California Educator

November 2015

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"Hey, Blanco," Diaz and Samaniego call in unison as White strolls into the gym, using the nickname that they found ironic as teenagers. e men embrace, and sit down to recall events that seem like yesterday, but happened nearly 30 years ago. Unlikely heroes White taught at McFarland Middle School and coached at the high school. Most McFarland school staff commuted from Bakers- field, but White, his wife Cheryl and their daughters chose to live in McFarland, where they embraced the Latino community. Many of the students woke up at 4 a.m. each day to work in the fields before school. They worked there after school, too. Most were not considered athletic. But White saw how fast sev- eral of them ran on their way to work, and thought they'd make a good cross-country team. eir families were too poor to afford running shoes, so White used his own money to buy them. He told his students that he believed in them — and that they could become champions if only they would believe in each other. "You are superhuman," he told them before an important meet. "I've seen how hard you work every day in the fields, Before the closing credits of McFarland, USA, Jim White, le, is shown with original members of the 1987 championship team running in back of current cross-country runners from McFarland High School. As in the movie, White used to ride alongside runners on a rickety bike. In McFarland, USA, Kevin Costner plays Jim White, who despite a rough start coaches a group of boys to victory. "Coach taught us that it wasn't just about being a champion on the playing field — it was about being a champion in life. And education is the way to be a champion in life." — Danny Diaz Malaysia who saw the movie on the plane ride to America and took a detour to McFarland. People all over the world have found inspiration in McFarland, USA, a true tale of a high school cross-country team (including Diaz) that overcame huge obstacles. e running team instilled pride in a town challenged by poverty and gangs, and put the San Joaquin Valley farming community on the map. e movie, released in February, stars Kevin Costner as Jim White, the teacher and coach who changed students' lives — and the town — forever. During a recent visit to McFarland, the California Educator caught up with White, now retired, and two of the team's actual runners portrayed in the film, Diaz and Johnny Samaniego, who are now educators in McFarland. Samaniego took over White's job as a PE teacher at McFarland Middle School. White is a former McFarland Teachers Association member; Diaz and Samaniego are current members. Photos by Ron Phillips / Disney Enterprises 29 November 2015

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