Terry Espinoza didn’t realize it at the time, but athletics changed the course of his life as a young man.
“Coaches saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” said the now 76-year-old Salinas resident. “They kept me off the street, and they were pivotal in my development.”
Espinoza spent the rest of his life paying that forward. The longtime wrestling and softball coach at Alisal High School has earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Wrestling Hall of Fame and is also a member of Salinas Valley Sports Hall of Fame.
And on April 15, Gil Basketball Academy will honor Espinoza’s legacy as a coach and youth role model during the nonprofit’s 14th anniversary Awards Banquet & Celebration. The gala takes place from 5:30-11 p.m. at the Salinas Sports Complex, 1034 North Main St.
Espinoza will receive the annual GBA Court Hero Award as a tribute to his decades of coaching, for his support of GBA and for being an exemplary leader in the community.
Also at the gala, GBA will honor longtime volunteer Rosa Mederos, who will receive the academy’s first-ever Heart of GBA Award.
During his 36 years at Alisal High, Espinoza coached the wrestling team until 1984, claiming four league championships. During his career the Trojans were a consistent tournament contender, and in 1975 the Trojans captured the coveted Central Coast Section title. He also coached the school’s softball team to four league titles and served as the athletic director for six years. He has been a longtime supporter of GBA and its philosophy to empower youth by developing their athletic skills, leadership, work ethic, world view, and enhancing their commitment to the community.
“Coach Espinoza has always preached to his athletes to be the best human beings they can be,” said GBA co-founder and current Alisal High boys basketball coach and athletic director Jose Gil. “He walks the talk and demonstrates this with the way he lives his life, appreciating friendships and taking to heart his calling in life as a mentor, role model and servant to our community.”
Taken aback by the honor, Espinoza instead deflected praise onto Gil and his academy.
“What Jose and everyone at the academy does for those kids, expanding their horizons, showing them hope for the future, it reminds me of my upbringing,” he said.
Raised in Colorado, Espinoza recognized his coaches as the reason he kept on a straighter path.
“Through them and the grace of God, I made it through some moments where I could have ended up in jail like some of my friends,” he said.
When Espinoza arrived in Salinas in 1968, he wanted nothing more than to make a difference in the lives of student-athletes in East Salinas.
“My roots go deep and wide in this valley,” he said. “Today I’m living the dream, and that’s not hyperbole. One of the joys of my life now is riding my bike all over town, going to meets and games, and the love and respect I get, the hugs and smiles, it’s amazing. I am so blessed. I never dreamed that I would end up with such a life.”
Similarly, Mederos has spent her entire working life in support of youth. The kindergarten teacher at Dr. Oscar F. Loya Elementary School in East Salinas has been in education for 23 years. She also was quite instrumental in helping form Gil Basketball Academy back in 2009.
“Jose and Eva asked me if I was Interested in working with them on it, but I didn’t know anything about basketball,” she said. “But the idea of being involved with the community and helping keep kids healthy and active was appealing.”
Mederos remembers the first GBA planning meeting in the Gil’s garage, holding a binder and taking notes. She was named treasurer, but the job expanded well beyond keeping the books. She watched her own kids go through the program, and then stayed on to be the “team mom” and the person everyone went to for help.
“I’ve done a little bit of everything, whatever they need me for, taking kids to tournaments, feeding them, helping with events,” she said. “Now I know a lot about basketball, but more than that I’ve met lifelong friends, and I knew all of my kids’ friends.”
If Mederos played basketball, she would be GBA’s point guard, dishing out assists and making everyone else look good .
“Rosa is a go-getter. She has been an active member of the Gil Basketball Academy since day 1 and continues to be a devoted servant to not only the academy but the entire community,” said Jose Gil. “Her heart and generosity have impacted thousands of our youth.”
Humbled and a bit confused by the honor, Mederos says her reward is watching the GBA kids grow up, travel, attend college and develop a sense that “it’s not what you receive but what you can give back.”
The gala event on April 15 includes a live band and DJ, no-host bar, dinner, dancing and silent auction, with prizes ranging from a paint night with Coach Gil, getaway trips and more. Tickets are $65 for the public and $55 for GBA parents, and available online here.
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