When Matteo Procoppe came to Ann Arbor in 2014, he knew he would be in the United States for just four years. And, boy, has he made the most them.
The Skyline High School senior was born and raised 20 miles south of Paris until he was 14 in a town called L’isle Adam. When he came here, it was on a temporary visa, and he realized his time was limited. He knew no English when he entered Skyline as a freshman, but he knew how to swim, play water polo and make friends.
He has done all three with great aplomb during his time in Ann Arbor. And, soon he will go back home.
“Google Translator was a good friend of mine at first, but I’ve made a lot of great real friends since then,” said Procoppe, now 17. “But I couldn’t take Google Translator into the pool. So I just swam when they told me to swim, I didn’t know yardage, or anything. I just swam. I’ll never forget my first time on the deck of the pool. I couldn’t understand anything.”
Four years later, he understands everything.
Swimming has been a big help to Procoppe since he arrived in the States. And, this season, he just missed qualifying for the state meet in the 100 freestyle by 2/10 of a second. He will go to the state meet next week as an alternate, and also act as manager just so he can be around the team a little bit longer.
Since arriving from France with his father, J.P., his mother, Aurelie and siblings Ethan (a freshman swimmer at Skyline), Sam and Milla, he has loved his time on the swim team.
But water polo is where he has made his biggest splash.
He played water polo in France from the age of 7, and he was more than ready to take the pool by storm when he arrived in Ann Arbor. He was named Michigan’s Player of the Year in his sophomore and senior seasons, he made the All-State team in his sophomore, junior and senior years, and he has been named Ann Arbor’s Player of the Year from 2015-17.
Clearly, he has made the most of his time. He will move back to France in August with his family, and he says he will take back a pool full of memories.
“When I first came to Ann Arbor, I was really excited, but I didn’t know anything” he said. “I new about U-M and the yellow M, but I knew no English. I took five years of German in France, so I didn’t know a word of English.
“But these four years have been amazing. I’ve learned so much, and it was made so much easier because I was on the water polo team and a swimmer. Everyone was so nice to me right away. It is so important to be part of a team, especially when you are brand new.”
Indeed, he has learned quite a bit since he arrived in Ann Arbor. After earning a 2.2 grade-point average his freshman year despite not knowing English, he has worked to raise it to 3.6 today. He also is learning Spanish to add to his repertoire of French, German and now-flawless English.
He has done some travelling while in the States – both with his family and as a water-polo player.
“My family and I went to New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., it was fantastic,” he said. “And with Club Wolverine (water-polo team), we went to the Junior Olympics national championship in Los Angeles, and then San Jose, California.”
He is clearly close to his family, and speaks in glowing terms about the support they have given him in his aquatic endeavors.
“It’s always been real important to me that they came to all the events, especially when I first got here,” Procoppe said. “My whole family, my sister, Ethan, Sam, everyone would be there, cheering in French. I could hear them sometime, but just seeing them in the crowd, knowing they were there, meant so much.”
When the Procoppe family goes back to their home country in August, Matteo will be nearly ready to enter Aix-En-Provence, a college in southern France. He says he is ready to return and continue to play water polo.
“I’ve played my whole life, and I’m going to play on an adult club team,” he said. “It’s something I love to do.”
He says he will miss his many friends, whom he has made by being outgoing from the start.
“I would tell any kid not to be shy, just know that you’re in high school and you’re only going to do it once,” he said. “I’m going back to France in August, but I’m sure going back with a lot of memories.”