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Champions can come from anywhere

The Othello Outlook of Othello, Washington

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Of all the places to come from, none could be more humble than McFarland, Calif., in 1987.

A rural community with a high population of migrant field workers, McFarland was one of the poorest communities in the country.

Yet from here, coach Jim White was able to find seven young men. Hardworking and dedicated, they eventually won the first California State Crosscountry Championships in 1987 and set a standard of excellence for the city that endures to this day.

In 14 years, McFarland High School has won nine state titles and, despite being forced to compete against schools with three to four times their enrollment, continues to find success to this day.

This story of success is the inspiration of the Disney movie "McFarland, USA."

Since this movie's production, the community of McFarland has united together and catapulted off the success of their youth for the betterment of the entire community.

Over the weekend, members of the 1987 team, brothers David, Danny and Damacio Diaz and Johnny Sameniego, with their coach Jim White, visited Othello to share their message and success with the community.

Joined in Othello by worship leader Marvin Mumford, his son Marvin II and saxophonist Charles Walker, they shared a message of inspiration to all who came to listen.

Othello is not unlike McFarland. Both communities share similar demographics, economies, problems and most of all family ties. Because of these strong similarities both communities have entered into a mutual friendship.

Othello High School graduate (1955) and Mayor of McFarland Manuel Cantu, along with representatives of the McFarland School District, also accompanied the runners in what can only be described as one of the biggest family reunions Othello has seen in a long time.

During the evening events, the runners had the opportunity to talk about their experiences as runners and their lives growing up.

All of them were field workers and spent their time before and after school working in the fields. Referred to as pickers in the movie, the boys faced hardships many in Othello can relate to.

Not only did they win the state championship, all had the opportunity to attend college and run in crosscountry for their colleges. Even more important than winning that state title, they were able to use their success to give back to the community. Danny and Johnny both work in the McFarland school system. Damacio has worked for 20 years as a police officer and David works as a principal in a prison school system.

Now, through this movie, they are able to impact more lives than just those in their communities, traveling the country and the world to share their success stories and motivate the next generation.

Danny is portrayed in the movie as being a heavier kid. This, however, is not accurate. As a member of the team, he was built just like the others and as one of the top seven members of the team, he was not a slouch.

What was accurate in the movie was Danny securing the win for McFarland in the state championship, making up for a teammate who started the race too quickly and soon fell veil behind where he would normally place.

Even with some inaccuracies, the movie still retains its message. Danny described his experiences meeting the visitors who are now traveling to see McFarland High School.

"I had a young lady drive 40 miles," Danny said. "She was in my office saying 'Mr. Diaz, you have inspired me to lose weight, I was depressed, I wanted to kill myself.'"

The city of McFarland has embraced the success of the program built by White, even incorporating a runner into the city's new logo along with the motto "Tradition. Unity. Excellence."

Even with the Hollywood twists to the story, the message remains the same.

"The biggest thing about the whole movie is that champions can come from anywhere," Sameniego said. "Regardless of your background, regardless of your economic status, if you work hard, if you just keep going at it, set your goals and don't give up, you can meet you goals. Like Mr. White always taught us — it's all in the attitude."

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Original Publication Date: May 7, 2015

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