Wheaton North senior Sunday Moo was named for the day he was born on 17 years ago.
But the best day of his life so far was Wednesday, Sept. 19.
That was when Moo became an American citizen during a naturalization ceremony at the federal courthouse in Chicago. It was the latest milestone in a remarkable odyssey both on and off the soccer field for Moo, who spent most of the first eight years of his life in a refugee camp in his native Thailand.
“It’s been a big achievement for me,” Moo said. “It’s been a long time.
“I’ve been here nine years and being a citizen means a lot to me and the whole family.”
Moo is the oldest of four children. His brother Wednesday, who is a sophomore on the JV team, and sister Paw Paw Hser fled war-torn southeast Asia with their parents and eventually came to Chicago before settling in Glen Ellyn and then Wheaton.
“For the first year it was pretty hard,” said Moo, whose youngest sister, Jasmine, was born here. “I didn’t know English until I moved to Glen Ellyn a year later.”
Moo eventually learned the language and adjusted to American culture. Soccer offered him a way to fit in, though it wasn’t until recently that he felt comfortable.
The Falcons have accepted their athletic 6-foot-2 center back. But they were unaware of what Moo had gone through until Wheaton North coach Rob Stassen explained the significance of citizenship.
“I don’t take anything away from these boys but they are in a bubble,” Stassen said. “I was explaining to them how important this day is for Sunday.
“They couldn’t comprehend. It’s like trying to talk to somebody about having cancer and you’ve never had cancer.”
Stassen, who emigrated from Ireland when he was 22, can relate somewhat to Moo. But even he is amazed by Moo’s tenacity.
“I came to this country, knew nobody, but I didn’t have to deal with a language barrier and I was coming from a First World country,” Stassen said. “The hardest thing for me was learning to drive on the other side of the road.
“Here’s a kid who has learned how to live again. It is a difficult country [in which] to do it, but to have this family come here from a refugee camp and do it legally and honestly with everything that’s going on in our culture and political stance, is amazing.”
After learning about Moo’s citizenship, his teammates made sure the 19th was special for the entire team. The Falcons had already scheduled a pasta dinner for that day, but senior Ethan Shikany had the idea for a USA cake and everyone chipped in to buy it.
“When they threw the party for me, I was in shock,” Moo said. “I was so happy. They’re a team that actually cares, and I love that.”
The Falcons obviously love Moo, who is an inspiration.
“It definitely humbles you to know that one of your teammates had it rough at a young age,” Shikany said. “He probably didn’t have the same opportunities when he first came but to be as good of a player as he is, I’m excited to see how far he’s come as a player and as a person.”
Indeed, Moo was nearly cut from the team as a freshman. He served as a backup goalie and forward on the freshman team, but later switched to defender and was brought up to varsity – against his will – midway through his junior season.
“He didn’t want to [be promoted] because he didn’t think he was good enough,” Stassen said. “We were in our pregame room and he looked like he was about to run out of the room.
“I said, ‘Everybody, stand up one at a time and say how you feel about Sunday.’ You listen to teenage boys that are on a wicked losing streak and yet they couldn’thave said anything more positive to Sunday. The look on his face [was] incredible.”
Up until then, some of the Falcons weren’t aware of Moo’s background.
“I didn’t realize he wasn’t a U.S. citizen until this year,” senior forward Alex Beausoleil said. “When I found out [about his citizenship] I was really happy for him.
“He’s a fun guy to be around. He’s one of my favorite people on the team and it’s a real honor to play with him.”
Moo’s strong play – he has four goals and has played lockdown defense – has helped the Falcons to their first winning season in years.
“He’s a great player,” said senior defender Jack Mancuso, who plays next to Moo. “He wins every tackle and he’s up in the air winning every header.”
Moo’s journey has had an impact on Mancuso.
“It’s really taught me to value being an American citizen and how lucky we really are,” Mancuso said. “Seeing where Sunday came from and I’m sure how rough his past was and how much he enjoys being an American citizen, it shows that we should value it more.”
Moo,who hopes to play soccer and study automotive engineering in college, does just that.
“I’m very lucky,” Moo said. “There is a lot [to the] role of being a citizen, taking part in your country. I really want to be part of this country.”