Coronado senior Ben Rivera Coronado senior Edwin Loa Gomez

Coronado senior Ben Rivera and his father, despite their own financial struggles, put in the effort to secure athletic face masks at a discounted rate from a local sporting goods store so every player had one for the season.

Coronado senior Edwin Loa Gomez will miss practices on occasion due to his work schedule. But with family still his top priority, he can’t afford to miss work and not help put food on the table. 

The Coronado High School boys soccer program has long established itself as one of the premier teams in the state, winning three state titles in six tries since 2012. 

The only other Scottsdale district soccer program with that amount of success are the girls from Chaparral, who have won four straight state championships across two divisions. 

But Coronado’s boys soccer doesn’t have the kind of financial support that other programs have. 

“Many of the kids at this school don’t have much,” said Bryn DeFusco, a lawyer in Scottsdale. “This is a team of kids struggling to buy warmups and socks and basic things of need. To me, it seems like we need to do something to bridge the gap between Coronado and other schools in Scottsdale.”

DeFusco created a GoFundMe in an effort to help raise money for the Coronado soccer program. In a little more than a week, nearly $4,000 has been raised. 

A graduate of North High School in Phoenix, DeFusco understands the financial hardships many of the soccer players and other students at Coronado are dealing with. She hopes the funds raised will go toward purchasing new equipment and matching gear for the program.

Nearly 65 percent of students at Coronado qualify for free or reduced lunch, including a large portion of the boys soccer team. Already in difficult financial situations, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought along additional hardships for many of the players and their families. 

As a result, several players have been forced to take on jobs to help support their loved ones and put food on the table. Often times, that results in practice time missed and the inability to purchase soccer equipment for themselves.  

Coronado coach José Velarde, who took over the program ahead of the 2020-21 school year, immediately noticed how different the program was in terms of financial stability compared to when he became the first-ever freshman to start and score for the Dons’ soccer program in the 1980s. 

His first struggle as head coach was finding matching practice gear for his players. Some are forced to wear shorts that do not fit, while most of the team wear a sweatshirt or practice shirt. Additionally, some of his players are forced to tape up their cleats because they are unable to afford new ones for the season. 

“The players I gave hoodies to are the ones I didn’t have warmups for,” Velarde said. “Some have cleats being held together with tape. I hate that. I want to give them the best experience possible.”

Unlike soccer programs at other schools, Coronado does not have a booster club raising money to support the team. Velarde and the players are responsible for doing that on their own. But when players are forced to miss practice to work to help their own families, it becomes impossible for them to support themselves and their athletic habits. 

As head coach, Velarde is understanding with his players having to miss practice. He knows it isn’t a lack of dedication to the sport or the team, but more of compassion for their brothers, sisters and parents at home. Even for those who don’t have to work, other responsibilities often come up due to their parents having to support the family by working long hours. 

“I am lucky that I don’t have to work, but there are times where I have to babysit my siblings because my parents are trying to support the family,” senior captain Ben Rivera said. “Everyone on this team has to make sacrifices and we all come from different situations. But I think that’s what brings us closer together.”

Rivera transferred to Coronado to find camaraderie with his teammates. He previously attended a large 6A school where he admitted he couldn’t find a voice of his own. It was during that time his family was also forced to move out of its 3,000-square-foot house into a small condo due to financial hardships, which the pandemic didn’t help. 

But even as they deal with their own struggles, Rivera and his family found a way to support his teammates. 

With the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s rule this season of constant mask use by players, Rivera and his father recruited the help of a local athletic store to provide face masks designed to be used by athletes at a discounted rate. Rivera’s father even went as far as to drive to Prescott to source additional masks for the team. 

The support each Coronado player gives one another is what drives their success on a yearly basis. If one player is forced to miss practice due to work, teammates fill them in. 

Senior captain Edwin Loa Gomez is familiar with that type of assistance from his team. With three siblings at home, he is forced to miss practice at times to work in order to help his family. While he would rather be at practice, he knows there are times where other priorities take precedence. 

“I really wish I could be out here playing every day with my friends but if I have to work, I have to work,” Loa Gomez said. “The support means a lot. Most of us have financial struggle, but at the same time that’s what motivates us. Playing soccer is a way for us to forget about some of our problems.”

To donate to the Coronado boys soccer program, visit https://gofund.me/2fa7010f.

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or zalvira@timespublications.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira