There's not much that would get me out on a hot Arizona afternoon to watch a high-school soccer match, but Sal Reza as "coach" is one of them.
Reza, the bane of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former state Senate President Russell Pearce, the guy who's led thousands in marches protesting both Senate Bill 1070 and Arpaio's anti-immigrant enforcement measures, coaches a co-ed soccer team for Esperanza High School, a small charter school in North Phoenix that caters mostly to the children of working-class Hispanic families.
Think of a Latino Bad News Bears playing futbol, and that's Esperanza, which means "hope" in Spanish. Reza told me it's the first year Esperanza has had a soccer team, and he was practically drafted into coaching, as the school could not afford a professional coach.
"I know nothing about soccer," Reza shrugged. "But nobody else would do it."
Despite the civil rights leader's inexperience, despite the impoverished backgrounds of many of the kids, and despite a run-in by one of their star players with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week, Esperanza came within one point of taking their division's championship on Monday, losing to rival Phoenix College Prep, 3-2.
That made for tough loss, especially since Esperanza had come back from a 2-0 hole to tie the game at 2-2, only to have PCP score a crucial goal and clinch the win.
Still, Esperanza wasn't even supposed to be on that field at Phoenix's Desert West Park where the championship game took place. The team started its season with a loss, one that depressed the players, until they were given a sign of sorts.
A hawk circled above the team following the defeat, and one of the kids asked Reza what it meant.
"It means you can either fly like an eagle, or crawl like a snake," he told the teens.