In late November, two Newman men’s soccer players, Johan Guereca-Torres and Jesus Perez, were invited to speak to three classes of middle schoolers at St. Margaret Mary Catholic School in Wichita.
The opportunity arose when the school’s librarian, Marcia Helten, was tasked with organizing a kick-off day for the Scholastic Book Fair. The event serves the dual purpose of motivating students to buy books to foster their love of reading, while also supporting the St. Margaret Mary school library.
Helten explained that St. Margaret Mary is located in a lower-income area and serves a 97% Hispanic student population.
“Because the students are very passionate about soccer, I invited Jesus and Johan to talk about how they became soccer players and how important reading was in getting them there,” Helten said. “I believed that having Hispanic players come to promote reading would serve as a positive role model action.”
Within 30 minutes of emailing her request to the Newman Head Men’s Soccer Coach Cliff Brown, Helten was told he would talk to his players and find volunteers.
“Not only did Coach Brown get me two amazing young Hispanic men, but they were going to a Catholic school which is what we are, too,” she added.
Meet the student-athletes
Guereca-Torres, a junior studying management information systems, jumped at the opportunity to talk with local middle school students.
“I actually went to St. Margaret Mary’s for church for two years,” Guereca-Torres said. “I’ve spoken to people in the past and this was another good opportunity to give back to the community even for 30 minutes of my day.”
Guereca-Torres describes himself as a baseball-turned-soccer player who developed a love for the sport at the age of 9. Years of hard work and dedication have gotten him to where he is today as a student-athlete at Newman University.
Perez, a first-generation college student from Edinburg, Texas, is in his first year at Newman as a business finance major. The volunteer opportunity resonated with him because he knows what it’s like to grow up in a lower-income area and the struggles that come with learning English as a second language.
“Growing up, it was difficult at times,” Perez said. “Some kids grow up without financial stability and I’ve been through that. They just reminded me of myself. Seeing someone from my same race who is accomplishing things made me motivated to work hard, and it’s nice to talk to the kids in that same way.”
Soccer didn’t always come easy for Perez, but he fought through the criticism from fellow players as a youth and it motivated him to keep going.
“I saw these famous soccer players who didn’t have much at the beginning but who now have everything,” Perez said. “I thought, ‘If they can do that, then I can do the same.’ I’m still not finished with my goal, but I’m still working hard to pursue my professional career.”
At St. Margaret Mary Catholic School, the Newman duo spoke about how reading, hard work and scholarships can ultimately help young learners achieve their dreams.
“Reading plays a huge part in a lot of things that you might not even consider,” Guereca-Torres said.
Aside from improving scores on tests like the ACT and the SAT, reading allows individuals the power to speak and write confidently, build their knowledge and even advocate for themselves or others, Guereca-Torres explained.
Both said that if they were given the chance to visit with more students in the future, they would do it “over and over again.”
“It’s important to have that mentorship when you’re that age because you don’t always think about where you’re going to be years later,” Guereca-Torres said.
Leaving an impact on the next generation of learners
Helten was thrilled at the “very positive” impact Guereca-Torres and Perez had on the middle schoolers. She was particularly impressed by “how these men represented Newman and their culture beautifully.”
“They spoke about how college, in general, can open the world to a person,” Helten said. “But reading and studying are how you get to all of that.”
Even the students who weren’t interested in soccer enjoyed listening to the guest speakers. Being a soccer fan did have its perks, however.
“The most exciting part of their time with us was when Johan invited two students, who play soccer themselves, to join Jesus and himself to do a skill-building activity,” she said. “The kids were getting into that and having such a good time.”
Serving as a role model to the middle schoolers was extra special for the Newman students and made them consider the people who inspired them along the way.
Perez said his role model is also the person he cares most about: “my loving mom.”
“Even though life got hard and was knocking her down, people were knocking her down, she still managed to push forward for not just herself but for my siblings,” Perez said. “I’ve always looked up to her. She’s done so much for me and has taught me a lot through life.”
For Guereca-Torres, “My father is my biggest role model.”
“He will go to the most extreme to provide for the family. And my mother is always caring for us, for my younger siblings and me. She was there at our games and my dad would do the same thing as much as he could when he wasn’t working.”
As a coach to the young men who represented Newman University, Brown couldn’t be prouder.
“We like to reach out and be a part of the community when we can, and with the resources we have with so many Spanish-speaking players, I thought that was a great opportunity,” Brown said. “I think it’s a really important part of the athletes’ growth outside of the school, too.”
Brown added, “They can see that they can make a difference, they can transform society. I think they’re fulfilling the mission and I think that’s really, really cool.”
Athletic Scholarships at Newman
Athletic scholarship awards are given by individual team coaches, may be stacked with other merit awards, and are renewable as long as the student-athlete continues to participate in their sport and enroll full time.