Enrique Sandoval Jr, head coach for Rock Island High School; Alex Sandoval, associate head coach for boys’ and head coach for the girls' teams at United Township High; and Tavo Garcia, head coach for the boys' soccer team at Alleman High School. Photo by Tar Macias / Hola America
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When Alex Sandoval, Enrique Sandoval Jr., and Tavo Garcia started playing soccer as kids, there were not many Latino coaches and not a lot of Latino players in the Quad Cities. Today things are changing. In fact, all three soccer coaches are a strong representation of Latinos in the Western Big 6 conference.

The three coaches have known each other for many years. Alex Sandoval is the associate head coach for boys and the head coach for the girls’ teams at United Township High School, Enrique Sandoval Jr is the head coach for Rock Island High School, and Tavo Garcia is the head coach for the boys’ soccer team at Alleman High School. The three men grew up playing soccer in the East Moline Silvis Soccer Club system.

Alex Sandoval is from East Moline. He is a graduate of UT High School. He started playing soccer with EMSSC when he was 5 years old.

“I honestly can not say why I started, other than my mother signing me up,” coach Sandoval said about how he got into soccer.

When he was a little boy, soccer was not really his main passion.

“Growing up, soccer was not my number one sport; it was probably my third sport after Basketball and Baseball,” he shared. “I played all three sports growing up until I reached high school, and at that time thought I needed to cut one out.”

He decided to stick with soccer and basketball at first, but during his sophomore year in high school, he realized that soccer will get him to college and focused his attention on this sport.

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“I was able to become the QC player of the year my junior season and a two-time All-State player my junior and senior seasons.  My senior year, I was able to help lead UT to a State appearance and finish 4th place,” Sandoval shared his accomplishments as a player.

It was soccer that helped him get a scholarship and go to college.

While playing soccer, Sandoval realized that he would immensely enjoy coaching soccer players.

“I first started coaching club soccer with the EMSSC back in 2010.  I was an assistant coach to a former coach of mine (Tony Davila), and he was preparing me to take his son’s team over the following season.  Ever since that day, the love for coaching has grown every day, and I have not looked back,” Sandoval shared with us.

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He added that his goal as a coach was to become a coach at his old High School. This year he achieved his goal and became the boys’ associate head coach and the head coach of the girls’ team at UT High School.

Alex Sandoval feels it is quite an honor to be one of the many Mexican American coaches in the WB6 Conference.

“When you look deeper into not only high school soccer but club soccer in the QC, you will see a lot more Mexican American coaches throughout the Quad Cities. You didn’t see a lot of that when I was a young player and think it is a great thing, especially for our area,” he stated. “There are some great coaches out there with a lot of knowledge to provide to the kids.  It’s an honor to be one of many Mexican American coaches in the WB6 and many of us have East Moline ties.”

Alex Sandoval, associate head coach for boys’ and head coach for the girls’ teams at United Township High; Enrique Sandoval Jr, head coach for Rock Island High School; and Tavo Garcia, head coach for the boys’ soccer team at Alleman High School. All 3 coaches started their love for soccer as children at the EMSSC.
Photo by Tar Macias / Hola America

Enrique Sandoval Jr (no relation), the boys’ soccer team head coach at Rock Island High School, agrees with Alex Sandoval.

“There was a time in my soccer career where my coaches all did not look like me, and none of my fellow players did either,” Sandoval Jr. shared his point of view similar to his friend and fellow soccer coach from the WB6 Alex Sandoval.  The game has grown in the area, and fortunately for our players, the leadership has changed as well. Individuals like me and the other coaches [Alex Sandoval and Tavo Garcia] took that next step not just to be players of the game but also teachers of the game.”

Like Alex Sandoval, Enrique Sandoval Jr also started playing soccer at a very young age. He started kicking his soccer ball in the field when he was four years old. Sandoval Jr was born and raised in the Quad Cities. He is a graduate of Alleman High School. He holds an Associate’s degree from Black Hawk College and a Bachelor’s degree from St. Ambrose University.

Enrique Sandoval Jr was always passionate about the sport.

“I can’t say I chose soccer. It chose me. It was more of my birthright,” he explained. “A family tradition passed down from my father and his family before him. He immigrated to the area from Mexico, brought the game with him, and played with some of the first men’s teams.”

Although he played all his life, he did not start coaching until later. Sandoval Jr started coaching when his own kids started playing. After a while, he gained enough experience to be a coach at a high school level.

“I was fortunate enough to get my first coaching opportunity at Alleman as the head girl’s coach,” Sandoval Jr said.

He also was the boys’ head coach with the Lancers at North Scott HS. After that job, he decided to put his coaching career on hold. While coaching was not part of his life anymore, soccer was not something he could ever give up. Sandoval Jr continued playing soccer in the Davenport Adult Soccer League. Soon he was given a chance he could not let pass by.

“When the opportunity at Rock Island presented itself, I took it as a sign to put my name in for consideration,” Sandoval Jr, now a head coach for the boys’ soccer team at Rock Island High School, said. “I consider it an honor that I was chosen and am excited to start this next chapter of my coaching career.”

Being one of the Latino coaches in the WB6 fills him with pride.

“Seeing how well our culture is represented on the sidelines of the soccer field at the high school level fills me with a great sense of pride,” he said. “I was raised by my father to not only have a great sense of respect and admiration for the sport of soccer but also “para mi cultura” (for my culture). I am very happy to be continuing my father’s legacy and what I’m doing now.”

Enrique Sandoval Jr also is good friends with Tavo Garcia, a head coach for the boys’ soccer team at Alleman High School. In fact, these two men grew up on the same street together, they both are graduates of Alleman High School, and both returned to Alleman to coach soccer at some point in their lives.

“I grew up 2 houses down from Enrique Sandoval and was the same age as his younger brother.  I have known him for a long time.  I was also fortunate to coach his son in travel soccer at EMSSC for a year when I first started out,” Tavo Garcia shared his memories of how he met the other Latino coaches in WB6.”I met Alex Sandoval during our time together as coaches at EMSSC.”

Garcia was born in Texas, but his family moved to Illinois. He has lived in East Moline since he was three years old.

“Me, my siblings, and neighbor kids all grew up playing sports together at local parks and fields near us, mainly soccer and baseball,” Garcia remembered his happy days of childhood.

“I officially began playing soccer when I was about 6 years old.  I was a multi-sport athlete my entire youth life (Soccer, Baseball, Black Belt in Karate, Tennis), but my favorite was always Soccer,” Garcia told us how much he loves soccer. “I really enjoy the beauty of the game whether I am playing it, coaching, or watching it on TV.  It has become such a huge part of my life and my family’s life.”

He added that soccer was how he met his wife, and between the two of them coaching and their kids playing soccer, this sport became that one thing they all enjoy doing as a family.

Before starting his soccer family, Garcia was a student at Alleman High School, where he played soccer and tennis. After graduating high school, he continued his education at the University of Dubuque. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master’s degree in Business Administration. All through his college career, he was on the varsity soccer team and also played tennis.

“After graduating from the UD in 2008, my then 13-year-old cousin Omar Pardo and his friend (my current assistant at Alleman & Rush) Miguel LaFerrara, asked me to be their travel coach at EMSSC,” coach Garcia told us on how he ended up as a soccer coach. “I was appointed as their head coach and was hired as an ADOC (assistant director of coaches).  Since that team, I continued coaching competitive, recreational, and high school soccer since then.”

He has been coaching the Alleman soccer team since last year. This year was his second full season with this team.

“I am also currently a youth soccer travel coach at Quad Cities Rush where I have been for the past 6 years.  I give full credit for my success to Alleman High School for preparing me for life after high school,” coach Garcia shared his thoughts. “They set a strong foundation in me about my work ethic, studies, and faith to be a successful coach, professional, and family man.”

Today these three coaches (along with coach Sanchez in Moline) proudly represent all Latinos coaches in the WB6. They all remember the days when there were not many coaches and players that looked like them, but things are changing. Yesterday’s four-year-olds that looked cute kicking the ball around are now strong coaches implementing discipline and teaching hard work to their players.

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“I am sure what started many years ago with Rick Sanchez at Moline High School, and has continued with us three today will continue to grow in the future,” Enrique Sandoval Jr shared his personal vision for the future of the WB6. “I hope more Mexican Americans like us seek to not only take more jobs at this level of the game but continue to grow and develop our skills so we can get the opportunity to also coach for local colleges and universities.”

“I tell my players the goal should never be to stop bettering ourselves, we should always strive to set new goals and achieve more. I believe that should be true for us as coaches as well.,” Sandoval Jr added.

“The boys were a great group with a ton of potential, and I really loved my first year at Rocky. We faced a lot of adversity that didn’t add up to the success we had hoped for but we had many, many moments of success. I am very optimistic that we can build on this season next fall and will have a strong showing.” Sandoval Jr. said, reflecting on his first season. 

As to Tavo Garcia, he himself feels honored to be one of the Latino coaches in the WB6 and he hopes to continue to be a great representative of the community.

“I feel it’s a great honor for us coaches who have worked hard and continued our careers in the sport,” Garcia said. “We take great pride in our roots and will continue to represent our communities as best as we can.”

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