Vicente Mendez signed the piece of paper he’d been dreaming about since third grade Wednesday. His hard work had paid off and he was officially going to live his dream.
On national signing day for college athletes, the Princeton High School kicker and punter joined four other teammates in a signing ceremony.
There was Bulldog talent headed from the Division 1A ranks through the Division III ranks. Those things tend to happen when you win 12 games in a season.
Then there was Mendez, who made an even bigger commitment. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He had the same level of excitement and pride as those headed to the gridiron over the next four years did. On a day where football headlines — who got who and the like dominated the landscape — Mendez was living his dream too.
It started like any other day in his third grade class. Then the sharply dressed young man entered the room as a guest speaker.
“It was my teacher’s son,” Mendez remembered. “He was a Marine and he had that great uniform on. He talked about what he did and how the Marines was his family now. It hit me and I never forgot it.”
For a kid who didn’t have the standard family life growing up, that feeling of belonging the young Marine exhibited was something Mendez wanted to be a part of. Eventually he found scholastic sports to fill some of that void. Soccer playing led to a tryout as kicker for the football team and suddenly he was a part of the Princeton football family. And what a fun family that has been over the past three seasons with deep runs into the playoffs.
“In this program, it’s all about respect,” Mendez said of Princeton football. “You set your individual goals, get help from others in reaching those goals, respect other people’s goals and set and reach those team goals together.”
But Mendez kept thinking about his future and what was next. He kept coming back to the Marines.
“As I got older, I saw the kind of dedication that it took to be a part of a team,” Mendez said. “How much you relied on your coaches and teammates. The level of respect we had for each other. It was just like what I expect the Marines will be like.”
So instead of spending his Saturdays this coming fall aiming to put a ball through two yellow uprights, Mendez will be battling through the basics of the Marines at Paris Island. He reports in August.
Sure it’s great when student-athletes get the chance to play at the next level. But it’s just as great when those after-school activities help them reach other lifelong career goals.
So when the druthers of all that we hear that’s wrong with school systems — funding, district lines, grading systems and the like — remember the kid kicker from little Princeton High School. Through his hard work with the backing of loving teachers, coaches, administrators and support staff alike, he achieved his dream.
So one day, if you see a proud young man in one of those great uniforms on and a nametag that says Mendez, remember he’s just as accomplished as any five-star recruit. He worked toward his lifelong goal, got some help from a great team, and achieved it.
When that day comes, his teachers will be proud, his teammates will be proud, his Marine family will be proud.
You should be proud too.