Thursday, June 22, 2006

Coach teaches others perseverance

When I was 12, I was running liners on the basketball court and doing the three-man weave as if I played in the NBA. That's the way Chico wanted it, he would take no less. "You have to give 100 percent to truly succeed," he would tell us.

Every afternoon Kenneth Bueno, or as we knew him by "Chico," would wheel himself out of his van, maneuver his mechanized wheelchair over to the beat up basketball courts at St. Victor's School and mold us into winners. His voice would ring in our ears as he would shout instructions to drills, plays and verbal corrections to our game. By the middle of the season we had become in tune with Chico's voice like a group of soldiers following the orders of a drill sergeant; we started to play as a team and win ballgames.

Chico taught us to listen to the right voice and not succumb to the popular view. We would complain and grumble like sixth graders usually do when they are disciplined. No other team on campus ran as much as we did and many times they would make fun of us. But by the end of the season we looked forward to running liners and laps because we realized we were actually winning.

And as a skinny boy with a 4-foot-10-inch frame and stick arms and bony elbows that popped out of my skin, I gained confidence in myself and my goals. Despite the fact that I sat at the end of the bench and passed the ice to the rest of the guys, Chico taught me that I could contribute to the team.

I never gave up on playing more, and Chico would not let me; he just encouraged me to work harder to achieve the playing time I wanted. It was not so much his words that motivated me, but the way he lived out his life that showed me how strong the human spirit can be.

Chico, who played varsity basketball, football, and baseball at Piedmont Hills High School, went swimming at a friend's house and dived into the shallow end of the pool. He hit his head and severed his spinal cord, leaving him permanently paralyzed from the neck down.

But, Chico would not let the accident bring down his spirit and his passion to live. If anything, it made him work harder to make his dreams come true. Danish philosopher Soren Kieregaard once said, "Life can be understood by looking backward, but it must be lived by looking forward."

And that's what Chico did. Chico could have focused on his accident and folded his arms and given up. But instead he focused on what was ahead, having learned from the past and not what was left behind.

He took his cards dealt to him by life and earned a master's degree in child counseling and education at San Jose State University while coaching us at St. Victor's. He then returned to Piedmont Hills as an assistant basketball coach while pursuing his teaching credentials.

Chico carried on with his life as if he was not disabled; he did not let the worries of his handicap excuse him from being the best he could be. Instead, he focused on what God wanted him to be and pursued it with a passion. Chico wanted to give to others what could never be taken from him, his spirit of perseverance.

Chico died on Oct. 10, 1994 of cancer, but his spirit lives on with all those he touched and disciplined through his coaching. In the eight grade I became a starter as the team became smaller and was ready to step up to the extra minutes of playing time. Chico taught us all to accept our present predicament and start from there to make our dreams a reality; that it was OK to fail at times, but that it was not OK to aim low in life.

Even now, I can still hear his voice traveling through the moist air and the crowd's chants as I sit at the end of the bench with a few splinters pinching my behind: "Eddie go in the game!"

Surprised, I stagger my skinny frame and wobbly elbows onto the court with my heart pounding 100 miles per hour, my large round eyes fixed on the game and my conviction in place as I pledge to play with that spirit that has no fear and no regrets.

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