Camarillo, CA–Olympian Jessica Mendoza led the 2004 US gold-medal team in Athens, hitting .495 with 107 RBIs in 59 games during a pre-Olympic tour. She is a four-time, first-team All-American at Stanford, where she graduated in 2002 and received a master’s degree in social sciences and education in 2003. She is a valuable member of the 2008 Olympic team, stealing a base and scoring a run in the team’s recent victory over Venezuela.
Mendoza credits much of her success to her “incredible” father, Gil Mendoza. From the Ventura County Star’s Olympian is unafraid to debate issues (8/3/08):
Gil Mendoza, a long-time teacher and coach — primarily at Moorpark College, although he’s been a football assistant at a number of high schools — is a classic American up-from-the-bottom story, although his upward path hardly proceeded in a straight line.
A child of Mexican immigrants, he spent his early years in poverty in Watts with uncles, who were key figures in a street gang. “Imagine 10 people in a two-bedroom house,” said his wife. He was expelled from two school districts, once, he said, for “hitting a kid with a baseball bat and breaking his jaw” after that student had beaten him in a fight the day before.
The family eventually moved to Long Beach, and Mendoza gradually changed his path.
“I could see the light,” he said. “I could see that education was the way out, and it wasn’t easy, because I had these learning disabilities.”
Sports, as much as education, helped provide the illumination. As a junior high student, he broke into a gym and was playing basketball when a coach appeared.
He eluded the coach and got away, for a while.
“It took him about a month to find me in a PE class,” he said. ” He said, You think you’re a tough guy. Well, I’ve got 10 guys out here after school, and I think they’re tougher than you.’
“I thought I was going to show up and fight 10 guys. But it was a football team. That was the first time I ever played organized sports.”
Gil Mendoza went on to be a multisport standout in high school — all while holding down an outside job — and after attending junior college, earned a football scholarship to Fresno State.
Those experiences were a major influence on his teaching and coaching career.
“The whole thing is reaching back and helping out,” he said of a history of helping troubled student-athletes. ” That’s why I think I was put in this arena, to help someone, people like myself. And I’m able to reach a lot of them, because I’m sincere. I can relate to their backgrounds and where they come from.”
This, in turn, made a huge impact on young Jessica…
While Jessica was soaking these lessons in, she also was getting some valuable athletic instruction from her father.
Gil was the primary coach for Jessica and her younger sister, Alana, who would go on to play softball at Oregon State University. There are also two older children, a brother and a sister; all will be in Beijing. He’d take them to the fields at a school near the family’s Camarillo home.
“We’d go to the park and take batting practice every day,” he said. The sessions were short, purposeful, and not just about hitting.
“They’d never shag the balls,” he said. “I would go shag the balls, put the bucket next to them, and they would stand at second base. I would throw one-hoppers and they would catch and tag, catch and tag. Hours and hours of doing that (over the years).” That drill was invaluable when both girls played shortstop; another helped when they moved to the outfield.
“Before we went home, I would hit them fly balls,” he said. “I could cut the ball and make it slice or make it take off, so they could see it move, and it helped them become outfielders.”
While he admitted there were times when he’d get upset because the girls weren’t working hard, he also did his best to make such drills not so much of a chore.
When the family went to the beach, they’d play a game with tennis balls that also helped develop their skills.
“I’d say, This game is not to catch the ball, but to run to where you think the ball is going to go. They’d turn and run to that spot, and if the ball hit them, depending on how many times it hit ’em, they’d win an ice cream.
“We had fun, and yet they were learning something.”
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