Athlete of the Month: Perry Meridian’s Bawi’s soccer journey comes long way from makeshift goals

By Mark Ambrogi

Perry Meridian High School senior Joseph Bawi describes his soccer journey as being unlike most top Indiana high school players.

Bawi emigrated with his mother, Tawh Iang, and older brother from Burma to the United States when he was younger with his older brother.

“We didn’t have the financial freedom like others to join clubs,” said Bawi, whose family first moved to Georgia and then Indianapolis while in elementary school. “I would play in my neighborhood. We would make small goals with sticks. We cut branches off trees and put them in the ground.”

As the family developed more resources, Bawi was able to play with Alliance FC this past summer, his first club experience. His coach was Indiana University assistant coach Christian Lomeli.

“I learned a lot of stuff from him,” Bawi said.

Bawi, a striker who is starting his second year as captain, delivered 14 goals for Perry Meridian in 2020. As of Aug. 21, he has two goals and one assists in the first three games for the Falcons this season.

“Joseph is respected by all his teammates, mostly due to work ethic,” Falcons coach Machy Magdalinos said. “His success and growth on the field coupled with his academic success (4.48 GPA on weighted scale) in the classroom is proof of how well-rounded this young man is and his peers can see that.

It’s the moments when his passion and love for his teammates and the game are displayed through his words and his actions. It’s his selflessness and willingness to do anything to make both he and his teammates better. That is what makes Joseph Bawi special.”

Magdalinos said Bawi was dealing with swelling in his knees the entire season and would have to sit out of an occasional practice.

”There were some games and halves, when forced to sit and rest due to a rigorous week of two to three games,” Magdalinos said. “He was never happy about it, but it also never stopped him from coaching guys up on the sideline or encouraging our team to fight through their own adversity.  He would seek treatment, and get it taped up before every game to help. He never used his injury as an excuse, but instead used it as motivation. Since sophomore year, Joseph has been determined to be our first Division I soccer player and everything he has done in preparation of that goal will hopefully earn him the opportunity to do just that.”

Bawi said it was frustrating to sit.

“My blood was pumping, I wanted to go in,” Bawi said. “But you can rush the recovery process.”

After a few months of rest, Bawi said he was back to 100 percent.

“Sitting on the bench opened my eyes to different parts of the game and you need to really communicate to help your teammates out,” Bawi said.

Bawi said he is looking for different ways to attack offensively.

“I’m looking to be more unpredictable,” he said. “The hardest thing for a defender is having someone unpredictable coming at them.”

Bawi is also starting to get interest from Division III or NAIA college soccer programs.

“Being the first Division I player is a goal of mine, but you shoot for the stars and maybe you hit something else,” he said. “If I fall lower to Division II or III, there is still an opportunity there that I would never be able to imagine coming from my background.”

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The Bawi file

Age: 17

Height: 5-foot-11

School: Perry Meridian High School

Cass: Senior

Sport: Soccer

Position: Striker

College plans; Major in physical therapy or something connected in the fitness world.

Favorite way to relax: Watching movies and soccer games.

Favorite athlete: Cristiano Ronaldo because of his work ethic.

Favorite subject: Math

Mother: Tawh Iang