CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Tommy Hoang left North Carolina on Saturday as a legal alien. He returned Tuesday to become a hero.
Hoang scored a goal on a penalty corner at the 44:59 mark to enable his South squad to tie the East, 1-1, Tuesday night in a men's field hockey match played at the University of North Carolina.
Just hours earlier, Hoang had been met at the airport by his teammates after making a quick trip home over the weekend to be sworn in as a naturalized citizen.
"I am proud to be an American citizen," an elated Hoang said, "and want to thank all the people who helped me."
Hoang, a Westlake Village resident, has lived in the Conejo Valley since fleeing Vietnam with his family in 1975.
But the 20-year-old Hoang decided only last September to become a citizen. It was then that he began traveling for the United States internationally and realized he had a shot at the U.S. field hockey team in the Pan Am Games. But the first requirement for that team is U.S. citizenship.
Hoang nearly became a citizen two years ago when his father was sworn in. Citizenship granted to adults automatically is granted to children under the age of 18. But Hoang missed the cutoff date by two days.
What he didn't miss Tuesday night was an opportunity to beat East goalie John O'Neill for the game-tying score.
The East goal was scored by midfielder Don Warner 28 minutes into the game.
In the other men's field hockey game Tuesday, Alvin Pagan of Simi Valley had a goal and two assists, all in the second half, to lead the West to a 3-1 victory over the North.
"The first few days have been tough," Pagan said. "But tonight we kicked in. The first half had some scrappy play on the left. We came out in the second half and decided to shoot more to the right."
Thursday's semifinal round is now set. The top-seeded West (2-1) will meet the North (1-2).
The South (1-1-1) will face the East (1-1-1).