By Eddie Herena
Prison provides the opportunity for Latinos to seek friendship with their fellow inmates through a shared interest. At San Quentin State Prison, this usually means finding them on a soccer field.
On the Lower Yard, incarcerated soccer players recently held a match against the Hermanos Unidos (United Brothers) – a team of all college students attending the University of California at Berkeley. The match was their third in a year.
The outside players were Latino as well and came from similar, if not the same, neighborhoods as the San Quentin team. Because of midterms and final exams, however, they could only field a squad of six players.
Eager to play and to even the field, everyone agreed to split into teams based on age. The dividing line was 40 years. It was the youngsters against the OGs (older guys.)
With the back drop of cloud-covered Mt. Tamalpais and a soft, wet, newly green field, the Hermanos completed their 10-man team by picking up four inside players.
Before the game began, youngster Alfredo Figuroa said he hoped his fellow Hermanos would “not die” from exhaustion.
OG Tare “Cancun” Beltranchuc, an inside player, said, “We’re going to have to play smart. We’re slow and have to compensate with wisdom.”
The average age for the youngsters was about 22 years old.
The OGs were all well past 40 years of age — with 65 being the oldest.
But age was not a factor as Jesús “Morelia” Lopez scored the game’s first goal off an assist from Beltranchuc in minute 30: 1-0 the older guys.
Near the first half’s end, only two Hermanos players remained in the game: Victor Gonzalez and Edwardo “Lalo” Ayala. It was starting to look like Figuroa’s plan to “not die,” was not working.
It was going to take more than energy to topple the veteran team.
And energy it was, as the youngsters kept coming and coming, until 22-year-old Brandon Higalgo, a young man from Mexico City, hurdled over a pile of bodies for a goal in the 43rd minute. The match was even: 1-1.
In the second half the OGs showed no signs of fatigue and played with the same vigor and determination, matching the youngsters stride for stride.
Arturo “Turi” Abalos and Jose “Niero” Viera in minutes 51 and 59 scored the first two second-half goals, giving the OGs a 3-1 advantage.
At this point, an OG victory seemed inevitable. Even with the inside help, the Hermanos would not get their first victory.
As the OGs were determined to win, they sent a message of “earning your keep on the field” to the youngsters.
But in minute 62, youngster Manny Torres responded to the OG’s message by scoring a goal. With the game winding down and in extra time, Cesar Delgado of San Quentin slipped in a goal, tying the match in the 93rd minute. The game ended seconds later.
It was time for penalty kicks.
Up for the first of five attempts was Lopez for the OGs who scored, putting his team up a goal: OGs 4-3.
Ayala for the youngsters: goal, 4-4.
Jose Melendez, OGs: miss, 4-4.
Hidalgo, youngsters: miss, 4-4.
Alexi Ruiz, OGs: goal, 5-4
Lionel Hernandez, youngsters: miss, 5-4
Beltranchuc, OGs: miss, 5-4
Torres, youngsters: goal, 5-5
Juan Espinoza, OGs: miss, 5-5
The game fell on the shoulders of Delgado, who scored the game-tying goal, and he did not miss his mark, giving the brothers from Berkeley their first win on San Quentin soil. The final score was 6-5 youngsters. The game was one to remember and one that could not be won “without them,” said Uriel Saldivar, referring to the young men on the inside.