There are plenty of inspiring sports stories in the scholastic ranks, but few may be as quintessentially American as the one authored by San Antonio (Texas) O'Connor High girls tennis star Mariana Rong this spring.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, Dallas Morning News and other Texas publications, Rong has transformed from a slightly out of place Chinese exchange student to a true Texas tennis star in the span of two years. In that time, the precocious senior has gained a refined knowledge of English, acquired a taste for Mexican food and Texas barbecue and, most notably, discovered that she has the talent to dominate on the tennis court.
The story is such a self-made story of seamless American integration it could practically double as a kid's cartoon movie, if a mouse were cast in the title role. Think "Fivel Goes West" with fewer toy guns and more tennis rackets and a slightly more academic bent.
While the food adaptation came more naturally, Rong's tennis dominance was made official earlier in May when Rong became the first O'Connor athlete ever to win a state title in any sport. The diminutive star rallied for a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 state title match victory against Southlake (Texas) Carroll High star Kelley Anderson to win the Texas Class 5A crown in front of a raucous O'Connor crowd that travelled from San Antonio to Austin while wearing shirts emblazoned with the slogan "It's Right to be Rong."
The cultural exchange hasn't just helped Rong grow, either; it's also helped the team she was a part of, according to her coach.
"She was family from the start, and the team really looks up to her," O'Connor coach Donna Van Auken told the Express-News. "She's changed us as much as we might have helped her."
Rong's grand American tale isn't done yet, either. The ever-optimistic teenager has accepted a college scholarship to play at Arkansas State starting with the 2011-12 school year, keeping her in the South near her mother, who is still in the process of conducting kinesiology research at UTSA. That's the project for which both came to the U.S. as part of a foreign exchange professorship granted to the elder Rong.
Now, the question is whether Marianna Rong will ever want to go back.
"Everything has happen so fast," Rong told the Express News. "I love playing tennis here. I had never seen competition like this before. It's just a great atmosphere. Everyone wants to succeed. You're part of a team. My teammates cheer me, and I cheer them. That was so different. I had never seen that before."