Chris Wondolowski at São Paulo FC, June 20, 2014, in São Paulo.Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images
Tribal members leaned forward in their folding chairs in the final 10 minutes of the match, some wearing T-shirts with Wondolowski’s likeness, listening intently, then cheering when one of the ESPN announcers intoned, “Fairy tale for Chris Wondolowski, another player who’s really paid his dues in the game. The San Jose Earthquakes goal scorer plays in the World Cup.”
A shot of Wondolowski appeared onscreen as he prepared to enter the game, and the room erupted in cheers and applause.
“A half Native American and a member — Chris Wondolowski — of the Kiowa tribe,” the commentator continued. “He is on for the USA, a born goal scorer.”
Despite the mispronunciation of Kiowa, which rhymes with “Iowa” (it’s not KEY-o-wa), another round of applause and cheers. His fairy tale is theirs as well.
Among nearly 12,000 Kiowa tribal members, most of whom have never held much interest in soccer, 31-year-old Wondolowski is an outlier. However, his rise on the international stage has brought a newfound passion for the sport among his fellow tribal members and others in Indian Country.
“I’m a fluent Kiowa speaker. I’ve been all over the world. But I don’t understand soccer,” said Dorothy Whitehorse-Delaune, Wondolowski’s 82-year-old grandmother. “But for somebody that didn’t speak English until they were 6 and then having someone playing on an international team, and he’s from your family? It’s just overwhelming. Look how far we’ve come.”