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“Heart of a champion”

Amandala chats with U-15 Gold Medal team coach, Santi Valencia

Jamaican reggay legend Jimmy Cliff once sang, “the harder the battle, you see, it’s the sweeter the victory.” And victory for our Belizean male U-15 football team and their inspired head coach Santi Valencia was sweet indeed this past Sunday in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the very city that witnessed the Gold Medal achievement by our Belizean females in softball almost four decades ago.

The YWAM-Belize U-15 squad departed on American Airlines on Wednesday last, November 21, and returned home to a grand welcome at the Philip Goldson International Airport on Tuesday, November 27, sporting their Gold Medals and the championship cup for the tournament that involved teams from Dominican Republic, Haiti, Belize and Mexico.

But it was a hard fought victory indeed. We spoke with Santi this morning after he had visited Krem WUB along with his wife, Lilian, three players from the team – his sons Mario and Eddie along with Dmitri Fabro, and FFB National Development Director Renan Couoh, who oversaw the training of the team in Belize. However, Santi Valencia is the head coach that travelled with the team to Santo Domingo and steered them through to victory. Santi had words of thanks and appreciation to many people, including sponsors and especially the parents, whose support was vital in the whole process. But we took the opportunity to focus our discussion on the game, and get a feel of the experience our team endured, and specifically through the eyes of the coach, on their way to making history.

Amandala: The training and the commitment you put into the team… Like you said, you are a pastor?

Santi: Yes, sir. I’m a pastor, I’m a director, an administrator…

Amandala: And you got into football, but not with football being the end of your mission. So, what were you thinking when things got a bit rough… you said some of the games… the officiating was a real test for your players, and you were down twice in a game, and you struggled… and even in the final championship game… What were you thinking, in terms of the outcome of the match, if you don’t win. Did you think that you might not win, or, how would you handle it with your players?

Santi: You know what? Honestly… like I said, I am a pastor… my life, I live a life of faith. I believe God speaks… and, the first game that we played, and we won that first game… there were… I knew there was a hill to climb, a mountain to climb. Mexico was before us. I saw them play… I knew… And when you watch a game, and (see) a team play… it sends some chills… because, man… this is a mountain before me here!

But the word that came to me strongly was, we were going to be victorious. It was going to be difficult, but we were going to be victorious. That was such a word, so strong that, I felt that… and I went and I talked with my boys. And they had the heart of a champion. Because when we trained them, we said “you dream like a champion; you train like a champion; you play like a champion.” And so they had that heart. And so when I said that to them… somehow they connected with us… And we prayed before every game we went out… we prayed, and we went out there.

So, even… sure, you are absolutely, you know… that thought, that little thing, that tickles in your mind goes through there… but, because what the word had heard… kept me focused. And when we were down, 1-nil, I knew we will rise. And I just keep saying to my boys, “Remember boys, you have a family; you have a nation that we are representing; we must do this for our nation; we’re believing for this; and you came here for this; and this is our destiny.” And I keep shouting that to our boys; and they keep grasping it, and start pushing, until we equalized.

And when it became 1-1, then is when it became extremely difficult… because.. I don’t like injustice. And we were treated… And this is what… it was painful for me. I respect authority; I believe in that; and I train my boys to respect the officiator of the games, you know. But… there was one point where it was so extreme… Of course, that was their team, and so I had to say… raise both my hands and go, “Referee, what is this!?” And he just looked at me.. and pointed at me and says, “You better be quiet, or you get thrown out the game.” And I was… I was not a very happy preacher… I was, you know… to a point of being undignified… because, here you are just insulting me… and, and I have to protect my boys.. And.. I just looked up…

Amandala: I guess that was a test of faith…

Santi: I looked up… honestly, I had to, because I was… It was either that, or “lose it”… And I looked up, and I said, “God, you give us justice, You give us justice..” And I did that… I just took my finger, and pointed it (up) there and said, “God, you give us justice.” And I just shut up; I didn’t say anything else to the referee. I kept coaching my boys. “Keep pushing, boys!” They get kicked down, whatever. “Don’t worry about it; don’t worry about it…” And..

(To be continued in the weekend issue of the Amandala)

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