76ers

Near the end of my junior year at Independence High School in 1984, our wrestling coach, Jesse Barajas, let the team know that a young stud, Marco Sanchez, an eighth grader from one of the feeder middle schools (Sheppard), would be coming to join the 76ers at IHS the following year.

We didn’t know a lot about him, but we did learn that Sanchez dedicated his last middle school season to his late mother, who passed away prior to his undefeated, County championship run. Before he arrived, we also knew that, while small (98 pounds), Sanchez packed a punch — even earning the moniker “Superman” — because of the Man of Steel qualities he exhibited on the mat, and the thick-framed glasses — a la Clark Kent — that he wore off the mat.

By the time Superman arrived, Independence had produced two state champions: Ricky Palomino (1980), and younger brother, Anthony Palomino (1983). A third wrestler, and teammate of Sanchez, Ruben Gonzalez, would add another state title in 1986. Two years later, during his senior year, Superman would add yet another — earning Independence four individual state titles in eight years.

At the end of his high school career, Superman was recruited by and ultimately wrestled for Arizona State, home of the Sun Devils.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

During the 1984-1985 school year at Independence, while I was counting the days to graduation, and Superman was navigating his way through his freshman year, new trends were wreaking havoc across campus. None bigger than the sensation over Reebok shoes. Those who had the means to buy a pair, usually bought two — in white and black. And those, who did not have the means, would find a way to get a pair. Somehow, someway.

It was during this time that I noticed there was one person who did not have a pair: Superman. Subsequently, I slyly asked him his shoe size, and the following day, brought a brand-new pair to school to give to him. I didn’t do it out of pity, I simply did not want him to feel left-out.

Three days ago, I ran into my longtime friend, Superman, at the Independence High School All-Class Reunion (an event worthy of its own post, but that I’ll save for another time). While we reminisced, he reminded me of the Reeboks that I gave him 34 years ago. Moreover, he asked me why I did that. I simply said that I did not want him to feel left-out; and that although he was younger, I admired and looked up to him. (Incidentally, he said he remembers wearing them until his toes poked out.)

Sanchez has come a long way since we first met so many years ago. In addition to all of the accolades he received as a high school standout and collegian, he was also an Olympian, wrestling at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

Today, Dr. Sanchez (yes, he’s even earned a PhD) is in his eleventh year as the principal at Gilroy High School.

Before parting ways the other night, he did something that I neither expected nor was prepared for. My old friend removed the Atlanta Games Starter jacket he was wearing, and said this: “I want you to have this. It’s been a long time coming.”

It was a gesture befitting of a person whom I’ve always considered a Man of Steel, and a super man.

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