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Gonzalo Vasquez is taking advantage of an American right

The first-generation American has a future that looks brighter than anyone in his family ever imagined. He goes to college instead of the streets.
by Jenni Carlson Published: July 3, 2013
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photo - Gonzalo Vasquez climbs an obstacle course at Faithworks of the Inner City community center in Oklahoma City, Wednesday July 3, 2013. The youth were taking part in a Kanakuk Kampout.  Photo By Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman
Gonzalo Vasquez climbs an obstacle course at Faithworks of the Inner City community center in Oklahoma City, Wednesday July 3, 2013. The youth were taking part in a Kanakuk Kampout. Photo By Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman

Gonzalo Vasquez walks out the doors at FaithWorks community center and immediately grabs a basketball.

Instantly, little kids swarm around him. They jump for the ball. They run for the rebound.

They just want to be around him.

Almost like they sense something different about him.

Not many years ago, Gonzalo was like most kids from this destitute neighborhood just across the river from the glitzy growth of downtown Oklahoma City. His future was in a gang. His outlook was bleak.

Sports changed all that.

“If I didn't have sports,” he said, “I would probably be in the streets right now.”

Instead, this first-generation American has a future that looks brighter than anyone in his family ever imagined. He goes to college instead of the streets. He talks of staying in the neighborhood because he wants to, not because he must.

On a day that Americans celebrate independence, no one has taken advantage of the opportunity that this country affords any better than Gonzalo Vasquez.

“He's a one in a million kid,” said Jace Kirk, assistant director at FaithWorks.

Gonzalo was born in California, the third of four children born to Mexican immigrant parents. When he was 10, the family moved to Oklahoma and settled in the heavily Hispanic Capitol Hill neighborhood. They lived in an area that locals call “Top Town.”

It is home to some of Oklahoma City's worst poverty and gang violence.

The environment hardened Gonzalo.

When the van from the community center would go to the Ambassador Courts Apartments to pick up kids, Gonzalo never came along. But the workers still knew who he was. His tough-guy reputation was well-known.

“We didn't have much to do with him,” executive director Sally Goin said.

By the time Gonzalo started high school at Crooked Oak, he was bucking authority and doing just enough in his classes.

But he wanted to play football and soccer. Even though he had shown signs of following the same path so many in the neighborhood did, something in him said he shouldn't. Sports would help fill his time.

Go to school. Go to practice. Go to work at Buy For Less. Sleep. Repeat.

He knew plenty of guys who'd played sports through junior high and stayed on the straight and narrow. But then when they stopped playing in high school, their lives veered off track. Some joined the gangs. Some went to jail. A few had an even worse fate.

Gonzalo knew sports could buoy him.

To stay on the teams, though, he had to do what the coaches said. Had keep up his grades, too.

Greg Adams, then the football coach at Crooked Oak, was the first to push Gonzalo. The coach set standards and made requirements, then stuck to them.

Same for Kit Stephenson, who became the soccer coach when Gonzalo was a junior.

Gonzalo thrived with the expectations.

His mom, Oyuki — his biggest supporter — always disciplined him and set good boundaries, but something about his experience in sports was different. It pushed buttons that nothing else did.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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