Roberto Gonzalez came from Mexico to Los Angeles when he was 17. He knew soccer but didn’t know English. He stayed to become a math teacher and soccer coach at Fremont High, where more than 90% of the student body is Latino.
In quiet but profound ways for the last 16 years, he’s been making a difference on and off the field.
He turns his head during practice and players don’t stop for one second what they are doing, stretching, then running laps, then kicking balls. It’s like they’re on autopilot and no one needs to tell them what to do. There’s a discipline, a team chemistry and a wonderful leadership component that can be seen by any stranger passing by.
“My role is to get them educated as much as I can,” Gonzalez said. “I want to provide them with the best service possible.”
It used to be that Gonzalez only cared about winning. Then he learned about the philosophy of former UCLA coach John Wooden. He read about Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success.” That was in early 2001.
“He changed my life,” Gonzalez said. “My time is for training. When we play against other teams, it’s time for the players to enjoy it.”
Gonzalez takes pride in his players getting A’s and B’s in the classroom. His leading scorer with 19 goals, senior Justin Lopez, has the highest SAT score on campus, 1300 out of 1600. He’s getting an A in AP Calculus.
Lopez didn’t even start on last year’s City Section Division II championship team. Now he’s the star of a team that has 24 victories and is seeded No. 6 for the Division I playoffs that begin on Feb. 22.
“It was working hard in the classroom, taking the time to study and not putting it off and playing video games,” he said of his SAT achievement. “It makes me feel accomplished. Just because I come from a low-income area, it doesn’t impede you from doing something good like getting a high SAT score.”
Goalie Henry Caceres has 14 shutouts and kicked a 48-yard field goal for the football team in the fall. He’s only a junior.
Like Gonzalez, Lopez’s parents came from Mexico and soccer has been part of his life seemingly since he came out of the womb.
For all the attention paid to football, basketball and baseball athletes in Southern California, soccer is the sport that consumes a substantial portion of a family’s life from an early age. In some of the lowest-income areas of Los Angeles, where immigrants come and go, soccer is the sport that unites families.
“Every single player on this team, we play for the team,” Lopez said. “We’re not afraid to trust each other. We’re always working together. We don’t exclude anybody.”
The boys’ team is 24-4-1. The girls’ team is 17-0-2 under Walter Lopez. Soccer is beloved at Fremont.
At a time when divisions and arguments happen anywhere and everywhere, it’s inspiring to see how a teacher/coach is using his own experiences to bring out the best in his student athletes.
“We don’t worry about winning,” Gonzalez said. “We just worry about doing our best.”