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Work Ethic Pays Off for Santa Ana’s Perez

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hector Perez works hard every day. He knows no other way.

On the soccer field, he practices rain or shine, healthy or not. It’s a big reason he’s a standout midfielder for Santa Ana High School.

In the classroom, he’s equally relentless. Doing enough to stay eligible isn’t enough. His payoff is a 4.0 grade-point average.

On the weekends it’s time to rest, right? Nope. It’s off to work to earn money that goes to help his family.

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“I need to have discipline, in sports, in school, in everything,” said Perez, a senior. “I have to keep working.”

This highly developed sense of responsibility comes from a life that has been difficult, yet, at times, rewarding.

Perez has overcome a lot, from the death of his father to moving to a strange land. He has persevered through it all with the help of his family and an inner drive that wouldn’t let him quit.

“I’ve never seen a kid that has such desire,” Santa Ana soccer Coach Bob Pacieznik said. “Anyone who’s around Hector can’t help but get motivated.”

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Perez, with his shoulder-length hair and sheepish grin, credited his family for his success, athletically and academically.

The Perez clan--mother, Soledad; twin brothers, Luis and Ricardo, and a sister, Miriam--are at every Santa Ana soccer match to watch Hector and his younger brother Jorge.

When Santa Ana played Simi Valley last year in the semifinals of the Southern Section 4-A playoffs, the Perezes were the only fans to make the trip.

“My mother pushes me to succeed,” Perez said. “We all listen to her, because she has taken care of us. She tells me to go for what I want, that hard work will get me there.”

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When Perez first came to Santa Ana, the work was just beginning. He was a shy, nervous, freshman, who had recently moved from Guadalajara, Mexico.

His mother, younger brother and sister, came to the United States to live with his older brothers. Perez didn’t know the language and was confused by the customs.

“I was late for my first class and the teacher started talking to me, asking where I had been,” Perez said. “I didn’t understand a word she said. I was scared. Finally, this girl, who was bilingual, helped me out. I was lost the whole day. I didn’t want to go back, but my family made me. They said I had to learn.”

And learn he has. Perez got into an English as a Second Language class and, with a lot of long hours, began to grasp the language.

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Perez will still ask definitions of words and meanings of phrases, but his command of English improved so much that he won an essay contest for the Future Leaders of America last year. He had to read his paper to an audience and received a standing ovation.

“The language was the hardest part for me,” Perez said. ‘With all the slang, it gets confusing. Someone called me dude one day and I got mad. I didn’t know what a ‘dude’ was.”

While he struggled to learn the language, there was one familiar reference--soccer.

Perez was talked into going out for the team as a freshman. At first, he was in awe of the other players, but he underestimated his abilities.

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“We noticed this kid with long hair, who was all over the field,” said Sam Buenrostro, who was coach at the time. “We had to get a better look at him. Then, one of the players went on vacation that week, so we tried Hector. When the other kid came back, he wasn’t a starter anymore.”

Perez played defense as a freshman, then moved to midfield last season. He had 13 goals and 12 assists as Santa Ana won the championship--the school’s first soccer title. Perez was selected first-team All-Southern Section.

This year, he lost a year of eligibility because his transcripts from Mexico showed he had enough credits to be a senior. That has brought contact from several colleges, including UCLA.

“I really want to go to a school where I can get an education,” Perez said. “I want to be a teacher and soccer can help me get there.”

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Soccer has always helped.

Perez remembers playing the game in the streets of Guadalajara. He and his brothers and friends would even play against club teams in the area. They never won, but they were always competitive.

On Sundays, his father, Jose, who worked for the Federal Transportation Bureau, would play in local matches. Perez remembers those as good times.

His father died of a heart attack in 1985 and the family was forced to split up. To support the family, the older brothers, Ricardo and Luis, came to the United States to work.

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That left the 12-year-old Hector as head of the household, caring for his mother, brother and sister, who has polio.

“I was only a kid, but if someone knocked on the door in the middle of the night, I was the one who had to answer it,” Perez said. “I wouldn’t know who it was, but I had to do it.”

Perez quit playing soccer and brooded a lot. Finally, his brother Jorge got him involved with the school team. Hector did well, and even scored four goals to lead his team to the city championship.

“Soccer got me interested in school again,” Perez said. “It gave me discipline.”

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After two years, his mother decided the family should be reunited. They immigrated to the United States to join Luis and Ricardo.

The family now lives in a small apartment in Santa Ana. The brothers all work--Hector for the circulation department of a newspaper on the weekends--to support their mother and sister, who walks with leg braces.

“Some people tell me I’ve had a hard life,” Perez said. “I guess so, but it’s made me tough. It’s made me responsible.”

1991-92 Boys’ Soccer Preview

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Top teams: Orange County Coaches Assn. preseason poll: 1. Santa Ana (Sunset League), 2. Capistrano Valley (South Coast League), 3. Orange (Century League), 4. Marina (Sunset League), 5. Laguna Hills (Pacific Coast League), 6. Ocean View (Sunset League), 7. Santa Margarita (Angelus League), 8. Tustin (Sea View League), 9. Mater Dei (Angelus League), 10. El Dorado (Empire League).

Top players: Jared Abe (Los Alamitos), defender, senior; Scott Anderson (El Dorado), midfielder, senior; Chad Andrew (Capistrano Valley), goalie, senior; Raul Barrera (Tustin), midfielder, senior; Kyle Berger (Capistrano Valley), midfielder, junior; Matt Berger (Capistrano Valley), defender, senior; Jason Boyce (Corona del mar), forward, sophomore; Scott Carter (Santa Margarita), midfielder, senior; Juan Cervantes (Estancia), defender, junior; Kevin Coye (Ocean View), midfielder, junior; Steve Decoite (Marina), forward, senior; Jose Escudero (Saddleback), forward, senior; Tommy Evans (Mater Dei), goalie, senior; Clay Harty (Servite), forward, senior; Armando Hernandez (Santa Ana), defender, sophomore; Marco Hernandez (Brea-Olinda), forward, senior; Trevor Ickes (Mater Dei), forward, senior; Guerro Jorge (Saddleback), forward, senior; Dan Judkins (Marina), midfielder, sophomore; Blayne Laitner (El Dorado), goalie, junior; Giusippe Lombardo (Laguna Hills), midfielder, senior; Rojelio Marquez (Orange), forward, senior; Zack Matthews (Tustin), defender, sophomore; Ethan Miller-Bazemore (Marina), defender, senior; Julio Montes (Laguna Hills), midfielder, senior; Tim Olson (Tustin), midfielder, junior; Hector Perez (Santa Ana), midfielder, senior; Matt Rees (Santa Margarita), goalie, junior; Ryan Robertson (Ocean View), forward, senior; Robert Rodriguez (Orange), forward, junior; Fred Romo (El Modena), goalie, senior; Ryan Schomberg (Ocean View), defender, senior; Carlos Sedano (El Dorado), forward, senior; Dan Sparks (Santa Margarita), midfielder, junior; Juan Viveros (Orange), midfielder, senior; Jason Vlcek (Foothill), goalie, junior; Robert Weber, (Kennedy), forward, senior.

Important dates: Dec. 27-30, Marina tournament; Dec. 14, 21 and 30, Brea-Olinda tournament; Dec. 26-28, Orange tournament; Dec. 7-14, Irvine tournament.

Notes: Santa Ana returns seven starters from a team that won the Southern Section 4-A championship. Mater Dei returns eight starters from a team that won the Angelus League title, then had to forfeit all its victories because of an ineligible player. With eight returning starters, look out for Capistrano Valley in the 3-A. However, Orange, a traditional power, should be their toughest competition. Laguna Hills, Estancia and El Dorado should be impact teams on the 2-A level. Saddleback and Corona del Mar are two of the top teams in the 1-A.

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