In the Spring 2000 edition of the Mount Mercy Magazine, readers were introduced to Amir Hadzic, a native of the former Yugoslavia who joined Mount Mercy in 1995 to coach men’s and women’s soccer.
Now, nearly 20 years after Hadzic joined Mount Mercy’s staff and more than 10 years after this story first ran, Hadzic has achieved 150 coaching wins and built a legacy of success for the soccer programs at the university.
Hadzic has also been instrumental in recruiting international students since taking on the role of Assistant Director of International Programs and Student Services. This year alone, the men’s soccer team is composed of athletes from 17 countries, and international student enrollment continues to rise with 54 international students from 29 different countries enrolled for Fall 2013.
As the university celebrates its 85-year history and we look back on our past, please enjoy this flashback profile that recognizes Amir’s dedication to the university and his perseverance in overcoming the challenges he’s faced.
“War teaches you to enjoy the little things in life,” says Mount Mercy men’s and women’s soccer coach Amir Hadzic. Like watching the women’s soccer team score its first goal or guiding the Mustang men to the best season in school history? How about being on a soccer field without having to find shelter from sniper fire.
Hadzic was born in 1967 in Sarajevo of the former Yugoslavia, a religiously diverse society that hosted the winter Olympics in 1984. His interest in soccer came from his father, who played the game and was a professional official. Amir competed for the national youth team in the former Yugoslavia, semi-professionally while attending the University of Sarajevo, then for a professional team called FC Zeljeznicar in 1990. He planned on two or three years with them before a move for more money elsewhere in Europe.
Unfortunately, his future would be decided for him during Yugoslavia’s first free elections. War erupted in the early 1990s when Communism fell and new leaders promoted ethnic cleansing. Thousands of men, women, and children died. Hadzic escaped death several times, but some of his closest friends were killed. One day he went to the drug store for medication when he encountered an old friend who was leaving the store. They chatted briefly on the sidewalk before parting ways. Seconds later a bomb destroyed the front of the building. Hadzic survived, but his friend did not. “If our conversation had lasted five seconds longer, I probably would have been killed too,” he says.
In December 1994 Hadzic decided to escape Sarajevo. He packed two bags, trudged through a flooded tunnel underneath the city, and took a bus to the Croatian border on the Adriatic Sea. From there it was a ferry ride to Pula, a refugee camp about 50 miles from the Italian border in northern Croatia, where he earned a spot on a local soccer team and was able to make enough money for an apartment and some extra cash to send back to his family in Sarajevo. Pula was also where he met Iowa City native Amy Weismann, who volunteered at the camp for a year and a half teaching English and other skills to the refugees.
In July 1995 Hadzic was about to lose his refugee status, so he decided to come to the U.S. rather than be mobilized in the Croatian army. He stayed with his cousin in New York City for a month, then went to Chicago to surprise Amy upon her arrival back in the states. While spending time with her family in Iowa City, he successfully applied for the Mount Mercy coaching position—using his scrapbook as a resumé.
“I’ve gotten tremendous support from the Mount Mercy community,” says Hadzic, who lived on campus during the first two months of his collegiate coaching career. After seeing Hadzic use the windowsill as a refrigerator, his neighbors on second floor McAuley pooled their resources and bought him a fridge. “That gesture was a true reflection of the kindness and generosity here. I wouldn’t trade my experiences at Mount Mercy for anything.”