Saturday night, the South Dade (Homestead, Fla.) wrestling team took home its 12th state championship overall and its fourth in as many years. Old hat for the Buccaneers.
South Dade principal Javier Perez’s presence at the match, however, may have been more important than any trophy to the school community.
“This is my fourth one in a row – I’ve been here four years, and we’ve won every year,” Perez told the Miami Herald Saturday night. “So now it’s expected. It’s kind of like I’ve gotten used to it.”
As the Herald tells it, Perez’s life changed forever on April 26 of last year. On an early Tuesday evening, Perez was watching his 5-year-old son Jordan play T-ball. That’s when an SUV swerved out of control, caromed off the road and slammed into the fence down the right-field line.
Perez was struck by the car and pinned against the fence. He lost his legs in the accident.
According to the Herald, 51-year-old Marilyn Aguilera was charged with DUI and causing major bodily harm in the accident.
While in the hospital, Perez made a promise to South Dade wrestling coach Vic Balmaceda.
“Vic went to see me quite a few times in the hospital,” he said, “and sometime around maybe late June, early July I told him, ‘Vic I promise you I’ve never missed the state tournament. Regardless, whatever shape I’m in, I’m going to make sure I’m there this year. You have my word on it.”
“When Javi says something, he means it,” Balmaceda told the Herald. “It’s really inspirational. We actually had a kid get injured right before the state tournament started, and he actually said, ‘Man, if my principal can go through what he went through, then I can wrestle with a bad ankle.’ So, it meant a lot. Maybe our kid doesn’t actually pull through like that if he doesn’t see his principal here.”
The bond between coach and principal carried over over to the team, and South Dade was able to pull through with the school’s leader in mind.
“You have no idea the amount of emails, letters, cards and hugs and conversations that I’ve had with them,” Perez said. “It’s tremendous. It really is.”