A humble team made up of mostly island fishermen from Isla La Pirraya, El Salvador, shocked beach soccer fans around the world when they made it to the 2011 Beach Soccer World Cup quarterfinals, ultimately placing fourth.
Returning home, the once impoverished fishermen turned celebrity soccer players were greeted at San Salvador's Comalapa airport by cheering fans, and a new life they never could have imagined. The players for La Selecta de Playa were given lavish gifts – motor boats, furniture, electronics, and household appliances. The money they've each earned is more than enough to build modern houses, which will replace the modest dirt floor dwellings some of them live in, made of materials such as palm, and tin.
The team members have been named "Hijos Meritísimos de El Salvador" by the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly and Salvadoran President Mauricio Fúnes – a recognition of the highest honor. Songs have been written about the men, and children across El Salvador have committed their names to memory.
All of this is impressive and inspiring, but their success on the sand has given some of the players the courage to challenge themselves even further; one of those players is 20-year-old forward and team captain, José Agustín Ruiz. "El Tín," as he is now known, has gone back to school.
On his Facebook page, the following message, (which is dictated by Tín to someone who types it for him), said in Spanish, "The people ask me why I use my initials 'JAR' —José Agustín Ruiz— when I autograph a shirt or a magazine. I tell them that I never went to school and so, I don't know how to read or write. I learned [to write my initials] with the help of God, teachers that taught me for two hours, and my wife, Idalia, who helped me at home."
A recent video interview on ElSalvador.com shows him learning to write the vowels in 1st grade teacher Daysi Guzmán's classroom at Centro Escolar Caserío la Pirraya.
"If God wills it," he says in Spanish while sitting in the shade of a tree in the schoolyard, "I want to learn to read as much as possible, then go on to finish school, and then learn English."
Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the DC Metro area and the founder of Latinaish.com.