For a seventeen year-old, being 4,434 miles from home is not always easy. But for North Montgomery High School exchange student Marc Infantes-Mancebo, the experience of living in rural Indiana far away from his home city of Barcelona, Spain will be cherished for a lifetime.
Marc received word on May 3, 2022 that his application to study abroad had been completed and he had been assigned to a high school in Indiana. He admits he did not know much about the Hoosier state nor did he know what it was like living in a rural area.
“I suddenly received an email saying I was headed to Darlington, Indiana and will attend North Montgomery High School,” Marc said. “I was so excited and started to research on-line to find out what I could about this area. There was not a lot on the web though.”
Marc also discovered the name of his Indiana family, Dusty and Darsey Gardner and their 4-year old son Gabriel. It did not take long to get in contact with the family via email and FaceTime. And, it didn’t take long for the Gardner family to start liking Marc.
Marc is interested in sports and he wanted to get the total American high school experience. So he decided to play on the school’s football team even though he knew nothing about the sport.
“I wanted to play American football because we do not play that sport in Spain,” Marc said. “I decided this was my chance to play American football so I said “let’s go for it.”
Before Marc arrived in Darlington, Dusty Gardner contacted North Montgomery football coach Josh Thompson to explain Marc wanted to try playing football. The coach was immediately accepting to have a kid from Spain that knows nothing about the sport.
Marc flew into Indianapolis on Aug. 3 just five days from the first practice. Meeting the Gardner family for the first time and suddenly living in a small rural town was a lot to get used to. Marc credits his host family and the football team for making the transition come easier.
“I was nervous the first day because I really didn’t know what to expect”, Marc said. “But immediately the players and coaches were so nice to me. It was good for me to meet the guys and start making friends.”
Marc played a few varsity games, but most of his playing time came on the junior varsity. The wide receiver’s recalled scoring on a two-point conversion pass against Frankfort which delighted him and his teammates.
The thrill of Friday nights also left an impression on Marc. He said standing on the sidelines was exciting.
“I could not believe all the people that show up for football games,” Marc said. “We do not have high school sports in Spain and so I was amazed to see all those people come watch the games and how big sports is.”
When the Chargers defeated Danville this past season, Marc said the experience was surreal to him. He said the feeling of watching all the big plays that led to his team beating the Warriors was like he was in a sports movie.
“The Danville game was great. It was like watching a movie happen right in front of my eyes” Marc said.
Charger football coach Josh Thompson quickly became a fan of Marc.
“Marc is a great young man who added to our team with his enthusiasm,” Thompson said. “The players on the team welcomed him and included him as though he had always been with us. Numerous times the team would select Marc to lead us in the breakdown after practice or games.”
As the football season came to a close, Marc had to make a decision. He either was going to wrestle or play basketball. His teammates were campaigning for him to play the sport they would be participating in. In the end, he decided he should try basketball. He did know something about the sport since it is popular in Spain.
Marc, although a senior was able to play on the C-team. He also got some varsity playing time which endeared him to the Charger fans.
One of his favorite memories was scoring his first points against Crawfordsville. He drove right and launched a three-point attempt. It banked in and the whole gym erupted, even bringing cheers from the Athenian fan section.
“The basket I made against Crawfordsville was so much fun,” Marc said. “To hear everyone cheering for me was really something. I saw the recording of the game and I was surprised to see even Crawfordsville cheered for me.”
Charger coach Chad Arnold also became a Marc fun. From playing against him one-on-one at the end of practices and just having him around the team, the coach was happy to spend time around Marc.
“We really enjoyed Marc’s personality and how well he got along with others”, Arnold said. “He always listened and worked hard. He was our most improved player. We also learned he likes shooting the ball.”
Marc said it was not always easy being away from home. He did get homesick for his family. His father, mother and two younger siblings were able to keep in contact him. They would FaceTime frequently but there were times that seeing his family on a computer screen was almost was not enough.
“It was hard to see my family doing things and I wasn’t there,” Marc said. “I missed being with them during holidays and other times. I got really sick during Christmas and that was a hard time. But I got through it and my host family and friends helped me a lot.”
His host family has nothing but good thing to say about Marc. After being apprehensive to have another young person to look after, Darsey said it did not take long for Marc to become a part of the family. From church to family game nights, Marc has been fully involved.
“It has been great being a host family for Marc”, Darsey said. “My husband is the Spanish teacher at North Montgomery and he was excited to have someone coming from Spain. Marc jumped right into our family with both feet and has set the bar high if we decide to host future students.”
“Marc was prepared and has continued to be engaged with our family,” Darsey added.
For Darsey, one of her fondest memories will be how Marc connected with her son Gabriel. The two bonded immediately and have become brothers in every sense of the word.
“The boys instantly took to each other and have learned to play and respect each other,” Darcey said. (Gabriel) goes around telling everyone that his big brother is from Spain. Gabe even picked up Marc’s accent when saying football and it is adorable.
Marc will graduate with his Charger friends in May. He plans to go back in early June. He will leave with many fond memories like being crowned the Homecoming King and playing sports. He will remember getting used to American food and how surprised he was with how much fast food he has eaten with his friends while being in the States. But, above all things, Marc is thankful for the relationships he has made.
“I need to thank the Gardner’s, my coaches and everyone who has been so supportive of me,” Marc said. “I will always remember the friendships and I have learned Americans are very good people. I hope I can keep in contact with the friends I have made and I know I will come back someday.”
Marc decided to not play a spring sport, in fact, he says his organized sport days are over.
“I am officially retired,” Marc claims with the broad smile he is known for.
With the eventual return to his home, Marc knows he will miss his new family and friends. And, that feeling will go both ways.
“I am not quite sure what we’re going to do when it’s time for Marc to join his family in Spain,” Darsey said. “Gabe will be the most heartbroken of all, but our entire family will feel the loss, along with those around us that have interacted with Marc.”
Infantes-Mancebo was able to captivate the North Montgomery community with up-beat personality and the smile that would never leave his face. It truly was a match made in heaven.
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