Our American Dream: Football Coach Helps Players in Town with 40% Unemployment
Mendota, Calif. – Across the United States, in all fields of endeavor, Latinos are working to uphold their place in American society. Fox News Latino is proud to present "Our American Dream," a series of snapshots and profiles of Latino success stories.
A small rural town in the San Joaquin Valley of California is plagued with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country—40 percent. Many jobs were lost after a water shortage left this farming town without work nearly three years ago.
But one coach is inspiring the people of Mendota, a farming community where 42% of the population is living below the poverty line, through the success of the high school football team.
It’s been a dream come true because, I dreamt about this when I was in high school and I told myself that I was going to go back to Mendota and I’m going be the head coach and I’m going to lead this team to a valley championship.
Robert “Beto” Mejía has led the Aztecs football team to an undefeated season— something that hasn't happened since 1993 in the “Cantaloupe Center of the World”.
“It’s been a dream come true because, I dreamt about this when I was in high school and I told myself that I was going to go back to Mendota and I’m going be the head coach and I’m going to lead this team to a valley championship,” said Mejía, coach of the Mendota High School Aztecs.
Mejía helped create a successful team by using the town and the surroundings as a source of motivation for his players.
“There’s a lot of farm working people here, a lot of poverty, unemployment rates are high. There’s a lot of people who just come and migrant work here and try and make the most out of their living. What I see are a bunch of hard working people who are really humble, loving and caring,” he said.
Player Alfonso Perez considers Mejía to be a family member and says his coach encourages the team to work hard and never give up.
“All the struggles in this community—especially in football, we weren’t as successful as before, but he taught us that we had to be humble and hard work and determination will help us get to where we need to go,” Perez said.
Mejía overcame many struggles in his life. He grew up poor to parents who migrated from Mexico and worked in the fields to earn money. He went to college and decided to come back to help inspire his community on the football field.
The coach understands his players working conditions are not the best and many are coming to practice after working in the fields all day. Mejía is a motivator - using the example of his son, who was born prematurely, as a great success story to beat the odds. He keeps a positive attitude and has a strong faith in God.
“It shows me and the kids if we can succeed in football we can succeed in life,” Mejía said.
Thousands of people came out for the event of the year to watch the Mendota Aztecs battle for the Division Championship title.
“As a community you can feel it, everybody is really excited. They’ve stood behind the team from the beginning of the season and we’re really excited,” said Mendota Aztecs fan Nancy Acebes.
Mejía’s dream came true—winning the championship game in the his hometown in front of thousands of fans.
“We’re in it not just to win on the football field but to get these young men to grow and be successful people,” said Mejía.
Michelle Macaluso is a Fox News.com Junior Reporter.
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