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Xiong is one of the guys

Their biggest fan

POSTED: July 19, 2014 12:00 p.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

Winder-Barrow soccer honors recent graduate Neng Xiong at the team’s Senior Night during April 2014. Xiong was also officially the “Fan of the Year” for 2013.

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Meet Neng Xiong. Neng is a recent graduate of Winder-Barrow High School’s special education program. He had two brothers at Winder with him this past year. Neng attended classes and walked the halls of Winder-Barrow just like everybody else, but there was something that set him apart from his classmates.

Neng Xiong is probably the Bulldoggs’ biggest fan.

For as long as anyone can remember, Neng has been at Winder-Barrow sporting events to support his team and his school.

“He’s been around a lot longer than I have,” Winder-Barrow athletic director Rob McFerrin said. 

“He just adds an excitement for everybody. For the coaches and the teachers and for the students who hear him and are around him” McFerrin added.

For his enthusiasm and his tireless kindness around the school, Neng was named friendliest in the senior superlatives for the 2014 school year by his fellow seniors.

“That’s just a testament to what the students felt about him, not just from the athletics standpoint but for how bubbly he is and what a great personality he has in the halls with everybody,” McFerrin stated, “but a lot of it comes down to the athletics. He just loves them so much.”

Whenever Neng and McFerrin would meet in the halls, the conversation would almost instantly turn into a discussion of when the next game was, what time it was, where it was and who it would be against, almost regardless of the sport.

“It adds that different level in the hallways, just how excited he is about any sport,” McFerrin noted.

While Neng has a passion for just about any sport involving the Double-G Doggs, his number one love has to be soccer. One reason soccer stands out above everything else is because Neng’s brother, Chue Xiong, played for the varsity Soccer Doggs.

As far as the team is concerned, Neng might as well be family for the way he supports the team on a constant basis.

“It’s a fantastic feeling for the guys that they have someone there supporting them no matter what. Walking through the halls of the high school, he’s constantly talking to the players about the schedule, when they have games, who they’re playing,” Winder-Barrow varsity men’s soccer coach David Karas said. “Being that soccer isn’t exactly the biggest U.S. sport and the attendance is nothing like football games isn’t exactly what you’d expect, just to know there’s someone out there who is following that closely is kind of a cool thing.”

Neng’s brother Cody has also spent time on the soccer team. Even still, with two brothers who have played soccer for Winder-Barrow, Neng’s love of the game goes far beyond the filial connection.

 “Neng is a pretty good soccer player himself, which is kind of a cool thing,” Karas pointed out. 

In addition to his own soccer talents, Neng speaks both English and Hmong fluently. He also has an aptitude for understanding the weather.

“I don’t know if it’s an ability or what, but he loves to talk about the weather. For like 30 days out, he knows what the weather’s going to be. He’ll say, ‘You guys have a game next Friday? It’s going to rain,” Karas laughed.

With so many of the team’s games being rained out during the 2013-14 season, Neng’s forecasting likely came in handy.

“What’s really cool to me is that he not only supported the guy’s team, but he was there for the program in general. He was there every game for both teams as far as I could tell.”

With all of his years of service as a fan and follower of Winder-Barrow soccer, the Soccer Doggs have twice now honored Neng as one of their biggest fans. At the end of the 2013 season, the team awarded Neng with an honorary plaque declaring him as the fan of the year.

During the 2014 Senior Night, they went one step more and made him an honorary member of the team by giving him a signed jersey.

“I do know that he really kind of relishes the fact that we recognized him. We gave him a fan of the year award and he talked and talked about that and really enjoyed it. At Senior Night this year, I took a jersey that we no longer wear and got all the guys to sign it and we gave it to him,” Karas mentioned.

For Karas and the Soccer Doggs, recognizing Neng as their most ardent supporter was an important moment in the season and in their lives if for no other reason than it showed them the value of giving back to those who give them so much.

“At the end of the day, as much as we put our hearts into soccer and get passionate about it, it’s sometimes hard to remember that it’s just a game,” Karas pointed out. “Having a fan like Neng, especially, helps you remember that there are more important things than soccer. It’s not only there to win or lose, but it can bring people together and it means something to them. 

“The fact that what we do with means so much to somebody else, that’s kind of a cool thing. And the guys have such a close relationship with Neng and they love to play around, so to make him happy makes them feel good, too.”

 The way that the teams and the students at Winder-Barrow adopted Neng and flocked to him especially made McFerrin proud and showed him the capacity that those students have for loving their classmates.

“It just makes you feel about kids with all the negatives you hear all the time about how this generation is selfish. It really gives you a renewed sense in this generation of kids how they’ve taken him under their wing and what they did at the last soccer game with the jersey,” McFerrin said. 

“And not just the teams. The fans all wanted to take pictures with him wearing his jersey. They really adopted him.”

After all of his time in the school and his years on the sideline, Neng will no longer be a student at Winder-Barrow. While students come and go every year, everyone involved seems to understand that Neng’s absence certainly will be felt.

“We’re all going to miss having him around,” Karas said, speaking of Neng almost as a member of the team. “I know the guys are going to miss him and he meant a lot to us. It’s going to be hard replacing a guy like that with his spirit and energy out there in the stands.”

For McFerrin, it will be most difficult not having those frequent conversations with Neng in the halls between classes.

“I think it will be noticeable. It’s one of those things going through the schools and you know certain kids and certain teachers and coaches aren’t going to be there, and you know it’s going to be tough to deal with,” McFerrin pointed out.

“Things change and things move on and everybody adapts, but it is definitely going to be noticeable without his presence and without him coming up to you in the halls and quizzing you on who we’re playing and what time. His presence with the student body, too, just how happy he is and how excited he is about being at the school…it’s going to be tough,” McFerrin added.

Even though Neng’s time at the school is done, his status as a super fan is never in question. As such, the odds are good that Neng will be there to cheer on the Doggs for quite some time.

“I I hope he’s going to be one of those fixtures at Winder. It makes his day and he loves being a part of it,” McFerrin said. “It means a lot to him, so I hope he and his family are able to make it there and to keep that a big part of his life for his sake as well as just kind of a jolt of energy and excitement for the student body at Winder…that extended family that he’s become a part of.”

“I suspect that he’ll still be around,” Karas said. “I suspect that he’ll still show up to a couple games.”

 

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