The sound of cheering fans fills the crisp fall air as players line up on the field, preparing for the kickoff. The players stare each other down, counting down the seconds until the game begins.
Although high school football is a time-honored tradition in much of small-town America, it was a new experience for 17-year-old Malcolm Engstroem. An exchange student from Sweden, Malcolm has been attending Newton High School for the past year and has participated in several different sports.
He may be a long way from home, but he said he has learned a lot so far about American sports — and American culture.
"I thought it would be a good experience," he said. "... It's a different kind of mindset."
Malcolm originally is from Stockholm, Sweden, a city with a population of more than one million people. He came to the United States in August and will return to Sweden in May.
Although Malcolm wanted to have an opportunity to practice his English language skills and experience the culture, he said he was most excited about getting an opportunity to play sports in the United States, particularly football. There is some football in Sweden, but he said there isn't as much of a focus on the sport in Sweden as there is here in the United States.
Malcolm, who served as a defensive end, is only the second exchange student in Newton High School's history to play football. In addition to football, he has participated in the wrestling and track programs, as well as other school activities, such as ultimate frisbee and dodgeball.
"It's a lot of fun. You get to make a lot of friends," he said.
Malcolm got his chance to come to the United States, thanks to John Back, owner of Designs by John in Newton. Back is a placing coordinator for the International Cultural Exchange Services organization and looks through exchange student applications and tries to find ones that would be a good match for Harvey County. He places about 12 students a year.
Back said Malcolm turned out to be a perfect fit for Newton.
"His focus was on football," he said. "Our school needed extra football players."
Being an exchange student isn't always easy. Sometimes students feel homesick, or the fit with the host family isn't quite right. However, the students who have a good experience often become like a member of their host's family, and they come back to the United States to visit after completing the program.
Malcolm's father Felix Engstroem currently is here in the United States visiting his son, and he said so far, the exchange student program has been a good experience for his son.
Felix himself was an exchange student in Colorado when he was about 15 or 16, although he said he didn't have quite as good an experience as his son. He said he did not grow up in a stable home situation and was not raised the same way he has tried to raise his son.
Felix is now an actor in film and television in Sweden, and he has enjoyed getting a chance to visit a small town like Newton. In a large city like Stockholm, it's easy to feel anonymous, just another face in the crowd. Smaller towns like Newton are more open and friendly.
"You say 'hi' to people all the time," Felix said. "Coming from a big city, I kind of like that."
"I really like Newton," Malcolm agreed. "The size is pleasant. You don't have the big city (feel)."
Felix also has experienced more respect for his religious beliefs here in America. Although in Sweden, sometimes people are encouraged to do whatever they want or feel like, he said people in America talk more about what is and isn't moral.
"I feel like in America, the U.S. is much more open to discussions like that," he said. "I believe in raising your children and giving them values, like right and wrong. ... Here I can speak my mind, and there are many people that agree with me."
While Malcolm will be heading home to Sweden in a few months, he has considered returning to the United States to attend college, depending on if he is able to get a scholarship. Bethany College of Lindsborg and Bethel College of North Newton have both expressed interest in having him as a student.
Felix would like to see his son return to America in the future.
"We like the U.S. very much," he said. "... I would move here in a heartbeat if I had a chance."
For more information about the International Cultural Exchange Services program, visit www.icesusa.org.