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A special ‘dad figure’

By Genevieve Suzuki | Gen-X in a Millennial World

Dads come in all shapes, sizes and interests.

To borrow from someone else, while everyone has a father, not everyone has a dad. Thankfully, a dad can be biological or adoptive.

And then there’s the dad figure. This guy walks and talks like a dad without the typical familial connection. He’s there when a kid succeeds, fails or just needs guidance.

Take Joaquin Heurtero, the director of coaching of Sporting San Diego, a soccer organization that aims to foster and develop the physical, mental, and emotional growth of local youth.

Joaquin Heurtero (Courtesy photo)

Huertero, 38, has been coaching soccer since he was 19. Sitting down with him for breakfast at Sheldon’s Service Station, it’s easy to see he truly believes he can make a difference in every kid’s life.

Before taking on kids, however, you have to start with you, said Huertero.

“As a coach, you have to lead by example,” he said.

Huertero does exactly that.

I first met Huertero when he joined the board of the La Mesa Park & Recreation Foundation. He said he felt it was a natural partnership, given the connection that parks have with athletes. Although his commitment to our community parks is admirable, what’s especially impressive is the effect he has on his players’ lives.

Attendees at last month’s La Mesa Rocks fundraiser for the parks saw firsthand what a difference a coach makes. Several of Huertero’s soccer players volunteered to serve and bus tables that night. The kids were polite and good-natured, a refreshing change from the stereotypical surly teen huddled in the corner with an electronic device.

When I complimented the kids, Huertero took it in stride. He doesn’t expect anything less.

“We teach them three things: They have to show up on time, work hard, and get along with others. They need to take this and apply it in the real world,” he said.

Huertero’s philosophy is reflected in his Sporting San Diego staff, who aim to focus on the “person” as much as the “player.” The organization’s mission vows a commitment to not only improve the technical and tactical side of the game for each player, but to also teach them lessons that go beyond the soccer field, enhance self-esteem, promote self-confidence and cultivate a lifelong passion for the game of soccer.

Huertero, a Lemon Grove native, tries his best to be there for his students. One of the things he does is arrange a college camp for his players.

“There are so many kids who don’t have the opportunity to be seen by college coaches,” he said. “They can’t afford to go to these [schools’ camps].”

Schools that have participated in Sporting San Diego’s camp include San Diego State University, University of California San Diego, California State University Dominguez Hills, and Point Loma Nazarene.

Huertero’s devotion to his kids is repaid in spades. One-third of Sporting San Diego’s coaches went through his program when they were students.

“Coaches don’t realize how much of an impact they can make,” said Huertero, who is also the head coach for boys soccer at his alma mater, Helix Charter High School. “You’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of kids.”

“And every single person has a story,” he said of his athletes. “That’s why I love what I do.”

— Genevieve A. Suzuki is a local attorney who lives and works in La Mesa.

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