Thai student is finding his niche on wrestling team

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Fitting in at a new school is never easy. When you’re 10,000 miles away from your old school it can be a bit tougher than usual.

Boonsiri Nonthapan came to Peachtree City from Thailand at the beginning of the school year to live with the Eckley family and attend McIntosh High. According to Geno Eckley, the host family thought having a Thai student would make the transition easier since Eckley’s wife Sukanya is from Thailand.

“Our kids, although mixed, appear Asian,” said Eckley. “We also eat food that he was already accustomed to.”

While those were positives right off the bat, the language barrier and the culture in general still made assimilation in school a challenging task. Interestingly, the Eckley family has been in Fayette County a relative short time since moving from southern California, and they told Boonsiri’s family that the schools were the biggest reason for the move.

The teenager tried to join different clubs and make new friends but not much of it seemed to stick. Seeing the two Eckley children on the swim team, he thought a team sport would be a good idea. He likes basketball but ruled that out due to his five-foot-six-inch height.

Then he turned his attention to wrestling.

“Have you wrestled before?” Geno Eckley asked him.

“No.”

“Do you know anything about it?”

“No.”

But that didn’t stop him. As millions of people around the world do every day when learning something new, Boonsiri turned to the Internet – specifically to YouTube.

He picked up enough knowledge from his research to make the JV wrestling team at McIntosh. There were some eligibility issues due to his transfer from Thailand, and Eckley credited McIntosh athletic director Stacey Smith and her staff with going the extra mile to make it happen.

Under the watchful eye of wrestling coach Andy Smith and his assistants, the first-time wrestler was unbeaten the first month of the season, according to Eckley. Through hard work and early-morning practices, he not only succeeded on the mat but he also made friends.

“This experience has done so much for his cultural exchange, for him and his family and friends back home,” said Eckley. “He has truly experienced the American life as a student, contributed to his school and been a member of a team.”

Tanachai Eckley, a sophomore, qualified for the state swimming championships next month with his performance in the recent county meet. But the family is even more excited for what its newest member has accomplished.

“It’s so critical for any young person to feel like they belong to something,” said Eckley. “I hope this story can help other students as well.”