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After a neck and neck game on Feb. 25, Thurgood Marshall High School’s soccer team lined up for the penalty kick shootout against Lowell High School, the City Championship on the line. 

They prevailed. 

“They were aware from the beginning, that this would not be easy, the job was very difficult,” said head coach Matilde Lacayo, who is Afro-Honduran. Marshall won their next game against Winters High School before losing 2-1 to Leadership in the NorCal Div. 5 Championship semifinal on March 2. 

Despite the loss to the eventual champions Leadership, Marshall’s season was a success. 

Lacayo has been coaching the team for nearly 10 years and said that he knew this year was going to be different. From the beginning of the season, Lacayo ingrained in his players that regardless of where they come from, they have what it takes to become champions. 

Coming from a small school with minimal resources, motivated the team to compete against bigger schools, working towards fulfilling a sense of satisfaction knowing they could play against them and win. 

Assistant coach Cesar Gomez calls it “a real David and Goliath story,” considering everything the team overcame. Minimal funding meant that the team did not have the funds for new uniforms and the boys played their games in mismatched jerseys.

Assistant coach Cesar Gomez and head coach Matilde Lacayo pose for a portrait. Courtesy photo

Despite this, the team maintained a united front and didn’t let anyone’s perception of them affect the way they played. On the contrary, as the championship drew closer and fundraising for new uniforms was suggested, the boys kept their original uniforms, believing they were lucky and wore them until the end. 

In addition to overcoming logistical obstacles from the school’s administration, the team members had personal obstacles that made their accomplishments all the more inspiring. Many of the players came from working-class families, which meant their parents weren’t able to attend all of their games. 

Many of the team members themselves had to balance work schedules in addition to team commitments, having to choose, at times, whether to miss a game or a day’s worth of pay. The obstacles the players overcame were not lost on their coaches. 

“[They’re] children who come from people who struggle,” Lacayo says. 

“Our team is like the United Nations of Latinoámerica,” says Gomez. Marshall’s roster includes players that have immigrated from countries like Honduras, Peru, Mexico, and Guatemala. Though they come from different backgrounds, they feel a strong sense of Latino unity. The team’s interconnectedness has a familial energy to it, a feeling of brotherhood.

Thurgood Marshall High School’s soccer team celebrates their City Championship after beating Lowell High School on penalty kicks on Feb. 25, 2023. Courtesy photo

“It was a very nice experience, being able to win with my teammates and with the support of the coaches,” said Jafet, a junior from Honduras. Although the boys had their moments of conflict throughout the season, the coaches made sure they settled their differences before stepping onto the field. 

Lacayo is proud of his team and more than anything, he is proud of the example that his team has set for other lower-income schools.

“You have to fight against the world to win, it is a message to other schools that are not big and powerful that they too can win,” says Lacayo. The win was bittersweet for the head coach, as his mother passed just a few days before the game. The team dedicated the game in her honor and played knowing they had an angel watching over them.

As for the team’s future, assistant coach Gomez says he would like to take a more proactive approach to next year’s team. His first year as assistant coach was spent in a primarily supportive role. He and his wife Venecia acted as team parents, taking the boys out to eat after games and keeping their morale high. 

Next year, in addition to motivating the team, he says he would like to focus on the team’s health and nutrition to give them a more well-rounded training regimen. He will be staying on as the assistant coach alongside head coach Lacayo.

Thurgood Marshall High School’s soccer team celebrates their City Championship after beating Lowell High School on penalty kicks on Feb. 25, 2023. Courtesy photo