Ties to Croatia, family remain strong for Spirit standout Hunjak SOCCER

November 12, 1993|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

When Goran Hunjak was growing up in Yugoslavia, his father often took him to a park with a toy. Usually it was a soccer ball.

"If it wasn't," Vladimir Hunjak said, "Goran would see another kid with a soccer ball and try to take it away from him. From the age of 3, his favorite toy was a soccer ball."

Vladimir and Tonka Hunjak are here for a month to visit their only child, Goran, who has helped the Spirit to a 2-0 start in the National Professional Soccer League. The Hunjaks spend much of their time here fawning over their lone grandchild, Tanner, 9 1/2 months.

"I'd like to have our grandson in Zagreb," said Tonka Hunjak, who is retired after 35 years as a chef in an orphanage. "I'd like to pack him in my suitcase and take him home."

Since the Hunjaks speak no English, Goran served as their interpreter the other day at practice as he sat in the stands at Du Burns Arena with an ice pack on his sprained ankle. He is not expected to play in the games at Harrisburg and Canton the next two nights.

The Hunjaks live in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, a new country that was once part of war-torn Yugoslavia. They and their relatives are 200 miles from the war zone and watch war developments on TV, Goran said, "just as we do here."

"Nobody feels good about a war," Vladimir said. "We wish they would stop this tragedy and have peace and a normal existence."

Vladimir, who began working at age 13, is a construction worker, versatile and skilled enough to have built the family a summer home 30 miles south of Zagreb.

"He built it from scratch," said Goran's American-born wife, Gina. "He bought the land and built it little by little over 10 years. He did everything himself except the marble work, getting help with that from his brother."

From her trip to Yugoslavia with Goran in 1990, Gina came away with two strong impressions.

"A child, a 4-year-old, could walk to the store, even if it was a mile away, for bread and milk without her parents having to worry about her safety," Gina said. "And unlike here, a woman didn't have to worry about walking in a park alone at night. There was such a free, secure feeling over there then.

"The other thing I remember is the beauty of the land, the beautifully preserved buildings anywhere from 200 to 500 years old. Now, many of those buildings have been destroyed in the war."

Goran, who came here in 1988 and became a U.S. citizen last November, began playing youth soccer under programs sponsored by Yugoslavian pro clubs at age 10. His friends nicknamed him "Rola," Croatian for roller, because he was so good at rolling the ball with his feet.

"Tanner puts his foot on top of a ball and rolls it now," Gina Hunjak said.

Intrigued by the possibility of playing soccer in the country "which has the best indoor soccer in the world," Goran came to the United States. His parents thought he would be back in a few weeks. That was five years ago.

"They thought for a while they had lost their son," Goran said.

Now they have gained an American grandson.


Opponent: Harrisburg Heat

Site: State Farm Show Arena, Harrisburg, Pa.

Time: 7:35

Radio: WWLG (1360 AM)

Outlook: The Spirit is 2-0 after beating Harrisburg in its only preseason game, 12-7. The Heat won the I-83 rivalry last season, 5-2, including a two-game sweep in the playoffs. The Heat (1-2) is coming off Wednesday's 19-15 victory over the Dayton Dynamo. For the Spirit, the game marks the first of two straight on the road. Shawn Boehmcke, a rookie out of Loyola, may spell No. 1 G Cris Vaccaro this weekend. The game is the second of three in four nights for Harrisburg. The Spirit began a fund-raiser for Baltimore County police officer James Beck this week, selling tickets for its Nov. 19 home game against Harrisburg. For each ticket sold, the Spirit will donate $1 to a recovery fund for Beck, who was shot while on duty Oct. 31. He remains in critical condition.

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