The St. Vital Mustangs’ recent provincial championship victory had a distinctly international flavour.
The team became the 2013 Midget Football League of Manitoba champions on Sat., Oct. 26 with a commanding 39-12 win over the North Winnipeg Nomads, the league’s defending champions, at Investors Group Field. The championship capped off a perfect 8-0 winning record during the regular season and a 2-0 return in the playoffs.
And while the Mustangs’ Brandon Sitch was named offensive player of the game, 16-year-old Dán Szatmári could have picked up an award for the longest distance travelled to be with his team.
Szatmári, who recently returned to his native Hungary, spent three-and-a-half months living and working in Winnipeg, which allowed him to turn out for the St. Vital-based team.
During this period, the teen stayed with close family friend Les Szeredi in downtown Winnipeg.
Szatmári has dual citizenship and was born in Toronto. Szeredi, a retired schoolteacher, coaches him in the national football league in Hungary (from March to July) and when the opportunity to stay in Winnipeg presented itself, Szatmári took it.
"He wants to improve his English and I helped tutor him while he was here in conjunction with his school in Hungary. He’s a good student and went to the gym almost every day he was here," Szeredi said, noting there is a chance the young linebacker could return to the city to attend St. Paul’s High School.
"He’s hoping to come to school here next year. He had a tour of St. Paul’s while he was here," Szeredi said.
"I’m very proud of him. He’s a great young man and an excellent person. If he keeps on working hard, the sky’s the limit."
Speaking from Toronto en route to his European home, Szatmári said winning the championship was an incredible experience.
"This was the first championship that I’ve played in and we won. It’s awesome, the best feeling ever. It’s hard to describe it," he said, noting his father, Joe, was at the game.
"All of my experiences with the team were positive. They were friendly and helpful from the beginning to the end. Everybody helped me a lot and I can’t thank them enough."
Despite a few notable differences compared to the game in Hungary, Szatmári relished the challenge of playing in Winnipeg.
"Football is different in Hungary, as we play four downs with 11 men. It is NCAA rules football. In the beginning, it was a bit weird for me, but I learned the basics are the same: hitting and tackling," he said.
"My numbers were not bad. I had 63 tackles, a recovered fumble, eight defended passes and a half sack. I’m a bit disappointed, as I know I could do better, but the championship game was my best game of the season."
"In August, I won the defensive player of the month in the team, I won the coach’s award and I was picked as an all-star, too."
Szatmári said his experience shows it’s important for young athletes to follow their dreams.
"Nothing is impossible. If you have a dream, work for it and you will achieve it. Just never quit," he said.
To learn more about the Mustangs, visit www.mustangsfootball.ca