TIGER TALES: 'Westside Pride' runs true at Tranquillity High School

EDITOR'S NOTE: Vida en el Valle will follow the fortunes of the Tranquillity High School football team this season on a weekly basis. Multimedia reporter Daniel Casarez will follow the team and generate online photo and video galleries. For families without Internet access, Tranquillity High School principal Espí Sandoval will provide online access at the school.

TRANQUILLITY -- Knowing football is just one requirement in assuming the head coaching job at Tranquillity High School. Juan Sandoval has much more.

Sandoval is a 1998 graduate of Tranquillity High, where he was once a tailback for the Tigers, fighting for what has been known as "Westside Pride" on the same grassy field some 15 years ago.

Tranquillity High’s football team takes to the field against visiting Kingsburg. Photo: Daniel Casarez.

'Westside Pride' is the term many high school athletes west of Fresno fight for: They represent communities like Tranquillity, Mendota, Firebaugh and Kerman.

This spirit rears itself in many sports in the way players push each other at every practice, on every play, and in every chant.

It's evident among the hometown fans that fill their respective stadiums, which from the highest seat, look over the miles of farmland, where many of these parents and students work the fields.

Sandoval's family heralds from the very same heritage that mirrors the community.

Tranquillity High’s Jesús Juárez advances with the ball against visiting Kingsburg.Photo: Daniel Casarez.

"My parents are Anastacia and Salvador from (Sandoval) Colima, Michoacán, México. They've been married for 50 years,"said Sandoval, who is also working with principal Espí Sandoval (no relation) on recreating the school's wrestling program.

"They had five kids here, and five there (México)."

José Sandoval, Juan's older brother, is head coach of the junior varsity team.

Espí Sandoval, also a Tranquillity High product, first taught English at the school 18 years ago.

"We have the highest percentage of immigrants in the community in California," said Espí. "I wouldn't have hired him, if he didn't know the community."

Juan easily relates with the kids on the roster. He still remembers working with his parents, "Yes, we tied vines, picked the grapes, and then we rolled them."

"Many of the kids on the roster work with their parents in the fields," added athletic director and assistant principal Rafael Torres, a native of Zacatecas, who used to work in the Clovis Unified School system.

Juan Sandoval, who is 33, has been an assistant coach at Tranquillity High for 10 years. He was an assistant coach when the Tigers, who finished 7-8 last season, won the 2008 Valley title.

Juan, a fulltime parks and recreation supervisor for the City of San Joaquín, assumed the head coaching position last season after Dustin Adney, now an offensive coordinator at Kerman High, left the program.

Because of his upbringing in the westside, Juan has become a unique coach and role model to the 32 Latinos including running back Mauricio Cázares, Jr., a junior, who that make up the Tigers' football team.

María Tafoya often looks to Juan Sandoval for help when it comes to her second-oldest child.

Head coach Juan Sandoval, at far right, speaks to the Tranquillity Tigers varsity football squad at haltime against visiting Kingsburg.Photo: Daniel Casarez.

"He's a coach and a dad to all of them," she said.

Her husband, Mauricio Sr., was murdered in front of the family home in 1997. María, who is now remarried with a total of five children, raised two children on her own.

"He (Juan Sandoval) tells the kids, 'Keep it up! Don't look back, look forward!,' and that's why he's really a good coach," added Tafoya.

For a meager 55 cents a day, which is what his stipend comes out to after doing the math, Sandoval and his coaching staff have been pushing the kids hard at practice in preparation for this season's opening game.

It's game night (Aug. 24) with about 40 minutes to kickoff, and Juan has just instructed each assistant coach, Jamie Martínez, Gerardo Villa and Johnny Macias, to speak with each of the squads a final time before making their way to the field.

It's nearly dusk and moments away from kickoff. The Tigers chant in unison and march to the field filled with that 'Westside Pride' on the dirt road that borders the small corral with sheep and a cell phone tower next to the school.

There's about 500 fans on homefield side supporting the Tigers. Throughout the game, a yellow, single-winged crop duster continually flies overhead, obviously servicing a nearby field.

Kingsburg, a small community of about 10,000 residents 30 minutes south of Fresno, has attracted about 200 fans on the opposing side of the field.

Tranquillity High’s Abel Lua makes a tackle against visiting Kingsburg.Photo: Daniel Casarez.

After a resounding first half and two leads that left Kingsburg, the Central Section Division-3 champ, puzzled, Tranquillity lost 47-17, after a pair of key players left the game with injuries.

While the sting of losing hurts now, Juan and his staff proved to themselves they can 'hang,' as the team says, with bigger teams in the Central Section.

"I'm proud to be here. I live in the Kerman area, my parents live in San Joaquín. These kids what they go through, I see what I kind of grew up with. I'm proud to mentor them, and motivate them," said Juan Sandoval.

"Even if we finish with a bad record, getting these kids to go to college would be a success. We're getting them to believe in themselves."