THE POWER OF FAMILY.
A group of young women from Tucson’s south side—the area 1996 Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan derisively called “Mexico town”—just made history. Representing Sunnyside Little League, they won the world Little League softball championship. In itself this is quite an achievement, but it is more so knowing that this was the first LittleLeague softball championship ever won by an Arizona team. Can’t get any more historic than that.
These are the history makers: Alyssa Ortiz, Zuleika Barnett, Arlett Arreola, Yannira Acuña, Viviana Orantez, Jazmine Ayala, Jaylen Marquez, Alex Tapia, Alexis Anderson, Angel Sallas, Danitza Aguirre, Anacely Gutierrez, Destyni Payan, and their coaches Rene Ayala, Ruben Orantez, Manny Tapia.
And these young women didn’t limp into history—they sprinted! In their last two games, they defeated their opponents (Puerto Rico and Virginia) by a combined score of 19-0. In their semifinal round game against Puerto Rico, Sunnyside pitchers Jazmine Ayala and Yannira Acuña combined for a perfect game—they faced 18 batters and retired all 18 consecutively. They left their signature, all right.
Sunnyside Little League is named after Sunnyside Unified School District (SSUSD), which takes in the little league boundaries and which the champs attend. The Sunnyside area is very rich culturally.
Sunnyside encompasses the two Native American tribes in the Tucson area, Yaqui and Tohono O’Odham. There’s a good representation of African American, Asian American and White residents, and enriching the area even more are the many families of mixed ethnicity. Sunnyside is a working-class community, although the school district categorizes 85% of the SSUSD as being of “low socioeconomic status.” About 88% of Sunnyside’s residents are Mexican American.
I watched many of the Little League games, baseball and softball, and in their introductions, the players usually named a professional ballplayer or other athlete or celebrity as their role model or inspiration. Not the Sunnyside champs.When it was Sunnyside’s turn to introduce themselves on national TV, it was all about family. Player after player named her mom/dad, nana/tata, tía/tío, nina/nino as her role model and hero.
As Sports blogger Andy Morales puts it: “Of all the parts of the greater Tucson area, the Sunnyside community serves as one of the best examples of family…Sunnyside is a proud community. Often overlooked, the family culture runs strong on the south side.” Morales should know. Having grown up in the area, he and his siblings attended Sunnyside schools and were part of the greater Sunnyside family.
Morales quotes Mario Márquez, whose daughter was on the team, and who saw the victory as a family achievement: “These girls won for their parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandparents. Sunnyside is a family and I will never forget that my daughter was a part of this. It’s the proudest moment of my life.”
Adding to the family theme is that the team’s head coach Rene Ayala (pitcher Jazmine’s dad) was a member of the Sunnyside Little League team that won the world Junior division baseball championship back in 1992. Ayala is a champion on multiple levels—as a player, a coach, and a father. In interviews with print and electronic media, Ayala expresses his pride in his daughter and the team, but he emphasizes that the championship “…belongs to the community.”
Indeed, throughout Sunnyside people gathered to watch the Championship game and cheer for their team, their girls, their family. At one local restaurant, the community turned out en masse. Even families who just went to eat stayed for the game when they realized that they were about to witness history in the making. It was Standing Room Only, and the decibel level was deafening every time the Sunnyside pitcher struck out a Virginia player or a Sunnyside player got a hit or scored. Sunnyside family member Andy Morales was there with his camera, memorializing the moment.
No doubt, the Sunnyside family has much to be proud of. Arizona teams have won five world championships in the various divisions offered by the Little League organization. Sunnyside has won two (40%) of these. As Morales observed: “Virginia [Sunnyside’s opponent in the championship game] was put in a ‘no win’ situation before the game even started. Too much pride from the south side of the railroad tracks and too much family. Too many Nanas and too many Tias.”
Copyright 2013 by Salomon Baldenegro. To contact Sal write: firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Morales, Little League Photos