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Hadzic living the American dream

Amir Hadzic brings a perspective to coaching like few others.

In his first year as the Xavier boys soccer coach in 2007, his team lost a heartbreaker in the state tournament to underdog Norwalk when the Saints’ 13-year-old freshman kicker missed a game-deciding penalty shot.

Last year that same athlete, Charlie Bales, was an all-stater as a senior and led top-ranked Xavier to the first of its two straight state titles. A photo in his office at Mount Mercy University shows the coach and his star player in a happy embrace.

“It was a tough situation for him that first year,” Hadzic says. “But last year, finally, it all paid off.”

Living through war, as the Bosnian native did for three terrifying years, taught him both to savor life’s triumphs a little more but not to be distracted by small defeats.

“The one big thing I learned from war is to enjoy the little things in life,” he says. “Normal things we take for granted like a shower, going to a movie, eating ice cream.”

And while winning the Xavier boys’ fourth state soccer championship and his first was exciting, Hadzic finds the repeat victory in Des Moines two weeks ago even sweeter since it was accomplished by a less-heralded group on a team decimated by graduations.

Beyond his success on the soccer field over his coaching career, Hadzic is prouder still that 16 of his past players have followed in his coaching footsteps, with six of them leading Metro high school programs.

“To think that I have had some impact on young people, that is something that is very rewarding. And that’s why I love what I am doing,” Hadzic said.

At 43, the former war refugee owes much of what he’s become to a life-long passion for soccer; the sport, in Eastern Europe where he grew up, is almost as important as life itself. He began playing as a young boy in his home town of Sarajevo, a city of 600,000 people, in what was then communist Yugoslavia.

His late father, a land surveyor by trade, was a respected soccer referee. And during the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Hadzic hung around athletes while in high school as a translator for the American ski team.

“My goal was to become a professional soccer player,” he says. “And then to go onto coaching later at the professional club level.”

A brutal, bloody civil war in what had been a peaceful part of his home land changed everything.

Sarajevo, the capital city of what had become Bosnia, in 1992 was turned into killing grounds for the murderous Serbian troops of Slobodan Milosevic.

Hadzic had earned a college degree in economics while rising through the ranks from youth club soccer to a pro league. He signed a contract with F.C. Zeljeznicar as war broke out.

Before a peace accord was signed in 1995, some 200,000 Bosnians died in a war of ethnic cleansing and two million more were made refugees.

Hadzic escaped the horror in late 1994. He carried with him two small bags and a beloved scrapbook with meticulous hand-written details of every single soccer match he had played since the age of 11.

At a refugee camp in Croatia, he organized a youth team among the refugees and himself was recruited  to join the local pro team.  It was also there that he met Iowa City native Amy Weismann, a Bryn Mawr College graduate who was teaching English to refugees as a volunteer for a non-profit humanitarian agency.

As fears of war spreading into Croatia mounted, Hadzic again packed two bags (along with his personal journal documenting an even 500 soccer games over 15 years) and left in July of 1995 to join a cousin living in New York City. Soon after, he came to visit Weismann and her family in Iowa City. Through a newspaper ad, he learned of coaching vacancy for the men’s soccer program at Mount Mercy.

“I hadn’t planned on staying here at all,” he says now, in his 16th year as the Mount Mercy coach and his current position of coordinator of international student services.  “And all I had for a resume was my scrapbook. But (then athletic director) Don McCormick hired me anyway. I think he saw my passion.”

It has been an American dream come true for him ever since.

He and Weismann (who earned her law degree at the University of Iowa and is deputy director of the school’s Center for Human Rights) married in 2001 and have an 18-month-old daughter, Hana.  A naturalized U.S. citizen since 1995, Hadzic earned an MBA from Mount Mercy University last year.

Besides building the Mount Mercy men’s soccer team to new heights and starting the women’s program, he served as an assistant at Washington High School for three years and then put the Prairie High program on the map from 1999 to 2003.

“I couldn’t be happier with the way my life has turned out,” he says. “I’ve been able to touch a lot of young people's lives. That is what’s really important.”

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 28 June 2011 11:44 )  

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