A brand-new U.S. citizen

By Lynn R. Parks

Tim Lee, born near Wales and raised in Buckinghamshire, England, is a brand-new American citizen. He was one of 64 people who swore their allegiance to this country on Dec. 2 in the United States District Court, Wilmington.
But Lee, 36, is not new to this country. The history teacher and soccer coach at Seaford High School left Great Britain at the age of 20 to attend Geneva College near Pittsburgh. Since then he has maintained residency in the United States. He has gotten married, had two sons and led his soccer teams to 104 wins in the Henlopen Conference.
"Obtaining my citizenship was not a high priority for me," said Lee. "All it would allow me to do was vote, but with everything else, I was all right. I paid the same taxes and had the same rights as everyone else."
But several years ago, something happened to change Lee's mind: The Seaford School District held a referendum. And the school teacher and father of two district children was not allowed to vote.
"I worked here," he said. "My wife worked here. My two kids were here. I owned a house here. But I was allowed no say in where my taxes were going. That angered me."
So Lee registered his intent to obtain citizenship, the first step in the two-year process. In November, he scored 100 percent on the 18-question test on American history and government - something he felt he had to do since those are the subjects he teaches in the high school - and in December, he was notified that his swearing-in ceremony was set to be presided over by judge Gregory M. Sleet.
"It was not really an emotional experience for me," said Lee of the ceremony that featured a welcome speech delivered by Virginia Trader of the Seaford chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. "I have lived here for so long, I really don't feel any different."
But come November, Lee will participate in his first American election. He has cast a vote only one other time, in 1982 when he voted for Margaret Thatcher for prime minister.
Lee's father, Brian, was a professional soccer player for the Portvale, England, team before being injured in a charity rugby match. He was named coach for the Wyckomb Wanderers, a semi-professional soccer team, and was director at Bisham Abbey, a national training center for athletes interested in competing in soccer, rugby, field hockey, lawn tennis or weight-lifting.

So it was no wonder that young Lee took to sports. At Reading Blue Coat, the private school he attended, he played on the soccer, rugby and cricket teams and at the club level in squash, tennis, water kayaking, rifle shooting, basketball, golf, track and field, where he specialized in high jump and javelin throw.
At the age of 15, teens in England can choose to leave school to pursue careers; those who want to go to college continue in secondary education for two more years. Lee, interested in a professional soccer career, left school. But "it didn't take off," said Lee. Of the ten or so men who tried out for the same team Lee was trying out for, only one was signed to play. "There were a lot of riots at soccer games at that time and teams were being required to make their stadiums safer," Lee said. "So there was not much money. I like to think that was why they did not sign me."
So, while playing for the Wanderers (his dad had left as coach by then), Lee pursued training in furniture making from Ercol Furniture, a London-based company that exports furniture all over the world. The four-year course covered everything from selecting suitable trees for wood to selling the end product. In 1983, his training completed, he approached the firm about a job in the business end of the company. But England was in the middle of a recession - unemployment was at 30 percent - and there was nothing for him. "We'll keep you in mind," he was told.
Meanwhile, Lee's older brother, Bryn, was traveling in the United States. "He visited up and down the East Coast and when he came home, he told me that America was the place for me to be," Lee said. The younger Lee had become interested in attending college but had discovered that it would take about six years of study to make up for the two years he had missed earlier. "Colleges in England are very competitive, more so than over here," he added. "Here, as long as you have the money, there is some college that will take you."
Through contacts with the soccer association, Lee connected with Chris Wright, coach of the Pittsburgh Spirit, an indoor soccer team that has since disbanded. With a promise that he could play exhibition games with the team and participate in summer camps, Lee chose a college nearby.
"I had never really been into academics," Lee said. "I was afraid that I would not be able to do it, and I missed home." But with the support of friends and professors, he succeeded. He graduated with a 3.0 average and was named to the Academic All-American team, based on grades as well as athletic performance, once; he was also named to the All-American team, based only on athletic performance, three times.
While at college, Lee met Kristin Borders, a 1984 Seaford High School graduate. They were married in June 1988 and moved to Seaford to be near her parents, Jake and Dolly. After working for Dover Mill Works, Greenwood, and at Sussex Central Middle School, Millsboro, Lee was hired as history teacher at Seaford High School in 1990. He became head soccer coach the next year.
"People ask me how I got to Seaford," Lee said. "I became a Christian when I was in college and I know why I am here. This is where God wants me. I really believe it."