When Robert E. Lee High School’s varsity football player Etim Asangansi told Coach Darrell Piske last year he needed to miss a football game to perform at a Nigerian fundraising event in Dallas, the coach was not too happy.
“I was mad at him — we didn’t have a choice but to let him go,” Piske said recalling the request. “But he’s a good kid who gets on the field and works hard,” Piske said.
Asangansi, 17, is a senior who plays defensive end and works part time at the Racquet and Jog store in Tyler. On Tuesday afternoon, he relaxed for a bit at the field house and talked about the strong presence of Nigerian immigrants in the U.S. and about the experience of his Nigerian parents, Matt and Ketty, when they came to this country.
“It was a fundraiser for my dad’s high school in Nigeria and had been planned for years — I did some wrestling there (at the event),” he said.
The coach and other players teased him about it in a lighthearted manner — and still do sometimes. But the young man smiles when he talks about it.
The family, which includes an older sister, Katie, 18, is proud of their Nigerian heritage.
They belong to the nonprofit Oron Development Union, which meets in a different city each year to raise money for medical missions to Nigeria and scholarships for students there. In 2012, the event took place in Dallas, where young Asangansi wrestled. The organization takes its name from the town of Oron, Nigeria.
When Matt Asangansi, Etim’s father, came from Nigeria in the 1970s, he attended Alabama A&M University with the intention of playing football. But he soon found out about the definition of football in America versus the definition of football in Nigeria.
“I was shocked and surprised when I saw how big everyone was on the field and how they were wearing the equipment,” the elder Asangansi said with a laugh.
“I thought I was going to play what you call soccer in this country,” he said. He went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in food science and a Masters of Business Administration. After owning a medical supply business for himself for several years, he closed it and became a substitute teacher at Robert E. Lee High School.
But Matt Asangansi’s mood turns serious when he talks about the importance of education.
“I preach to my children they must take advantage of the educational opportunities here,” he said.
The younger Asangansi agrees.
“I don’t plan to play football professionally,” he said. He plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and become a nurse anesthetist.