Miguel Lopez has found his place in history. Yet again.
The Manteca/Lathrop Boys and Girls Club Male Youth of the Year became the first member in the club’s 32-year history to reach the state-level competition in May.
“He’s just a real inspiration to the younger kids,” Manteca/Lathrop Executive Director Jeanie Miller said. “We’re proud to have him be a finalist. We have youth of the year candidates submitted every year and we’ve never had a youth go as far as he has.”
Lopez was one of nine finalists to grace the auditorium stage in Oakland, and though the Manteca High graduate failed to finish in the top-three, he was given a champion’s sendoff.
A San Francisco State speech professor showered the 19-year-old with high praise, commending his spirit and oratory skills. Not once, but twice.
“He made a beeline right for him,” said Frank Lopez, Miguel’s stepfather. “That was pretty cool to see.”
The professor complimented Lopez’s ability to overcome adversity; to package those experiences into a story; and then to be able to share it so clearly and eloquently with a crowd of strangers.
“He said that was one of the best speeches he’s heard since he’s been going to these things,” Miguel Lopez recalled. “He said my posture was good; that I connected with the audience and that I had a nice, strong voice. He said my voice was confident.”
You see, there was a time in his life when Lopez didn’t want to talk, and when he did, his voice would tremble or tail off. He kept his thoughts and feelings shuttered from the world. “Confident” wasn’t a compliment lobbed his way – ever.
Born into a broken home, Lopez spoke of about how that impacted his development as a child. Lopez also said he was bullied in school – teased about his home life and the ponytail he wore.
It wasn’t until he discovered the Boys and Girls Club and the sport of basketball that his personality and strength began to break through. He credits club for giving him the tools to cut his own path through life.
He first became a member at 7.
“Everyone there had similar situations. There were kids that were foster children. There were people whose parents verbally and physically abused them. We all accepted each other,” he said, “because we knew what we were going through.”
Basketball (and to a lesser extent music) became his outlet.
A potent scorer in the club’s league play, Lopez found similar success in the high school game. On the court, the kid who once shied away from the spotlight now owned it.
The 5-foot-7 guard played two varsity seasons with the Buffaloes – earning a reputation as a shooter and workhorse – and ranked among the team’s statistical leaders as a senior. Lopez averaged 9.6 points, 2.1 assists and 0.9 steals per game this past winter.
Instead of resting on his laurels, Lopez has jumped back into the fire. He is currently enrolled in summer classes at Modesto Junior College, where he’ll compete for a roster spot on the men’s basketball team later this year.
He is the first in his immediate family to go to college.
Lopez believes his shot and drive – two attributes honed on the court at the Boys and Girls Club – will help convince head coach Paul Brogan, a former Manteca High varsity coach.
“I put in countless hours at the Boys and Girls Club working on my shot – the form, the release, the timing, everything,” he said. “Why not take pride in something that I’ve worked so much on?”
These days, Lopez doesn’t lack for confidence.
“I am one of the first in my family to go to college,” said the aspiring physical therapist. Lopez wants to eventually study kinesiology at Sonoma State.
“I want to make it on the basketball team to prove to everybody that I wasn’t just good in elementary school and high school. I want to be good in college, too. I want to hang with the big boys.
“I don’t want to be known as the player that could have or should have. I want to be known as the player that went out there and did it.”