What I do When My Students Take Tests

Note: I believe I wrote this in 2014. I was administering a state mandated test to my students, and once I distributed the exams, there was nothing much for me to do, so I wrote. It’s an excerpt of something that has no direction. I guess it could lead into a bigger story, but I’m not in the mood to go there.

Well, it’s that time of the year again. These latest rants are a result of my currently having too much time. My students are taking a state mandated test. I’m simply here to make sure they don’t cheat. I sit at the front of the class, I watch, and I write. Today, no one cheated, and so this is today’s piece.

I’m nearing the end of my sixteenth-year as a high school teacher. It’s no milestone, I know. Many have been at it for much longer, especially here at my current school.

I’m not gunning for record-breaking longevity. I don’t want to be that teacher that gets to work at the same hour every day and parks their car in the same space every day. That’s not for me.

I never wanted to be a high school teacher, nor any other type of teacher, for that matter. I got into it because I needed money. What a joke, right? A guy needs money, so he goes into teaching. But this is no joke. I was cash strapped.

Here’s the long version of how I got into the teaching racket. In 1998, I was working as a graduate assistant in the English department at California State Los Angeles and earning a Master’s Degree in English at the same time. I worked mornings and afternoons, and took all my classes at night. I was paid $857.00, a month for my services. I had moved back into my mom’s house that summer, so what I earned was enough to cover my monthly expenses, but just barely. I needed a little more, so to supplement my salary, I pimped out my labor services to all the English professors with whom I worked. I had gotten to know them fairly well, dining and attending parties with them and ordering all their books and supplies and doing odd jobs for them around the department. Mrs. Harris, a linguistics professor, invited a few of her students to her house for a May Day Party. At one point, we all stood around her mistuned piano and sang The Internationale.  It was a different world for me, and I liked it.  My presence probably gave them a glimpse of a different world, too, and I think they liked that aspect of it as well. I mean, c’mon, how many guys do you know that did time in L.A. County prison, twice, and earned a Master’s Degree in English? Yeah, thought so.

My first supplemental gig was for Ms. Benjamin. She paid me to rearrange everything in her detached office in the foothills of La Cañada. It was a rickety wooden shack of an office, camouflaged by trees and foliage and painted in the therapeutic colors red, orange, and yellow.  The only thing that kept it from falling over the cliff was the giant oak tree it leaned against. Inside, she had books everywhere. They were on the floor, on desks, on top of other books. She also had vases and candles and stereo equipment scattered throughout. It was a disaster, but I got it all in order for her. I also cleaned her roof gutters and fixed whatever else needed fixing around her house. She paid cash, and I used the money to get drunk in Old Town Pasadena with my girlfriend. Well, soon, Dr. Benjamin spread the word, and soon after that, I had all the professors lining up to get a piece of my Mexican labor.

Ms. Watkins paid me to take down every book from the library shelves in her Pasadena home. I dusted them and re-shelved them according to subject. I also cleaned and polished the shelves and washed her windows from the outside. She was a real bitch, though, picky about everything. Her inspection of everything I did was the reason I never returned. I never took any of her classes, either. In fact, I don’t even know what she taught.

Mr. Lee was a professor from China. He taught the Modern American Novel.  We read Ragtime and The Book of David and The Jungle and some other novels I can’t recall. He was a decent professor. We never really did much other than discuss the significance of the novels and their relevance to the modern world. It was pinky up kinda stuff, but it was part of the game, so I just played along.

There were only about twelve students in each of my classes. I was the only Mexican, not that this matters, but it was a little obvious to me. All classes met in the same room, whether it was the Post-Colonial Literature course or the Wordsworth and Coleridge course or the Proust course. The room was more like an office, and at its center was a long, wooden table that could seat about twenty-students. The professors always sat at the head of the table, usually hidden behind ridiculous stacks of papers, books, and bags that he or she never looked at or touched over the course of the three-hour meeting.  We’d sit there from six to nine discussing what we read, if we read it. On some nights we immersed ourselves in passionate debate over metaphors and symbols and motifs, while other nights were simply torture.

There was always that one attention-whore in the class with about twenty-seven key chains dangling from the zipper of her patent leather purse. And she was always late. We could hear her coming down the all from the parking lot. The sound of the chains was our signal to stop what we were doing, sit back in our seats, and wait for warden to take her seat. There was usually a snob in each class, too, the one that read everything, including the Forwards.

Will, this is all for now. The kids are done testing. They hate testing as much as I do. I have yet to tell them that every test they take in this class is completely irrelevant. I think I’ll wait till Friday.

Salinas’ Most Shameful Day: February 21, 2017

The term “Sanctuary City” is used to describe any city in the United States which intends, within the legal realm, to shelter and protect its illegal immigrants. Sanctuary Cities also do not allow the use of city money or city resources to help with the enforcement of federal immigration laws. In California, examples of counties that host sanctuary cities include Contra Costa County, Los Angeles County, Orange County, and Santa Cruz County, to name only a few. However, not every city within a county is designated as a sanctuary city. In most instances, a vote between city council members must take place.

Well, on Tuesday, February 21, 2017, such a vote took place. The Salinas City Council struck down a motion that would’ve labeled Salinas a “Sanctuary City.”  Seven votes were cast: three were in favor of becoming a sanctuary city. The other four were not. Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter voted against making Salinas a sanctuary city, as did council members Steve McShane, Kimberly Craig, and John “Tony” Villegas.  Again, seven votes decided the fate of thousands of illegal immigrants living in and around Salinas, immigrants responsible for making a select few very, very rich.

Those who voted against the motion cited a threat made by President Trump, warning sanctuary cities that they would lose all federal funding, including funds that help pay for police and firefighter services, court services, school resources, infrastructure repair, and transportation.  Salinas receives approximately 10 million dollars annually from the federal government. Four of seven felt the threat of losing federal funding was too great. So losing the approximate 2.2 billion dollars a year made off the backs of immigrants is a lesser threat? Oh, but there’s more money involved, still! Illegal immigrants contribute nearly 500 million dollars to California’s Social Security fund, a fund that they themselves will never have access to because they are not citizens. But four city council members saw it fit to ignore these numbers.

Now, I’m trying to do my best to mask the disgust I feel towards these four council members who voted against sanctuary city status, who, in essence, voted against protecting the very people, the workforce, responsible for making Salinas one of the richest cities in the world. Who, essentially voted to give ICE a green light in Salinas, to break up families, and to hunt vulnerable, hard-working immigrants, to put Salinas’ workforce into hiding. Who gave them this power? Oh, we did, by not voting, or for voting for the wrong people.

Si Se Puede

Let’s talk money and numbers, because if immigrants are to gain any leverage, it’s going to have be the sort of leverage that hurts local government in the places they will feel it most: their pockets. How the could anyone in their right mind ignore the fact that lettuce alone, in Salinas, brings in an estimated $869, 447,000, or that strawberry crops generate $861,438,000, or that broccoli cashes in $423,006,000, per year? And are you also going to ignore how these crops get to market? And who picks these crops and readies them and packages them for delivery across the U.S.? Immigrants do, and, in many cases, these people are illegal!

According to the National Agriculture Workers’ Survey (NAWS), “Approximately 48% of farmworkers lack work authorization. However, this estimate may be low due to a variety of factors. Some sources estimate that as much as 70% or more of the workforce is undocumented. Using these estimates, roughly 1.2 million to 1.75 million farmworkers are undocumented and roughly 750,000 to 1.3 million farmworkers are United States citizens or lawful immigrants. According to the NAWS, about 33% of farmworkers are United States citizens, 18% are lawful permanent residents and another 1% have other work authorization.” (www.farmworkerjustice.org). These four poorly informed, out of touch council members might as well have lined us all up to slap us in the face because this is exactly what it feels like.

The best thing we can do to get gain the upper-hand is to boycott. It can prove difficult, but it’s a very productive means to an end. Let the crops rot and see what happens. We can grow our own food. In fact, we should be doing this, anyway. Let us not spend money where we don’t have to. Instead, save more. More rainy days are on their way. Finally, vote! Every Latino that has the right to vote must exercise this right! If you do not vote, sit quietly on the sidelines because you’re right to say anything is sealed in your refusal to vote.

I am a teacher, and many of my students are immigrants. Their parents are immigrants, and their grandparents are immigrants. Most of their families work in the agricultural industry, in many capacities. My students, themselves, put in long, summer hours picking raspberries, strawberries, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, and celery. They know the drill. It’s hard work! They deal with heat, cold, rain, sun, snakes, rats, poison. They tolerate this because they need to make a living—the main reason why they’re here in the first place—why they risked their lives. This and to give their kids an education, something which their parents never had a chance at receiving.

Here is my final thought: the Salinas City Council should be ashamed of themselves. I find it hard to believe that these people, if one can call them people, could go home and eat well and sleep well, knowing that they just voted to throw Salinas’ entire immigrant population under the proverbial bus. Where’s the heart when we need it most? Where’s common sense when we need it most? Holden Caufield said it best as he got the hell out of a place he did not want to be: “Sleep tight, ya morons!”

My Immigrant Parents and Their Immigrant Hearts

My mom came to the U.S. with a sixth grade education.  As a teenager, she got a job at a lamp manufacturing company in El Monte, California. It was there where she met my father. He, too, arrived from Mexico in his teens. They did not speak English.

Both my parents, through their own experiences, quickly realized the importance of education, as it pertained to success in America. My mother enrolled in adult school and learned English. I remember being with my father as he dropped her off and picked her up after class. We made fun of her accent, but she took it all in stride and never stopped learning. She took various exams and earned the licenses necessary to work as a secretary. She began her first real American job with the Los Angeles Unified School District Office on Soto St, near El Sereno, and as soon as she could, she helped her three younger siblings get jobs with the same district. Two of her brothers still drive buses for the LAUHSD. This is what family does.

My mom worked in the district’s Transportation Department, in charge of making sure the school bus schedules were properly coordinated and executed. She was excellent at her job, and after thirty-plus years, she retired. She owns a beautiful house and a nice car. She has some money put away, but more importantly, she is incredibly healthy and vibrant. She has always been one of my most important role models.

My father enrolled in high school, graduated, then joined the U.S. Army and fought in the Vietnam and Korean Wars. He learned to cuss and smoke weed in the Army, but he also learned how to be warrior. Upon his return from combat, he enrolled in college abd earned an A.A. Degree from East L.A. City College, and much later, after retirement, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Cal State University San Marcos. For over thirty-years, he worked as a machinist for Chevron, and later as a plant operator for Southern California Edison. He was a true blue-collar man, but he was also a Renaissance man. He taught me to fish, hunt, fix cars, and to persevere, all the things he had learned.

After nearly twenty-years of marriage, my parents divorced. I was eighteen. My brother was fifteen, and my sister was twelve. Nevertheless, throughout their lives, my parents provided for everything my sibling and I needed, and looking back, I know it was not easy.

I have memories of my mom paying for our groceries with color-coded Food Stamps. I pitched in, too. I remember finding packets of tortillas in a trash can our neighbor left behind after he moved and bringing them home to surprise my mom. We got a lot of hand-me-downs from cousins and friends, too. There was no room for pride then. We weren’t in a position to be choosers.

But yes, my parents provided. These two lovely, caring, old-school immigrants, complete with their Mexican values and their Mexican souls provided my sister with a private school education and a Bachelor’s Degree. Like my mother, Erica purchased a beautiful home on her own. She bought herself a nice car, and now, along with her magnificent husband, are raising my beautiful niece Sigrid.

My brother, also with the help of our parents, graduated from Cal State University Monterey Bay. He is a teacher and athletic director at a local high school. He is a successful coach, and he is active in the goings on of his school and community.

As for me, my parents helped get me through school, too. In fact, everything I have in life comes from my immigrant parents. My life could be much different had they not had the opportunity to prove their worth to this county, to contribute immensely to the fabric of this county, all while adopting American values, American norms, and the American way of life.

This country is currently home to millions of immigrants, all eager to prove their worth and to contribute greatly to the continued greatness of this country. All they know is work and perseverance. All they need is a chance. A chance to put their kids through school. A chance to earn college degrees. A chance to coach and change the lives of youth in their communities. A chance to provide leadership and to show the world that they are invaluable to America and everything she stands for. A chance to find peace and happiness in difficult times.

Green cards provided some mobility, but it was their gaining American citizenship that truly made them feel a part of America–American!

America is an immigrant nation. Do not allow anyone tell you different. The very paper containing the words that govern this country comes from immigrant labor. In fact, it would be impossible to drive one mile without pointing at something that was not created by immigrant hands. Long live the Immigrant! Arriba La Raza! Arriba los Estados Unidos, amigos!

Pops: A Life of Love and Perseverance

The following is a piece I read in tribute to my beloved cousin Pablo Cisneros. He passed away one-year ago, today. I miss him something awful, but I carry him in my heart.


Good morning, everyone. My name is Mark Cisneros, and I’m Pablo’s cousin on the Cisneros side of his family. I want to begin by first giving a big “Thank you” to everyone who has come together to celebrate Pablo’s life and for making this time of mourning as easy as possible for his wife Adriana and Pablo’s two girls, Briana and Alyssa.

I have to say that I was blown away by the outpouring of love and respect I saw at last night’s viewing. It was beautiful to personally see Pablo’s massive group of friends pay their final respects and to hear many of them share memories and experiences they had with Pablo. What the Kamayatsu and Cisneros family has seen over the course of the last few weeks has done a great deal to lift the collective spirits of both families, as we have witnessed firsthand what Pablo and Whoski’s Barber Shop means to his friends and to South El Monte. We are hopeful that Whoski’s Shop will continue to represent South El Monte as a place where locals and those beyond can get a fresh cut, a laugh, and, as Jamie said, even a beer. Your support is proof that Pablo did not pass in vain. Again, on behalf of Pablo’s family, thank you.

To many of you, Pablo is known as Whoski, but to me, he is Pops. Pablo was born in 1977. When Pablo was a one-year-old, I started playing little league baseball. It happened that I was put on the Pirates. At the time, in professional baseball, the Pirates were one of the best teams. Their team captain was a guy named Willie Stargell. He was a big guy, and he was always laughing and trying to take the serious edge off the game for his teammates. He was loved by both his teammates and fans, and he was well-known throughout baseball as being a player that fought for the greater good of his team and as a player that never gave up. His teammates called him “Pops,” because he was like a father figure to many on the team. Pablo, even at a young age, reminded me of Willie Stargell, and like Willie Stargell, Pops was left-handed, too. So I started calling him Pops, and then many of his Cisneros cousins did the same, and the name stuck. This is why Pablito will always be Pops to me.

As it turned out, Pops actually grew into these qualities. Like his Aunty Erica said to me last night, Pablo was a “hard luck” kid, and she’s right. Pablo had every excuse to fail and amount to nothing. He missed out on much of the love and attention that a father should bestow on his son. He could’ve gone down some bad roads and gotten into real trouble, but with the love and support of his mother Diane and his step-dad Art and his extended family, Pops did his best to stay on track. It wasn’t easy for him. There were many bumps on the road, but despite all the setbacks he experienced, Pops, in his own way, continued to push ahead. he persevered, and this is a lesson we can all learn from him. His willingness to persevere is a vital part of the legacy he leaves behind for his two girls and for everyone else that thinks that dreams can’t come true. He kept at it and kept at it and did not deviate from his dream. This is something we can respect in any person.

I talked a good deal with Pops. We were always close. I was really proud of him when he decided to get his barber’s license. We would talk while he was attending barber school, and he expressed worry about passing the test. Then he finally did, and he started working as a barber. I made it a point to visit every shop he worked at. Some of the shops were literally boxes cut into a wall with two or three chairs. I remember he worked in one shop where everyone who worked there spoke Spanish, and he didn’t. And he’d make fun of them and say, “All these fucking paisas do all day is watch soccer.” But there he was, trudging along and cutting hair and doing his thing, and I could tell, even as he stood there looking a bit unhappy at his current surroundings, that his dream of owning his own barber shop was never far away.

And then it happened! He called to tell me, and I could tell he was ecstatic. He told me he was still unsure as to what to call it and he was playing around with a few names. “Whoski’s” was one of them. Now that I think back on our conversation that day, I’m pretty sure he was, in Pops’ kind way, asking me if it was ok if he called it Whoski’s, because he knew that I loved him and that he was “Pops” to me. I assured him that he no choice but to call it Whoski’s because it was the name his family called him by and because it was a unique name. I think he was happy to hear me say this.  Later, he called me to talk about the shop’s logo and we bounced ideas off of each other. The next thing he knew, Whoski’s was open for business!


I knew that when Pops cut my hair that I had to put aside about and hour and a half for him to finish. As I sat in his chair, we always took the time to catch up with each other, to talk about our families and our daughters, to talk about our siblings and parents and Disneyland and the Lakers and anything else we could think of. Sometimes he would spend ten-minutes trying to find a movie or a game on T.V. He would stand there with the remote control in his left-hand and the hair trimmer in the other, just flipping through channels until he found what he wanted.

But Pops loved his job! It involved everything that was dear to his heart: talking smack all day, barbers capping on each other, laughing, eating, watching sports. It was his home away from home. It was his sanctuary. I was happy to see him happy, and this is how I am going to remember him. I’m going to miss him like crazy, and my life won’t be the same without him, but just as he has taught me, I have to keep pushing along. He would want this for all of us.

It would be hard to find a more loving man than Pops. He loved everyone in his family, and despite the distance between us, he never skipped a beat when it came to showing affection and happiness to see his family. He talked a great deal of his daughters. The last time we spoke, he expressed concern about Brian’s education because South El Monte High had gotten in trouble. Her well-being weighed heavily on his mind. Alyssa brought added joy to his life, and she kept him on his toes. She was a daddy’s girls and she was always after him. He was tired a lot, but he always had time for his girls. He did all he could to make their lives as happy as possible.

Even when he talked about his father Pablo, Sr., there was no outward animosity or hard feelings. His father was absent for a lot of his life, but he he loved his father and expressed great interest in traveling to Mexico to see him. I think this particular episode sums up the love that Pops is blessed with. He had every reason to resent his dad, but he didn’t. He looked past all the negative and focused on the positive. This is perhaps the greatest thing I respect about my cousin. He learned how to love and much of it he learned on his own.

I just want to share one more fun fact: It’s no secret that Pops was a huge Lakers’ fan, and as a fan, he’s seen the best and worst of times. Currently, the Lakers are really, really bad, probably the worst in the league, but last night, on the evening  of Pops’ wake, the Lakers beat the Warriors in what is already considered one of the greatest upset in the history of the NBA. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I’m sure Pops was sitting court-side to watch that one.

Again, I want to thank all of you. I feel that I’m close to all of you simply because you know my cousin, and so we are all part of the same circle of friends that center around a loving and caring man. I love you, Pops. Rest in peace, Primo. I will miss you beyond words.

Preview: Alisal vs. Watsonville


Aficionados of high school soccer get a chance to kick off the new year with an early bang, as Alisal visits Watsonville for what is set to be a scintillating match between the two storied and nationally ranked schools. Kickoff for J.V. is set for 5:00 p.m., while the Varsity match begins at 6:45. Both games are at Watsonville.

Topdrawersoccer.com has the Wildcatz ranked at #10 in the nation, while the Alisal Trojans sit ten steps down at #20. However, as sports fans know, rankings can be grossly miscalculated. The Trojans are holders in the Gabilan League, winning 3 out of the 4 league championships since the super league was created four-years ago. The Trojans have also enjoyed consistent dominance over Watsonville. In eleven meetings going back to 2010, Alisal has been victorious six times, including a 1-0, win over the Wildcatz in the 2010 CCS Championship. In the process, the Trojans have only lost twice to Watsonville. However, league dominance has not translated into State Section Titles for the Trojans, as Alisal has fallen in the first round of the playoffs in the last three-years, while Watsonville has earned a Co-Champion piece of the last two State Section Championship.

The past is the past, of course, and both schools are dialed in for the January 3rd match. Alisal has done it’s best to construct a solid preseason schedule, traveling to Los Angeles in December to take on the nation’s best schools, and they did not disappoint. Alisal beat perennial powerhouse Paramount, 3-1. Two days later, they traveled to Loyola, who just weeks earlier had been ranked #1 in state and #2 in the nation. The Trojans beat the Cubs, 1-0. In their final match in L.A., the Trojans took on another Catholic powerhouse in Cathedral. The Trojans dominated the Phantoms but managed only a point in the 0-0 draw. In all, the Trojans have compiled a 5-2-1 preseason record.

With wins over North Salinas and Aptos, to name a few, Watsonville’s preseason schedule has been light in comparison. Nevertheless, the Wildcatz remain undefeated and have not conceded a single goal in an impressive 400 minutes of play. Offensively, Watsonville is led by senior Francisco Gonzalez, an experienced and intelligent attacking player who has netted three goals in their preseason run. For now, the Catz will lean on their defense and will seek to continue their solid defensive form against the Trojans. Not to be outdone, however, Alisal, too, has been solid defensively, having not conceded a goal in over 320 minutes of play. The Trojans have been led by senior captain Eduardo Miranda. Miranda has been impressive in his final year, and with the supporting cast of Manny Figueroa and Alfonso Hernandez, Alisal has proven difficult to breach.

In short, Tuesday’s match should be doozy, as it is packed with league, championship, and CCS implications. A win for either school can secure a spot in the driver’s seat, putting early pressure on the other teams in the Gabilan League and even pave the way for a number one seed in the Open Division of the CCS playoffs.

My 2016 (Briefly)

I enjoyed my 2016. Like any other year, it was comprised of certain highs and certain lows: tragedy, death, prosperity, failure, pain, regret, success, growth, fatigue, and newness. However, I was in no way ever bored. In fact, I have never been bored in my life. My mom even commented on this once. “Sabes, mijo, que nunca te a oÍdo decir que estabas aburrido. Es una cosa impresionante. De hecho, yo te ha comentado cuando estabas chico que yo estaba aburrida, y tu me decias, ‘Como puedes estar aburrida? Hay tanto que hacer. Leer un libro. Ve por una caminada. Ve andar por bicicleta.’” I immediately thought back on my life when she told me this, and it was true. I was always involved in something.

Anyway, back to 2016. My cousin Pablo died. He passed exactly one-year after opening his own barber shop in South El Monte where we grew up. It was his dream, and he made it happen. He called it “Whoski’s!” It was the nickname given to him by his parents. He was Japanese-Mexican, and he was all pure heart. I was over the moon for him when he opened for business, and when I was in town, I always got a chop at his shop. He was like a little brother to me, and I loved him exactly like a brother. His death was the lowest point of my year. I miss him immensely. He now joins my cousins Jimmy and Hago. They were both young, too, and I miss them immensely, as well.


I have regrets. I regret not spending more time with my family in Los Angeles. They’re five-hours away, but life is relentless in wedging itself into every crevice of time, and so I’m left with the regret of not seeing them as often as I’d like. I will try harder this year, for sure. I need to see my niece way, way more! At some point, I’m going to have to be her soccer coach. I need to see my cousins, too. I’ve become too predictable in their absence. I need to regain the insanity they once provided for me. Good times!

I regret not seeing the other many people who are important to me. There’s Robert, Mario, Roy, Joe, Mando, Dr. Koon, Maggie, Susan, and Julie. I always say I will. I will not make any more excuses for myself. Again, I will do my best.

I have seen my daughters grow, and it has been wondrous. You could erase every part of my life before them, and I wouldn’t care. They are my life, now, and they keep me on my toes. Every thing I do is for them and through them. This will not change.

My wife Guen is the fine wine of our household. She has become better at everything she does, and she does it all with a positive attitude. I am lucky to have her, as are my girls Xaria and Iris.

My job is as good as a job can get. If I didn’t have to work, I wouldn’t, but since I do, Alisal High School is where I want to be. I love my students, and I know they love me. We need each other. They keep my young and up-to-date on all the latest slang, drugs, music, and curse words. I owe them a lot for this.

My soccer team has also been a constant for me in 2016. They have enjoyed relative success, and they have remained mostly happy and driven. There are always setbacks, but this is essential when coaching any team. In fact, it’s necessary. As always, we learn a great deal from every loss and failure. Fortunately, this hasn’t been a patter for us. We will continue our success well into 2017. I will do my best to see that they are successful in as many facets of their lives as I can. I love my boys!

My mom and her health has been a godsend. She continues to run and hike every day, and she has implemented Cross Fit into her regiment. I feel small around her, as she has the physique and health of a lioness. I both envy and admire here drive. I hope to inherit more of this as I age. She is graceful in this regard.

I’ve gained a few pounds this year, too. It’s only temporary, as I will, again, get back into shape. It’s just a matter of time (I hate time).

My brother and sister are doing very well, too. Juan continues to climb his personal ladder of success at warp speed. He’s great at every task he commits to, and he is humble with praise. Erica continues to be a great mother to little Siggy. She has embraced motherhood and committed herself to raising an upright girl. She is experiencing the challenges of raising a kid, and she is doing very well. I am proud of her. Of course, she has a great partner in my brother-in-law Michael. He’s a beast of a father, and Siggy is incredibly luck to have him as her father. I love Mike, too! He’s super cool.

I won’t eye-roll you with much more, but I should acknowledge that 2016 is ending for me on high note. As some of you know, we took our Alisal team to L.A., and we had an incredibly successful soccer tour there, beating some of the nations top teams. We did not concede a goal while we were there. But the high note comes from the rallying support of so many people that invested in my boys and donated the funds we needed to get our team there. It was breathtaking in every sense of the word. There was help from family, alumni, lawyers, doctors, teachers, friends, and radio stations, and strangers. It was remarkable to see so many people come together and invest in our cause.

A special thank you goes to Marcia Bonilla, who got the OC Blues to donate thousands of dollars worth of professional soccer gear and uniforms to our boys. I will be sharing some of it with Alisal girls’ team, too. Thank you, Marcia! Another special shout out has to go to NPR’s Krista Almazan. Krista’ All Things Considered aired a piece on the boys, and the response was amazing. Because of Krista and her show, the boys raised nearly $18,000, in three days! This has caused us to pleasantly redirect our philosophy when it comes to helping our soccer players with their SAT and ACT fees, as well as with college application fees. In short, the good people that helped my boys have opened new doors for them, and now it seems that most anything is possible for them.

I will forever be thankful to every person that donated to the team. I wish I could personally thank every one of you. Maybe 2017 will allow me this.

Anyway, thank you, 2016! You were everything I expected and then some. I look forward to meeting 2017. I’m sure she’s (I don’t know why she’s female) got a few tricks up her sleeve, as well.

Peace and Prosperity to all of you who! Be good!

Don Marco,

El Poeta de la Gente

Float Like a Butterfly/Sting Like a Bee

My dad was a huge boxing fan, and I was always with him when the big fights were on. This was during the 70’s, when pay-per-view did not exist. The ABC network ran all the fights, live and for free!

I stood in awe before all my favorite pugilists. I watched Lupe Pintor, Alexis Arguello, “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, Leon Spinks, Sugar Ray Leonard, Pipino Cuevas, Carlos Palomino, and Salvador Sanchez. I watched them like a kid watches his favorite cartoon, but when it came to my all-time favorite, when it came to the one boxer who, for me, stood above all others, the one who was my hero, the one I wanted to be like, and the one I never wanted to see lose, it was Muhammad Ali!

When Ali fought, it was like watching a novel come to life, in motion, and Ali was the author. He, of course, was also the protagonist. I held my breath during each  three-minute chapter, and I used the one-minute break in between to catch my breath again before having to dive in once more to be taken over by his grace and power. This was art not imitating life. Ali imitated no one!

And just as every good novel has a voice, a narrator that holds our hands and leads us on the way, well, so did Ali’s. His name was Howard Cosell, and he was in possession of the only voice capable of narrating, with clarity, logic, and drama, the elevated glory and tragedy of Ali’s bouts. He was as reliable a narrator that ever existed, and, for me, these two men became one.

As a kid, with the exception of Thurmon Munson, the New York Yankess catcher who died in a plane crash, most of my heroes were Black. They were mostly athletes, too, but Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were also just as important to me. The fact that most of my heroes were Black was probably because I simply didn’t have access to Mexican heroes.  They weren’t emphasized in school. They existed, as I know, now, but I didn’t read about them. They weren’t on television. School didn’t teach them, either. Cinco de Mayo was as Mexican as my school got. I learned more at home when it came to the subject of great indigenous and Mexican heroes. I had Ali, though, and he was all I needed.

Ali was and still is my greatest hero. He changed the “sweet science.” He injected pugilism with humor, and he didn’t take himself seriously, although he was as serious a fighter as there ever was. He was political, and he had a voice, too, never shy when it came to speaking his mind or speaking out against injustice or war. Yes, he went to jail for not wanting to fight in America’s war. Most know this, and a few still hold this against him. They’ve never been trapped in a ring, one-on-one versus a another giant who is doing all he can to bring them nearly to death. Ali made his living in this manner, for years, until one day, he lost. And he lost again. And he lost again.  Smokin’ Joe Frazier was the first to defeat Ali. Ali had won 32 straight fights before his loss to Frazier. He would go on to lose to Ken Norton, Leon Spinks, and Larry Holmes (2), amassing a record of 56 wins, 37 by Knockout, and 5 defeats.

I watched till the bitter, ugly end, until the greatest and most consistent fighter ever, Father Time, decided that Ali’s career had to end, that the final chapter had to be written. Well, it was written, and as the book closed, so did my faith in boxing, not because I was disappointed in my hero, but because I knew there would never be another Muhammad Ali.

R.I.P, Muhammad Ali

Adrian Serrato: A Story of Character


As a fourteen-year-old kid at Alisal High School in East Salinas, California, Adrian Serrato earned a spot on Alisal’s freshman basketball team.  At the turn of his sophomore year, however, Adrian made a life-changing decision, a decision made on his own and out of his heart. He would forego basketball and instead tryout for the Alisal Soccer Team. From that point, Adrian never again played basketball.

Adrian was an excellent basketball player, too. In fact, he’s good at every sport in which he competes, for he is an athlete in the most accurate sense of he word. Adrian could’ve excelled in badminton, lacrosse, frisbee golf, or water polo, and he most likely would earned the league’s top honors. These sports would come easy to him, but Alisal doesn’t field teams in any of the sports. Instead, as soon as Alisal’s soccer season comes to an end, Adrian immediately transitions into the two other sports he loves. With a solid 3.2 GPA in tow, Adrian competes in varsity tennis, a sport he picked up as a sophomore, and track and field, another sport he picked up as a sophomore. As a tennis rookie, Adrian reached the league championships twp-years in a row. In track, he raced in the 100M and 200M events, winning more than a handful of heats. As a senior, he finished as one of the best sprinters in the league. He had no prior track experience. He had no prior tennis experience. Had it not been for the commitment the Alisal Soccer Team demands of its players, Adrian could’ve perhaps even played basketball and soccer concurrently. But Adrian committed himself to soccer, and his dedication to the sport has earned him much praise.

All of this is impressive, but it’s not the most impressive thing about Adrian. This story centers around Adrian’s character: the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. In addition to his athletic prowess, Adrian is also blessed with an abundance of character. Its origin is not hard to trace, as his mental and moral fortitude is likely a reflection of the mental and moral toughness possessed by his parents.



This past 2015-2016 season, the Alisal Trojans, competing in what is considered one of the most difficult soccer leagues in the nation, finished as the undefeated Gabilan League champions. For those not familiar with high school soccer, this must seem rather inconsequential, but even minimal research could help understand why this is significant. Watsonville High School competes in the same league. They, too, are a nationally ranked team, traveling the nation and competing in some the most prestigious tournaments in high school soccer. They have also won countless DI State Section Titles over the many years of their existence. Alvarez High School, one Alisal’s fiercest rivals, also competes in the same league. Alvarez is situated only three-miles from Alisal, in a modest part of the city decorated by track homes and trees. They are even within walking distance of a Starbucks. For geographical reference, Alisal is situated in the heart of East Salinas, an enclave of Salinas with the contemptible honor as being one of the most violent cities in the nation, per capita. There is no Starbucks. There are other tough teams in the league, and they would all like nothing better than to defeat Alisal. It hasn’t been easy for them. Ever since this super league was created four-years ago, Alisal has won three of the four league championships, two coming off undefeated seasons.


Fast forward to the end of the 2015-2016, season.  Adrian was the unanimous coaches’ choice for Gabilan League MVP. He was named to the Monterey All-County First-Team, and he was named the The Californian All-County Player-of-the-Year. He made the front cover of the local newspaper, and he represented Alisal in the Monterey County All-Star Game. In short, it was a fine senior year for Adrian. With all the accolades and with still loads of untapped potential, Adrian was set to follow the paths of so many other soccer players in Salinas, players that ride into the sunset, content with the fleeting thrills of playing high school soccer. Deep down, though, Adrian wanted more. As his coach, I knew he deserved more.

With the help of Jazz Rodriguez, a salinas native and now Los Angeles transplant, a trip to an ID Camp at San Diego State was set-up for Adrian. Rodriguez has strong connections with many college coaches. The camp was set to take place just one week before Adrian would “Walk the Line” at Alisal to accept his high school diploma. As a bonus, we were able to arrange for our goalkeeper, Danny Lomeli, to join Adrian at the camp. Danny was also set to graduate. To make sure it was a go, I called the San Diego State Men’s Soccer Coach and relayed to him the potential I believed these kids possessed. He listened, not expecting much, and said he would await their arrival.

The first hurdle the boys face was finding a ride to San Diego. With a few days before the camp, a custodian at Alisal volunteered to drive them south. Then another hurdle.  At the last minute, the ride fell through. On the Friday before the camp, the boys were still in East Salinas, bags packed and uncertain as to how they would get to San Diego. It was 3 p.m. Time was running out. Then Larry Correa came into the picture. Larry played goalkeeper for many formidable Alisal Teams during the years spanning from 2003-2006. He played along side Alisal legends such as Aldo Meza, Ramon and Varos Hernandez, Joel Guzman, German Lopez, Tony Meza, Jimbo, and David Estrada. Larry’s dad runs a business which provides transportation to people from Salinas to Tijuana. An arrangement was made, and both Adrian and Danny found themselves on the four o’clock van headed for TJ. They arrived in San Diego at 1 a.m., eight hours before the start of the camp.

Jazz arranged lodging for them with a friend of his. They slept on a dorm room floor at the University of California San Diego, a twenty-minute car ride from the State campus. Jazz picked them up that morning and dropped them off at SDSU. The boys began their work. After an early dinner, Jazz gave them a ride back to the dorm where they took their respective spots on the floor and slept as best they could. The next day was not so easy. They didn’t have a ride back to SDSU for the second day of camp. From Monterey, I racked my brain and worked the phone, trying to get these guys a ride. Finally, a friend of mine and San Diego native, George Shillinger, made arrangements with a friend of his. He was an Uber driver. Within minutes, the boys were experiencing their first Uber ride. George saved the day!

After the two-day camp was over, the boys got in the same van and returned to Salinas at 1 a.m. They had school the next day and could not miss, as it was the first day of graduation practice.

I, too, had school, and as I sat at my desk and logged-in of the day, I called the SDSU coach. I was nervous. I asked him if my assessment of the boys was off or on, whether he believed they could play at that level and if they were perhaps worthy of a scholarship. The news was good.

He began by saying that he did not expect much from the camp. The recruiting season was as good as over, and all the recruits had signed their letters of intent or were on their way to the campus as soon as their high school careers were through. “It’s like the game is 3-0, with twenty-minutes left in the game, Mark. It’s difficult to break into any team at this point,” the coach said. “But your guys, Mark! They tied it up. It’s 3-3, and the fact that I’m talking to my coaches right now trying to figure out a way to make this work for your guys says a lot about them,” he continued. “Danny was the best keeper in the camp, and this is the best keeper group I’ve had in all our camps!” “Adrian was the most dangerous player on the field. In the last 11 v 11 game, four goals were scored. Adrian scored two!” He went on and on about them, and he praised their talents.


As a coach, I couldn’t have been prouder, but it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear that they had made the team, but the coach couldn’t go there. There were loose ends to tie and recruits were filing in. “If we can’t sign them, I will call any coach you want, and I will tell them that your boys are ready to go. I just won’t work for us right now.” This was fair, I thought, but before I ended the conversation with him, I need him to know one thing.

“Keep in mind, coach, as you make your decision, all that these boys had to do to get there. They rode in a van for almost nine-hours. They slept on a floor of stranger’s room. They performed the best of any of the players you brought in. They rode the van home and went to school the next day! This speaks to their character. You won’t find out about your new players’ character until after you’ve been with them for a while, maybe even after a few seasons, but with my boys, you already know what you’re getting, and they don’t even play for you. They did what they had to do to get to your school because they wanted it badly, for themselves. They got there and proved to you that they deserved a a chance. That’s character!” He acknowledged it, and the conversation ended.

Adrian’s Character

Now, you know a little about Adrian’s character, but there’s more. As a coach, I have a high expectations for players. It’s not easy to impress me, but even I have been greatly impressed by Adrian’s abilities. Everyone marvels at his skill. It truly is breathtaking. However, despite seeing Adrian compete in many games, and despite being greatly impressed with all he does on the field, it is Adrian’s ability to put aside emotional heartache in order to perform at his highest levels.

You see Adrian’s dad works in agriculture. Soccer is a winter sport. This means that as soon as soccer season begins, Adrian’s father heads to Yuma where the agricultural season is on a different calendar. He has to go where the work is if he is to provide for Adrian and his mother and his family. Adrian’s dad has never seen Adrian play for Alisal. The league MVP, the All-County MVP, the All-Star has never had his dad in the stands rooting for him. His dad wasn’t there for Senior Night, where parents traditionally walk their sons down the red carpet for their senior recognition. And on the most special day–the day that stands above any soccer championship or special night–Graduation Day–Adrian’s father was hard at work in the fields. Yes, Adrian’s illustrious high school soccer career came to an end without his father ever having seen him play, and despite this heart-wrenching fact, Adrain has held his head high and has outperformed many of the best soccer player in the nation! He has done it with him mother’s support. She holds down the fort when Adrian’s dad is gone, and Adrian, for his part, helps his mom where he can.

I’m glad to have known Adrian, and I know we will be friends for the rest of our lives. He is a great soccer player, but he is an even greater young man. To do what he does, under the circumstances, is a testament to his drive, to his character, and to his mother.
The next time you feel unable to move on, think of Adrian. If you’re a coach and your players are saying, “I can’t!” tell them about Adrian. My wife and daughters know about Adrian, and I will make sure that every player I coach from this point on will know about Adrian.

Dedicated to: Ernesto Garcia, Christina Parker, Gloria Chaidez, Mio Nishimura, Janice Aliotti, Mario Aguiar, Michelle Frankel, Albert Mazurca, Jazz Rodriguez, George Shillinger, Aurelio Madrigal, Natalie Bernasconi, Lalo Garcia, and the many more people that have helped my kids to get to where they need to be. It is greatly appreciated, even though at times it doesn’t seem so. Your generosity is never forgotten. 

Note: Adrian did not end up attending UCLA. He enrolled in Salinas’ local community college. UCLA and other universities passed on Adrian, mainly because he did not fit the physical profile of the players they choose. Therein lies the problem with American soccer.


When the Bell Rings/Classroom Experiences: Andy

I remember Andy as a spirited, warmhearted sixteen-year-old. He wasn’t the sharpest mind in class, but he never had trouble understanding anything, either. He was fine with hovering around the middle of the academic scale, instead, letting his human qualities carry him through life. He was witty and slightly more mature than his classmates. I liked this about him. Most teachers did. He never caused problems; he did his work; he was respectful. Us teachers don’t ask for too much more.


One other interesting fact about Andy was that he never missed school, and while he was in school, he was usually in a good mood, never adverse to being social or to having a conversation about literature or life, whichever subject meant more to him at the time. He shared the class with thirty-eight other students, but Andy’s placidity and aura set him apart from the pack. 


He was a big, chunky kid, too, clumsy even, his equally big persona doing its best to squeeze into his still evolving frame. This is was another part of his charm. He didn’t see himself as big. He was unaware that he was growing. He jiggled into the room with heavy steps and long strides, always hurrying to his desk for no reason other than to sit. He was child-like, and he seldom looked too deeply into the world around him.


Then, one day, Andy disappeared. He stopped coming to school and no one had heard from him. His absence on the first day was obvious. “Where’s Andy?” I asked to no one in particular.  They all knew him. He was semi-popular. Students were still filing in when I asked. “He didn’t come today,” said Sal, one of Andy’s buddies. “Why?” I asked. “I dunna know,” said Sal. They day went on without Andy, his empty desk taking up space in the middle of the room like a prop in theater class. Andy was absent the next day…and the next…and the next. Two weeks had gone by before he emerged.


At first glance, on his return, it was obvious to me that Andy was reeling from something, perhaps a tragedy or mind-altering event. He had changed, and it wasn’t all good. He wasn’t the first one to his desk as he so often was, and he wasn’t buzzing with the same energy that propelled him from point A to point B.  His face, too, had changed, altered by expressions seen on people who are not in a good place. “What happened,” I thought to myself. 


I was happy to have him back in class, though, and I didn’t waste time in making the first joke. “What’s up, Andy? Where you been man?” I asked. “I was sick,” he said. He was looking down when he answered, a little ashamed it seemed. . There wasn’t even a chuckle with his response. Just stoicism. I laughed, anyway, and said, “Yeah, I bet. Sick in the head, huh?” Andy managed a, “Yeah, something like that.” I stared at him for a bit–he didn’t see me looking–and a tinge sympathy washed over me.


He was wounded. There was no doubt. It was in his voice. It was in his body language. This is how I knew something was amiss. I couldn’t even get a smile from him. Gone was the personality I had grown to like, and even admired. His usual joviality and childlike innocence were absent, too.


His disposition occupied my mind for the remainder of the period. When the dismissal bell rang, I called out to him as he was walked out of the room. “Andy!” He slowed near the door. “What’s up?” I asked. “Ah, nothing,” he said as he turned back towards me. He wanted to talk. “I was sick. I was in the hospital.” “Oh, yeah. You alright? What happened?” I asked. “Well, not really. They say I have Leukemia. They did a bunch of tests. The doctor told me I have three-weeks to live.” “What? You gotta be kidding me!” I said. I was dumfounded by Andy’s revelation.  “What do you mean you have three-weeks to live? What happened?” I asked. He said some things, I’m sure, but I don’t recall any thing after his confession, except at the end.


I was stunned. What do you say when you hear a person you care about say something like this? What do you say to a kid who tells you he has three-weeks to live? I wasn’t trained for this. This part wasn’t in the teacher’s manual. No, this was another lesson. It was called “being human,” and it was tough.


Finally, at the end, all I could muster was, “Damn, Andy. That’s gotta be tough. Could they be wrong? Is there anything they can do–like do they have a cure?” I was genuinely naive on the matter. I didn’t know then that Leukemia was a form of cancer. I had seen the commercials with the kids missing hair and all that, and I sometimes saw people in stores asking for money for Leukemia awareness, but I never put much thought into it. “I don’t know,” said Andy. “I have to go back to the doctor.” It was clear from his tone that Andy was in a bad place. “We’ll if you need anything at all, just let me know, Andy. You know? Try to hang in there. You’ll be alright. Don’t worry about it.” I said. “Alright, Mr. C. Thanks. Later,” Andy said and we left it at that. 


This had taken place on a Friday. I remember this because my girlfriend and I had reservations for Carmine’s in South Pasadena. All week I had been looking forward to the seafood pasta, but the news of Andy’s disease hit me on an emotional level.  


The ride from Norwalk to Pasadena didn’t make things easier. Fridays are brutal, especially during rush hour. I jumped on the 605 and braced for a long, sweaty, hour-plus drive. It was the month of May, and the summer heat, as usual, came early. 


The 605 was a parking lot. I had the windows down and the radio on. I couldn’t tell you what was playing. It was peripheral, all conscious thought taking a backseat to Andy. As I sat in traffic, I figured I had time to give Andy a call and see how he was doing. It had been about three-hours since I last saw him, but I wanted to check-in and talk a bit, mostly just to make myself feel better. I reached into the backseat for my briefcase. I had my roll sheets in it, and these sheets contained my students’ contact info. I brought the case to the front seat and rummaged through ungraded essays and tests, looking for my roll book. I opened it to Sixth Period and found Andy’s home number. I called.


The A.C. didn’t work, but I had to roll up the windows in order hear clearly. Andy’s mom answered. “Hi, Mrs. Torres,” I said.  “This is Mr. Cisneros, Andy’s English teacher at Norwalk.” “Oh, Hi, Mr. Cisneros. How are you?” she asked. She was a nice lady with a sweet motherly voice. I had met her once before. She seemed pleased with the call, probably knowing that it couldn’t be anything too bad. Andy was a good kid. I answered, “I’m good. How are you doing?” “We’re all good. Thank you, Mr. Cisneros” she said. “Oh, good. Well, I’m just calling to see how Andy is doing. He was absent for a while. He said he was sick.” “Oh, yeah, he was sick, but he’s ok right now. He’s better,” she said. There wasn’t anything odd in her voice. She seemed in good spirits, pleased with Andy’s progress.


“Oh, that’s good,” I said. “Well, I was just calling because I was worried about Andy. I mean it must be tough receiving that type of news.” I began feeling awkward for some reason, and I kind of regretted making the call. “What news are you talking about?” Andy’s mom asked. “Well, you know how the doctor told Andy that he has Leukemia and how he has three-weeks to live.” I was now stammering, the sweat intensifying. “Andy? Andy Torres? My son?” I had set off the alarm. “Yeah, Mrs. Torres! Andy Torres from Norwalk. He’s in my eleventh grade English class. He came to school today. He told me that he has Leukemia and that he has three-weeks to live. He said the doctor told him.” 


“Huh? No, no, no! Andy doesn’t have Leukemia,” she said with an uncomfortable laugh. “The doctor didn’t tell him this. We went to the doctor, but he doesn’t have Leukemia. He’s not sick,” she said. “What?” I thought to myself. Then I said, “Well, Andy told me this today. He told me after class. I asked where he had been, and he told me that he was sick. I don’t know what’s going on, but this is what he told me.” “No, he’s not sick, and I’m going to have a talk with him.” I could tell Mrs. Torres was angry. It was in her hurried voice. The “Mexican” mom in her had been awakened, and experience has taught me that when a Mexican mom gets angry, it’s going down!


“Mrs. Torres, I think you should first talk to Andy. You know be careful. I think maybe Andy is asking for attention or something. Try not to be too mad at him. There’s probably a reason why he said all this. I don’t think you should hit him or punish him right now. I think talking to him is the best thing right now,” I said. I was scrambling to do my best to protect Andy from getting the belt or chancla. His dad was an old-school Mexican dude with a big-ass belt buckle and a cowboy hat and a big-ass mustache and pointy boots. An ass beating was in Andy’s very near future. I knew it.


“Ok, Mr. Cisneros. I’m going to talk to Andy. I’ll wait until my husband comes home,” Mrs. Torres said. “Ok, well, I’m sorry about this. I think Andy just needs a talk. He should be ok,” I said. “Ok, Mr. Cisneros. Thank you for checking on him. Gracias por la llamada,” she said. “Ok, bye, Mrs. Torres.” “Bye,” she said, and that was it.


I wish I could tell you what happened after all of this, but I can’t. I don’t know. I made a follow up call, but I didn’t get an answer. I made the call because Andy never returned to school. There were only a few weeks left in the school-year, but Andy never came back.


I guess I could speculate, as I have, as to why Andy would make up a story about having Leukemia and having three-weeks to live. The classic, armchair psychologist explanation says that this was Andy’s way of asking for attention. This could be true, but Andy came from a pretty good home. He had parents who were present, not that these things alone prevent such things from happening, but on the surface, he wasn’t starved from attention. I saw a change in Andy.


I’m sure there are reasons why Andy did what he did. I’m just a teacher, though. I do what I can with what I have. Diagnosing my students’ issues is challenging. They all have issues, each one of them, and I would go crazy if I tried to cater to all their emotional and psychological needs. It wouldn’t be a healthy endeavor. So I do what I can. I am human with them. I praise them. I discipline them. I love them…at least the ones that are open to love. There are some students that have never experienced the spirit of love, just as there are students that have never seen the ocean. Dealing with kids’ emotions takes up the most time in the teaching profession. 


Getting to the Next Level: A Student-Athlete Counselor

Let me preface this piece by saying that as a coach and teacher, there is much more I could do to help my student-athletes. I am aware of this, and I have carried this burden for as long as I have been a coach. It’s not easy, however. Because of the many responsibilities that come with being an educator and coach, coupled with the responsibilities I have as a husband, father, brother, and friend, it’s difficult finding the extra time necessary to help my players prepare for a possible playing career at the collegiate and/or university level. To improve his players’ chances, a coach must take on the role of “counselor” and have access to counseling resources.  After all, helping students get to post-secondary education is an intrinsic part of a counselor’s job description, at least philosophically speaking. However, even for actual counselors, this isn’t an easy task. Counselors are overburdened with massive student loads, sometimes 450 kids per counselor. Add to this the plethora of responsibilities that counselors have to account for, including class scheduling, transcript explanations, parent conferences, A-G requirements, meetings, and graduation. It’s a seemingly unending line of duties, and if you’re familiar with the world of public education, then you can sympathize.  

In this piece, I introduce an idea that could help high school athletes earn athletic scholarships. 


As the head coach of a nationally ranked soccer team (Alisal High School) I’ve had the privilege of coaching some incredibly talented soccer players, and while a few have been able to continue their playing careers at the college and university levels, there have been many, many more that should’ve followed in these players’ footsteps. It should be noted that there is also a significant number of gifted soccer players that never actually get to play for their high schools because they have difficulty meeting their school’s eligibility requirements, which usually consist of a 2.0 GPA (C- average) and Satisfactory Citizenship marks. This is a topic for another time, though.

Getting an student-athlete to the next level is a challenge. In addition to having the proper GPA, there’s a list of qualifications that a student-athlete must meet, including specific class loads for specific Divisions (DI, DII, DIII, etc.), deadlines, GPA’s, SAT’s and ACT’s, and financial aid applications. What makes this even more difficult is that the road built to connect the high school athlete to an NCAA career is unfamiliar to many in secondary education, even to actual high school counselors. Counselors are the people that can facilitate the process for student-athletes, but as it stands, many counselors are not versed in NCCA Clearinghouse Qualifications or the “Core 16.” They couldn’t tell you what it means to be a “Qualifier” or “Partial Qualifier.” They don’t normally have to deal with this language, and so they simply do not know, and there’s no urgency to follow up and learn it. Of course, there are counselors that have some knowledge of this world, but they’re scarce.

What can I do to put my players in prime position to earn a full-ride, soccer scholarship right out of high school? I think about this a lot, mainly because I am surrounded by a vast amount of talent, talent that often goes wasted and unnoticed. It is a question that weighs on me heavily, but I believe I may have found an answer, or at least an idea that can lead to one.

First, however, let me tell you about Larry Beltran. A divine talent, Larry was a champion at every level of soccer he’s ever played. In high school, he was a two-time league champion, a California DI State-Section Champion, MVP, All-League Player-of-the-year, All-County Player-of-the-Year, First Team All-America Selection, and an All-Star. He was every recruiter’s dream, with Division II schools not even being an option. In fact, there’s even a possibility that Larry, at the age of 17, could’ve forged a professional career for himself had he been given the chance.

After his senior year, I received a call from the assistant coach at UCLA. They wanted Larry. The coach was reviewing the names on the First Team All-America list and noticed something odd about Larry’s name. Each First Team selection was coupled with the name of the university of which they had committed to play soccer. Larry’s name was not paired with any university. This part of the list was blank. He was the only one on that list that was not connected to a university. Naturally, UCLA was salivating at the idea of snagging an All-America player, one that had somehow escaped everyone’s view.

“Hi, coach. Just want to let you know that we’re really interested bringing Larry to UCLA. We noticed that he’s not committed to any school. What’s his GPA?” It was the first and only question he asked. “Well, I think he has a 2.2,” I said. “Oh, ok. Damn. I’m sorry. We can’t get him in, but tell him to go to the community college and play two-years, and maybe we can be ready for him when he transfers,” he said. “Ok, coach. I’ll let him know. Thanks,” I said. It was not a pleasant call. I really wanted this for Larry. Larry deserved it. His talent needed to be showcased. Unfortunately, when it came to academic effort and guidance, Larry’s four-year plan left a lot to be desired.

Larry’s is just one story of many similar stories. He didn’t have the grades. There was nothing the UCLA coach could’ve done for Larry because the first stipulation is that an prospective athlete must first be able to meet the school’s basic admission requirements. These requirements are set forth by the university and not the coach. The coach must abide by these requirements. Once the athlete gets accepted, then the coaches can step in an begin to construct a plan for their athlete.

Could something had been done to improve Larry’s chances of getting to UCLA, while he was still a high school student? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” And this is where I present my proposal. It’s a multi-step process, but it’s not outside the realm of the infrastructure that is already in place at every high school in the nation.

To keep things simple, I’ll use my school as an example for the plan. I propose that every coach at Alisal High School, in all sports, pinpoints those athletes who he or she believes displays the athletic talent worthy of perhaps earning a full-ride or even partial-ride athletic scholarship to university in their respective sport. Even if the potential is small, these athletes should be identified by coaches.

Now, once these athletes have been identified, the load could range from 100 to 200 athletes, they would then be grouped together, and they would be assigned to a “Student-Athlete Counselor,” a specific counselor that is 100%, well-versed in the NCAA Clearinghouse language and is fully committed to ensuring that these identified athletes stay on course and in-line with NCAA Qualifier requirements. It would require vigilance on the part of the coach and counselor, with periodic athletic checks to make sure that the identified athlete is on course through all four-years of high school. Ideally, we would catch these athletes as freshman, but I believe it would be more realistic to identify them as sophomores, once coaches have already seen these athletes perform. The input of middle school coaches could definitely help in identifying freshman talent, giving us early detection help.

If Larry, a player whose talents were known by many when he was barely a freshman, would’ve had this kind of academic guidance, things would perhaps be different for him. He’d probably be finishing his career at UCLA, perhaps readying for a professional career. As it turned out, Larry went on to even more soccer success, helping the local community college earn its first ever California State Championship. This, of course, is not surprising given Larry’s level of talent. Now, Larry is doing his best to move on, but he’s caught in somewhat of a rut, three-years later, still at the community colleges, his two-years of eligibility used up, trying to transfer to a university. The talent is still there, but UCLA is no longer an option.

My hope is that Alisal High School will move to create this position and to give our student-athletes a fighter’s chance of getting to the next level where they should be.