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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Prep soccer: Mead’s Mohanad Lateef can finally be a kid again at 21

Mohanad Lateef has adapted well in the classroom and on the soccer field at Mead since emigrating with his family from Iran. (Dan Pelle)

At the age of 21, Mohanad Lateef can finally be a kid again.

His childhood was stolen years ago by poverty, religious persecution and civil war in the Middle East. Now he’s reclaiming it, joyfully, in the classroom and with the varsity soccer team at Mead High School.

“Spokane is beautiful, and so is this school,” he said through an interpreter.

The ugliness was finally left behind last fall. Almost a decade after they first sought refugee status, the nine members of the Lateef family were allowed to emigrate to the United States.

Before that, they endured sectarian violence in Iraq. When his dad, a Sunni Muslim, received death threats from rival Shiites, the family fled in 2008 to neighboring Syria.

Life was peaceful, but Mohanad had to give up schooling entirely while working up to 19 hours a day as a carpenter’s assistant. After Syria was engulfed by civil war in 2012, the Lateefs returned to Iraq. Mohanad and his family often slept in the streets until deliverance came in October through World Relief and the International Organization for Migration.

They were sent to Spokane, which has a tiny Iraqi community, but Mohanad has acclimated well. He’s been an eager learner in the classroom, according to Petronia Balcheva, a teacher in the school’s English Language Development program.

“I have been working with Mohanad on reading, writing, and speaking English, and some basic math skills,” Balcheva said. “He is bright and hardworking, but the fact he couldn’t go to middle school creates additional challenges for him.”

The language barrier created some challenges of its own on the soccer team, where Mohanad has helped the Panthers go 6-3 so far this season.

Coach Kevin Houston struggled to communicate with Mohanad until he installed a translator application on his phone.

“I typed in certain phrases that I keep stored on my phone, then I’ll pull them up,” said Houston, who said Mohanad has been a “really good kid and a hard worker” who’s also tried to adapt his game to Houston’s style of play.

Mohanad’s future is uncertain. Since he is 21, he will not be able to stay another year in the high school. Houston will help him register at the Adult Education Center on Monroe, where he can continue working on his language and eventually continue in the GED program.

And Mohanad still hopes to play soccer.