The Haiti-born Buffalo Excessive Faculty soccer participant performs quick
At first, Rev. Chuck Whited didn’t understand what was going on. He heard the loud crack of a wall and felt the floor sway.
Then he knew.
The 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed more than 100,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
Whited is pastor of the First Trinity Lutheran Church in the Buffalo suburb of Tonawanda. A few years before the quake, his church had begun missionary work at the Orphanage for the Children of Israel in Les Cayes, a seaport 120 miles from Port-au-Prince.
He and his wife Susan adopted two children from the orphanage in 2007, but they still had to bring them home by 2010. Miles of bureaucratic bureaucracy prevented this again and again. Chuck and Susan really wanted these two to join their four birth children. And every year there were tears everywhere when travel visas were denied again.
Then the earthquake hit. During these hectic moments, Chuck and his mission team led the children to the safety of the soccer field – a haven for open spaces away from buildings. This field had long been a different kind of refuge for his adopted son Wisken, who had spent many happy hours there playing with the other children.
The human toll of the earthquake remains incalculable, but one glimmer of light is this: The Haitian authorities said Lovelie, 11 and Wisken, 7 could finally leave for their new home in the United States. They arrived in Buffalo six days after the quake – and couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
“Since this is Buffalo, there was a lot of snow on the ground,” says Chuck of that January day. “They went to the back door, looked at the snow and just giggled. Then they went back inside to warm up, opened the door again, and giggled some more. “
Lovelie is now 22 and works in childcare. Wisken is 18 years old and a senior at Canisius High School, the defending Catholic state champion in football. He plays a broad receiver on the offensive and a corner kick and security in defense – and in special teams he starts, hits and kicks field goals and extra points.
“He rarely leaves the field,” said Bryce Hopkins, assistant head coach and specialty team coach.
On Saturday, Canisius will play St. Francis High School in the championship game of the local Catholic League. This ends a shortened spring season, this time there is no state title game.
An American sport wins
How Wisken got from that soccer field in Haiti to a soccer field in Buffalo is an American story. Soccer was his first love; All the children in the orphanage played it. And when he came to the United States, that love stayed with him until football won him over.
“No matter what kind of ball we gave him first – basketball, soccer – he kicked it like a soccer ball,” says his father. “Everything was a football.”
Then, over the years, Wisken could see how much Buffalo loved the bills. He really wanted to try American football. As an eighth grader at Christian Central Academy, he told his parents that he wanted to go to Canisius and play soccer there. His parents liked the Canisius portion for a faith based education, but his mother wasn’t so sure about the soccer portion.
“So many children are injured playing soccer,” she says. “You hear that.”
Wisken played soccer as a freshman, but never stopped bothering his parents about soccer until they finally let him try it out for junior university in his second year. At first he fought, trying to learn the rules and intricacies of the game. But he was instantly excellent at kicking; he had known for a long time how to do it.
Wisken joined the university team as a junior – and in 2019 he became the unsung hero of the national championship game. This was the last time there was one. Canisius defeated Cardinal Hayes of the Bronx (25-24) in the style of a storybook. Quarterback Tyler Baker hit receiver Nik McMillan for a 13-yard TD when time ran out and defenseman CJ Ozolins collapsed for the winning two-point conversion.
Cardinal Hayes had scored four touchdowns but made none of his conversions. Canisius scored three touchdowns – plus Wisken’s 28-yard field goal and his two extra points.
“It’s simple math,” says Hopkins. “Three touchdowns don’t beat four touchdowns without a wisken.”
Think of Canisius as kicker high, in the sense that Penn State is linebacker U. All three placekickers who continued Wisken played for Division I programs: Michael Tarbutt in Connecticut and Minnesota, Blake Haubeil in Ohio State, and Tristian Vandenberg in Ohio University. And recently Haubeil signed a free agent contract with the Tennessee Titans.
“Wisken was under a lot of pressure last year and followed in these guys’ footsteps,” says Hopkins. “But it’s like he doesn’t feel any pressure.”
A late start in football
Wisken played sparingly as a junior apart from kicking. But that spring he appeared as a senior as a force. He scored 27 points in a 63-0 win over rival St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute – nine for nine on extra points plus two touchdowns on receptions and one more on an interception. Canisius is # 1 on The Buffalo News’ major school poll, and Wisken is the team’s top scorer.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever had a kid who started playing football so late and was so successful,” said Canisius coach Rich Robbins. “It speaks to how hard he works.”
And not just in football. The instruments that his mother says he plays include the saxophone, tenor saxophone, piano, guitar, ukulele – and the drums for the Sunday service at First Trinity. “God has given him many talents,” she says.
Wisken will be studying at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he hopes to join a soccer team that ranked 18th in Amway USA TODAY’s coaching survey last season. And he has even higher goals. Ask him about Greg Rousseau, the Bill’s top draft election, whose mother and father are from Haiti, and Wisken has an answer.
“That’s pretty cool,” he says. “Hopefully one day I will be.”
That seems unlikely as Wisken is 5-11, 180 pounds.
On the other hand, his whole life was unlikely.
“I am very grateful for what my parents did for me,” he says. “I am grateful for you.”
And for his adopted home of Buffalo, where he learned to love this different kind of football.