Camps & Summer School Guide
||Above, Danny Diaz, standing, speaks to St. Jarlath School students. Seated are his brother, David, who is also pictured at left, and Coach Jim White.
All: MICHELE JURICH/THE CATHOLIC VOICE
Coach, runners from 'McFarland USA'
movie inspire pupils
If you're working hard, work harder.
If you're facing a situation you cannot change, control what you can control: your attitude.
Make a difference.
Those were among the messages St. Jarlath School pupils heard on March 8, when Coach Jim White and two of the runners from his championship cross-country teams at McFarland High School located n McFarland, CA visited the Oakland school on March 8.
Their success — both on the race course and in life — was portrayed in the 2015 Disney move, "McFarland USA." McFarland, a predominately agricultural Central Valley community with a majority Latino population, might have been considered by most an unlikely candidate for athletic greatness.
But not to Jim White, a teacher and coach who had seen the hardworking children of farmworkers — many of whom worked in the fields before their school day began.
But there are many differences between reel life and real life, the coach and the runners — now educators themselves — told the St. Jarlath pupils, who sat on the floor of the auditorium for the more than one-hour presentation. They had all seen the movie.
Those state titles are terrific, but that the seven members of the team depicted in the movie have gone on to careers that have brought them back to McFarland, in service to others, is what makes the coach proudest.
In an auditorium decorated with portraits of leaders students had painted for Black History Month — too inspiring to be taken down, the students heard from Danny and David Diaz, real-life brothers who had been portrayed in the film.
"You have so much potential," said Danny Diaz, a less chubby man than the teen portrayed in the film, told the students. "I encourage you to work hard. Work hard. It doesn't matter if you fail. It doesn't matter if you're the slowest," he said. "Danny Diaz was the slowest on the team. There will be a time and place where your contribution will matter."
Danny Diaz credited his parents, who labored as farmworkers, for seeing that education was, in his words, "our saving grace."
"All seven of us were able to do well, we continued in college, we all graduated from university. We all contribute to our communities. We try to do the same that other people ahead of us did: Give back to the community," he said.
"We are serving God almighty; our community and our students," he said.
Danny Diaz is a counselor at McFarland High School.
"A state championship does not define McFarland High School, or any of the members of the teams, or even our coach," he said. "It's a lot more than that. It's what you are doing, what you become in the community and it's your relationship you establish with God that's going to make you a champion in life, which is what's important."
He encouraged the St. Jarlath pupils to "dream big."
"What you do with your life starts right now," he said. "You should be reading and reading and reading. You should be working hard in math.
"Our kids work hard. They were not afraid to work hard. Don't be afraid to work hard."
Coach White, who introduced his wife Cheryl to the gathering, advised the students: "You don't want to worry about things you have no control over."
He had learned the night before that St. Jarlath School will be closing at the end of the school year.
"You had something happen that you have no control over," the coach said. "You can't do anything about it."
But they are not powerless.
"Your attitude has to be very, very positive," he said.
Recalling with the pupils the story of David and Goliath, he told them, "You young people are going to have a Goliath in your life, a problem you don't know how to face.
"All you have to have is a positive attitude."
He encouraged them, too, to track their progress.
"Some of you people have great dreams," he said. "If you write them down, they become goals. Our goal was to be as good as we could be."
They will meet their goals, with effort, he said. "Young people, work hard. Work harder. Strive to be even better."
Not only had the St. Jarlath students watched the film, but the older ones had written reflections on it. Three of them read their essays to the gathering, with the coach and his runners listening carefully.
"Education is my passion," said David Diaz, the last speaker and older brother of Danny. "As soon as I walked in here, I knew that real good stuff is happening here."
He encouraged the pupils to work hard in the classroom and beyond it.
"Surround yourself with great people," he said. "Make a difference.
"That's what we're doing in McFarland," he said.
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