball – a craze sweeping her home country.
“It’s basically a mix between racquetball and tennis, though not like tennis at all,” she said. “Paddleball is really big in Spain and France. A lot of people play it in the South, here in the states.”
The girls have been in America since the beginning of the school year. They live together, with Bill Galloway, in Weirton.
“We’re like sisters,” Sulimanova said. “It wasn’t hard getting to know each other, but it was different. When you start living with somebody you don’t know, it gets weird.
“We got along great from the start, though.”
Sulimanova had some friends who were part of an exchange program in the past, so she was interested right away. Diaz’s mother suggested it to her, last year.
“I thought, ‘Yeah. Why not?,'” Diaz said. “It’s a great opportunity to learn more English and learn about a new culture. It was a chance for a great life-changing experience.”
Galloway hosts foreign exchange students every other year. For the 2012 school year, he had a boy from Belgium.
Unlike the United States, most other countries teach a foreign language at a young age. In Slovakia, kids will now learn English in first grade, although Sulimanova started in fifth grade.
“It begins with pretty basic words like the colors, numbers and alphabet,” she said.
Diaz learned English at an early age, too. She admits she could probably teach Weir High Spanish classes.
“I could,” she said, laughing. “But it’s a little bit different. Here, they learn the Latin American and Mexican-style.”
She is currently enrolled in English and French classes. Both girls are members of National Honor Society.
“They’ve taught me so much about tennis and about life,” said Red Riders coach Dave Thompson. “They are completely selfless. They didn’t expect to win at states. They knew they had to go down there and earn it.
“If they were able to come back next year, they’d be unstoppable.”
The girls will return to their home countries in July and graduate from high school in Spain and Slovakia, respectively. They each plan on returning here for college. In West Virginia, to be exact.
“I’d love to go to WVU,” Sulimanova said. “I’d like to try out for the tennis team.”
Added Diaz, “I’m hoping to earn a scholarship to play.”
Thompson speaks for the entire Weir High community when he says the girls will be missed.
“To come together so quickly in a short period of time is remarkable,” Thompson said. “Most of the kids we played against were playing doubles together for years. These girls truly were special. Seeing them do well at the state tournament was total icing on the cake.
Added Weir High athletic director Mike DelRe, “It’s hard to take a kid from, say, Brooke or Oak Glen and enroll them at Weir High. You take girls from halfway around the country and drop them here, it’s a lot to adjust to.
“They fit in right away; the students and teachers loved them. They had such a positive impact on our community and I think we impacted them pretty well, too.”
Diaz agrees. She’ll always have a home in Weirton.
“It’s all been so much fun,” she said. “I’ll definitely miss it here.”
They’ll just opt to Skype with their new friends.
Video-chatting might be easier than texting.