Q&A: Fresno Pacific Head Coach Jaime Ramirez
Note: NorCal Premier Soccer regularly sits down with an influential figure in the youth soccer landscape to pick their brain about a variety of different topics that are relevant in the current soccer environment in the United States. For this edition we spoke with Fresno Pacific head coach Jaime Ramirez. After graduating from the program as a player in the 1970s, Ramirez played one season in the NASL with the Los Angeles Aztecs before returning to Fresno to coach. He’s been at the helm of the University for 28 seasons, formerly coached the FPU women’s team, has served as the Director of Coaching for Central California Soccer Alliance, and was the first head coach in the history of the Fresno Fuego. He’s currently the Director of Coaching for Valley United Soccer Club and holds a USSF National “A” License.
NorCal: How did you fall in love with soccer?
Ramirez: I grew up in Mexicali down near the border in Eastern California. That was the sport of choice for us back in the 60s, playing in the streets. Or at least my street — we were very territorial. There were probably around 16 houses on the street and that was us. All the kids from those houses played every day, but not just soccer, we played a lot of other games. But then you get to the age where you realize (that you want to pick one sport). My first recollection of deciding that this was going to be my sport was the 1966 World Cup, watching it on TV in black and white, watching Pele, Eusebio, the Charlton brothers from England, and Franz Beckenbauer was a young player at the time, I think that was his first World Cup. I remember just being glued to the TV as a 9-year-old. I just decided that that was my sport, I wanted to be a pro because of what I saw on TV. I truly, truly fell in love with the game and then in the following two years, 1967, 1968, I became one or two of the best players in the city. We played on the weekends in the stadium, there was a small stadium next to the municipal stadium in our town. My last year in Mexico in 1968, there was an allstar game that spring and I made it and played in the municipal stadium, which was the first time I’d ever played on grass. Everything we played on was dirt. For me it was just a surreal moment looking at a field of grass — it looked enormous, which of course it was for an 11-year-old. That was the time for me to just thoroughly fall in love for the game and decide not to do anything else.
NorCal: So how did you end up in Fresno?
Ramirez: In the summer of 68, my mother brought us here to Fresno to be with our grandparents and to work. They worked for Gallo winery as seasonal farmworkers and so at the end of the summer I thought that I was going to go back to Mexico, but my mother told us that we were going to stay here and live with our grandparents. There was some culture shock, I was depressed. There was no soccer in Clovis at the time, there was nothing in the schools. The schools here were K-8 and I had to repeat the 4th grade in Mexico, but my second time I was a top student and understood everything. And with soccer, I was the best and I say that because I always played with older kids, 13 or 14-year-olds, and it really taught me how to play. I lost my fear of playing against them so when I played with my age group, the game was really easy for me. I did 4th grade twice in Mexico and then when my grandmother enrolled me in school in Clovis, they put me in 4th grade again, mostly because I didn’t speak English and my size — I wasn’t very tall, but I was already 11. I loved going to school but I hated the fact that I was going to stay here in the US. The first day of class was just a total culture shock for me. We lived in a very rural area with my grandparents, homes were a quarter of a mile away from each other. I didn’t play soccer for four years, two years of elementary school — they moved me up to 6th grade my second year here as I picked up a little English. Academics were a problem only in the language aspect of it, but I knew concepts: math and science were always easy for me. That second year, Clovis built a new high school and the elementary school became K-6. The superintendent instituted a district-wide competition for school athletics, with football for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders being the signature sport. I went out because I needed to do something. I didn’t know anything except for that I could run and that I was an athlete, so I made the team because no one else could run more than me. I had a ton of stamina and the first week of training was just running: running up and down the stands, running up and down stairs. Kids were dropping left and right and I outran everybody. I outran everybody in everything except for the sprints, I was second in the sprints. I made the team and then played football, baseball, basketball, and ran track. In the Junior West Coast Regionals, I was the 440-yard dash champion. I did all of that until I got to high school and played soccer. Then I was in heaven. Four years without soccer…my dad would send me a soccer ball every year for Christmas and I would play with it, juggle on the farm, and play as much as I could. In PE for two weeks a year, everyone played soccer, but we’d play at every opportunity we got. The high school experience here was what turned things around for me because I was competitive in soccer in Mexico and then learned to compete in American sports and we won a lot in Clovis and then when soccer started, we didn’t win a lot. We were horrible, horrible because it was mostly football players trying to play soccer, but we put together a couple of good years. One year we made it to CIF finals because a couple of us could play soccer. That confirmed the legitimacy of my soccer experience here in the Valley in how I felt that I was one of the top players in the area. There were a handful of really good players. There was also some teaching going on in the Valley from some Europeans, some Germans, some Armenians, some Mexicans. I didn’t know too many of the Mexican coaches, but I knew some of those guys, so I enjoyed that part of high school until I had the opportunity to be discovered and offered an opportunity for a scholarship at Fresno Pacific.
NorCal: So that’s how you ended up at Fresno Pacific?
Ramirez: When I came here to live with my grandparents, my mother brought us here on a tourist VISA, and I stayed here after it expired, which meant I was here illegally. During my senior year, I realized that I wanted to play soccer at the college level, not so much to play sports, but to go to college and get a degree. During my senior year, I spoke with my friends and one of my teachers at the high school and I told them my situation. I wanted to go to college but I didn’t know how I was going to because of my status. My teacher, who was wonderful and tried to help me as much as I could, knew that I needed an opportunity to go to college and so he wrote our congressman and some other people in Sacramento. All the letters came back negative so I didn’t know what to do — I’m sure there were hundreds or thousands of kids in the same situation back then and I wasn’t a special case, but I didn’t know that at the time and I was dejected. So I stayed out of school for a year. When I was 13 my grandparents introduced me to a wonderful Japanese farmer named George who became like a surrogate father to me — the guy taught me so much. He was a mechanic by trade but a farmer by choice. After he came back from the internment camps during World War II, he came back to the area where a local farmer had saved land for him. He started farming again. My grandfather typically had a few grandchildren who would come up to work seasonally. That year nobody was here except for me, so my grandfather told the farmer that he could take me and have me work for him. George just taught me so much about work ethic, which I already had, I knew how to work and I didn’t mind getting up early so I just started working for George. Every break, every weekend, every holiday I worked for him and when I couldn’t go to college, I started working for him, however the spring of my senior year of high school, I finally got hooked up with a youth soccer program in Fresno who asked me to play on their U19 team in State Cup. So I joined them and played with them and after State Cup, they had a couple of exhibition games that summer, I think Kaiserslaughtern’s U19’s were coming to California. So they wanted to put a good Allstar team together so they asked me to play and I joined the team. That was a lot of fun. When we were preparing for the summer match after State Cup, we lost to Club America from San Francisco in either the finals or semifinals of State Cup, then we had a friendly game against an adult team called Club Ararat, an Armenian soccer club. After the game, the coach for Ararat, came up to me and told me I was a good player and asked me if I wanted to play for his club. This was the first person who offered me a spot on a men’s team, and that’s what I wanted to do. Again, I just graduated from high school and couldn’t go to college so I was dejected, but the opportunity came up to play with this team and gave me something more to do in what I loved to do in a time where there was a lot of uncertainty in my life. So I knew about Fresno Pacific College, I think the coach came and talked to us at our high school when I was a junior. I knew that it was a faith-based institution, I knew that it was very small, and I knew that they were horrible. I think that we might have played a friendly against them with the high school team and they just were not very good. I just remember thinking that they couldn’t be a college team. A couple of my friends from high school ended up going there because of their religious affiliation. What happened was that summer when I was out, a year later, I had already played a year for Ararat and had a great time. I was 19-years-old and one of the leading scorers in the Valley. I could run, I was just so excited to play with men and men who would actually give me the ball. I made an impact in the Valley in the men’s league. I graduated in 76 and then in the summer of 77, a year later, we were playing in a tournament at a local park here in West Fresno — teams play tournaments in that park annually as a fundraiser for their clubs. Ararat played in the tournament and we made the championship, I led the team in goals, and we won it. And the center referee was the Fresno Pacific college coach, Ben Norton. He would referee in the offseason just to earn a little bit of extra money. After the game he asked me if I was willing to come to dinner with him to talk about playing for Fresno Pacifc. I told him that I’d love to go to college and I couldn’t be picky or worry about the level of the team because I was just looking for an opportunity. So we met the next day at the restaurant and before he started talking, I had to share with him my status. He told me that he was Canadian and said that he understood. He presented me with options, one of which was to go back to Mexico, visit the consulate there, and get a VISA and return as an international student. I didn’t know anything so I just said, “sure, let’s do it.” I applied for the school, got admitted, then went to Tijuana, then they denied my VISA because they didn’t understand how I could apply to be an international student when all my records stated that I had already been going to school in the US. I told them that I understood but still felt disappointed. I called the college and told them and they said they were going to send me another international form to see if maybe with a little bit more of a financial aid, more of a scholarship offer, that the consulate would change their mind. I had all the support I needed from my grandparents, but maybe they thought that I wouldn’t be able to pay. But I didn’t want to go. It took me a month to go back because I told my mother that I was going to stay in Mexico, go to the University of Baja California, get a job, and never go back to California. I didn’t want to live with the stigma of being illegal and wondering whether every time I see a police officer I would get deported. It wasn’t fun for me, there was always that fear, I don’t know how to describe it, it was just a difficult situation. So I decided not to come back. The day that I got a job and I was going to go to work the next day, but I said, “If I go to work tomorrow, that’s it.” I told my dad that I didn’t want to stay in Tijuana because my heart was in Fresno. The irony of the whole thing is that when I first came at 11, I didn’t want to be in Fresno, I wanted to stay in Mexico. But now I had assimilated, acculturated, had a great time in high school. I knew the culture, I loved it, and I wanted to be here now, I didn’t want to be in Mexico anymore. I love my family, I love my parents, but really I didn’t know them because I grew apart from them for seven years, eight years, nine years. So I went back to Tijuana and got the VISA on my second try and then I began my journey as a student athlete at Fresno Pacific.
NorCal: What was it like playing for Fresno Pacific?
Ramirez: The genius of my coach, who had been the Fresno Pacific coach for years before me, was that he realized that the valley was full of Hispanics and sprinkles of other international kids who played soccer and loved the game and, yeah we were a Protistant, Mennonite college, but if we wanted to be successful, we were going to open the door to some of these kids. So they recruited me and a couple of other kids from my high school who were all good Catholic boys and we joined the college and made an immediate impact because even though we lost most of our games at the beginning of the season, once we got into conference play my freshman year, we began winning and then we got into the playoffs and lost in the regional semifinals. It took me a little while to get into the college game because we were playing against guys who were fit, who were amazing physically, as opposed to the men’s league where you more had to deal with the subtleties of the game, the grabbing, the pulling, the skillful older players who could beat you in different ways, but the fitness level was not the same as the college level, so that was a big adjustment for me. I didn’t get my legs out from under me until the playoffs but then I scored all of our goals. That gave me the idea that the reality of this game was that it was very physical so I had to work on that. The summer before my sophomore year, I ran every day. I ran to work, trained with the ball every day, and then came in a sophomore and we shocked the country because we beat Fresno State for the first time ever and then we beat Seattle Pacific, who were D-II national champions, and then we were in a dual conference with the NAIA and some Division I and Division II schools, which was Fresno State, UNLV, Long Beach State, Hayward, Westmont, and a couple of other schools and we won the championship and that year I scored 20 goals. We barely missed the NAIA playoffs, partially because the game before we were 0-0 against Azusa Pacific and their goalkeeper just took out my ankle, took me out of the game. My ankle was swollen so big after that and there was a penalty and we missed it and they won 1-0 and we missed the NAIA playoffs, but to me our conference was more important because beating Fresno State, beating UNLV, playing against Long Beach for the championship and winning that game 1-0 was, to me, a sign of a little program no one knows about, but now because of the brilliance of our coach and the trust he gave in us, we’re David beating Goliath. It was a really cool experience. After my freshman year, the coach brought me to his office and told me that I was going to be the team captain. That gave me a huge boost of confidence because in high school, I was never captain. My coach in high school, even though I was the best player on the team, picked my friend Mike because Mike was a leader. That guy was a leader. He was student body president and always involved in making decisions on campus and even though he was an average soccer player, he was a tremendous competitor. I understood all of that, I didn’t have any illusions of wanting to be captain when I was in high school, I just wanted to play, but when coach brought me into his office and gave me the armband, I said, “Oh, wow, this is something different.” The guy saw something in me and so I appreciated that and I did everything that I could to represent the university really well. That was the turning point of Fresno Pacific soccer and maybe even Fresno Pacific athletics, because we became the standard bearer of competition at the college level with just 380 total students. My senior year, we were the first team sport to ever win an NAIA regional championship, we ended up beating Westmont College from Santa Barbara, who were at that time phenomenal. We finally beat them twice that year, my senior year, and beat them in the championship at their place. I scored a 40-yarder. It was crazy. It was at the time when, you might have heard this about the 80s, but there were a lot of man-to-man marking in soccer. If you were one of the top players, the opposing coach would put someone on you and they would hound you throughout the game. They would push you, grab you, try to get in your head, do all kinds of different stuff. I had this guy on me and I just couldn’t shake him but all of a sudden one time, I was just out of the center circle in the attacking half and I received a ball center right facing our own goal. I received the ball on my left, faked to my right, turned to my left with a 180 and just crushed it. I figured that they weren’t going to allow me to dribble, they’d been fouling me all game long. I got a glimpse at the goalie and he was a little bit out so I just launched it, it went over his head, and we won the game 2-1. It was just fantastic. I say that because those were the turning points of the program at Fresno Pacific college. It put us on the map, it put us on the soccer map particularly in our region because at that point, we hadn’t gone to a national tournament yet. We lost to go to nationals, we lost to Simon Fraser, who were basically the Canadian national team at that point. We had gone in the fall for a preseason tour and lost to them 1-0 at their place, fantastic game. This game was played in a drizzle in their element and they beat us 5-1. It really gave us an incentive to continue to grow and for our coach to continue to recruit local Hispanic talent and blend that in with some Canadian talent that he had contact with.
NorCal: What was your experience like with the Los Angeles Aztecs in the NASL?
Ramriez: I went to play on the reserve team of the Los Angeles Aztecs in January of 1982 to hopefully sign with the first team later. I joined them and joined the greater LA league, which was a phenomenal league, it was an ethnic league with teams from all over the world with ex and current professionals who played in the second division or some first division but not a ton of playing time, but they’d come to LA with relatives who had businesses from their home countries. They were remarkable. I just loved watching them play and then when I got to play against them with the Aztecs reserves, it was even better. We lost in the championship of that league, the greater LA league, and then they made the announcement that the LA Aztecs were going to fold. The investors were not going to re-invest in the league and that sort of started the demise of the North American Soccer League.
NorCal: And then you came back to Fresno?
Ramirez: I came back in 82 to get my teaching credential at Fresno Pacific because I had decided to become a teacher. That year, coach asked me to be an assistant coach for him. He said, “listen, whatever you learned with the Aztecs, I want you to teach the guys. I have the practice plans, I’ll schedule those, but when it comes to focusing and emphasizing technique, I’ll handle the tactics, but with the intensity level that you just played at for a year, I need you to work with the boys on that.” That was his brilliance. Then he would send me to the rural communities to recruit with the Hispanic families. I loved that. Coach was brilliant at recognizing which kids were talented but not going to get recruited to a big school like Fresno State. We could tell parents that no, it’s not a Catholic school, but we can help kids with financial aid, scholarships, etc…From 1977, when I became a freshman and we made the playoffs, to 86, we either won a conference or regional title or were in the championship match. For 10 years, we were there. Some other players also became assistant coaches, so our level of competitiveness and Ben Norton’s genius was enough to raise the level of the program. In 1983 we qualified for our first national tournament. The NAIA back then had a 12-team tournament at one site. We qualified for the national tournament by winning the regional championship. There were groups of three teams and then each winner would move onto the semifinals. In the group stage we tied and lost so that was a good experience for us. The following year in 84, we hosted the tournament in Fresno and we made the championship final and lost to West Virginia Wesleyan, who were stacked with internationals — the only American player on that team was the goalkeeper. It was great for us, we were a team with four or five internationals and then the rest were all local kids. Then in 85/86, we qualified again to the national tournament and went to South Carolina and played against the same team in the semifinals, who were the hosts, the previous year when we beat them three or four to one. Now they were the hosts and we beat them 2-1 in the semifinals in double overtime. Then we faced the same team in the final, West Virginia Wesleyan. We lost to them 4-3 in quadruple overtime. It was crazy. It was remarkable, just such a wonderful experience to be able to take a program from…and I understood the history of the program because I studied it, it was started in 61 and their average victories per season was, I think, three games. They’d win three games a year and then Ben comes in and they start winning three or four, the year before I came in, they might have won five games. Then we came in, my freshman year we didn’t win a lot of games, we had a losing season, but we made playoffs. Then in playoffs we got really hot and began that journey of having 10, 12, 13, 15 wins in the season. Then we had two national runners-up seasons and regional championships. In 1986, in the final year of what I think of as the height of Ben’s career, we lost in the regional finals to Westmont. Then from 87-90, we had a lull. Ben was offered the AD position and I thought that he was such a moral and ethical man that I just felt like he went so far out of his way not to show favoritism towards soccer that I think it affected the team because that 87 class had my brother as a freshman and a handful of kids who were very talented. His coaching suffered, and mine did to for that matter because I think one of the things that I felt like I could have done and I didn’t know about it then, and he encouraged me to give me more of a role in coaching was to have me begin my coaching education. He had a “B” license and I was a school teacher and it was necessary for me to do that and to not just rely on my assistants always being there and being loyal to the program. Once he began the experience of being AD and being an administrator in charge of the whole department of athletics, his coaching suffered and for four years we didn’t make playoffs and I was disappointed. During that time I made the decision that I wanted my own team so I applied for a high school job here in town, close to Fresno Pacific, and I got the job. I had my own team and I felt like I was building a program and doing well, it was a program that hadn’t been in the playoffs since 1970 and it was 1985 now.
NorCal: That’s right before you took over Fresno Pacific, right?
Ramirez: I was really loving (the high school program) and right around 1990, I was going to tell Ben, “thanks for the opportunity, I’ve enjoyed it a lot, but I want to focus on building my own program at Roosevelt and I want to teach high school — I was going to go from elementary school to teaching high school.” I was going to do that by getting a math credential. I needed one more class for my credential and I was on course to do that and then he left. He took a sabbatical/leave of absence with a condition to return and he didn’t return. So when the word came back that he wasn’t going to return for the 1990 season, it was like, “well, what’s going on? What’s going to happen with the program?” We had spent so much time and effort and energy to build it. We had some national recognition and even though we hadn’t made the playoffs in four years, people knew about us. The AD that they hired, my friend Ken Fox, who was doing his PhD at Idaho State, to be the interim head coach because the university really wanted a PhD on campus and to coach and they wanted him. So he comes back and handles the team from 1990 as an interim and then he pulled me aside and told me that he wanted me to coach it, he said that he thought I knew what the program was all about so that I could coach it and then he would direct the program and do all the administrative stuff and he and I could put our heads together, but it was a team that I knew and understood, so I said yes. We did it together that year, he was the head coach and I was the assistant. (After that) I applied for the job and Ken told the administration that they should give the job to me. I was about to be done with it, I didn’t want to coach anymore as an assistant, I just wanted to build my program as an assistant, but this turn of events really worked out in my favor, really thanks to Ken, because Ken…they told the program that they needed to hire me. I got the job in 1991 and I’ve been here ever since.
NorCal: You mentioned that there wasn’t a ton of youth soccer around in Fresno when you were growing up. In the soccer community what’s changed from when you were growing up to now?
Ramirez: Fresno did have a junior soccer program…we’ve been doing some research with some old-timers here. Organized soccer really began with Fresno State. I’m sure we can talk to guys in their 80s and 90s in a lot of communities around the United States and guys will say, “yeah, I used to play soccer downtown or at the park,” or whatever. But as far as organized leagues, Fresno didn’t have organized soccer until 1959. A couple of Aremenian guys, the guy that became my coach, they were international students who had just arrived from the USSR, and they’d just arrived as international students at Fresno State and they saw that they had an international club made up of a bunch of international students and they said, “we need to organize a soccer team here.” Those two guys organized the soccer team and then they put a team together but then they realized that they didn’t have anyone to play against. So they got a hold of Sacramento State and they put together four teams in Sacramento and Fresno. They formed the Northern California Soccer Association. They only played for a couple of years and then the Fresno teams got tired of traveling to Sacramento so they formed their teams. Out of those four initial teams in NorCal, more teams were formed then, two from Fresno. The two teams from Fresno were mostly just traveling to Sacramento and finally they formed a league, which started with four teams. By the time I came here, there were tons of teams. But the youth leagues were run by Harold Young, you might have heard of the Harold Young Soccer Tournament, it’s the biggest high school soccer tournament in the Central Valley. He was a British gentleman who came and in 1968 and 1969, he started with six elementary schools in Clovis and Fresno and got some parents involved in starting a youth program. So he began the junior soccer league in Fresno. This was just before I came, so by 1969 he started it and pretty soon he had 12 teams, then in the late 70s, they began the girls program. I think by the time I graduated from high school in 1976, Clovis had a junior soccer league, but I was in high school and doing the high school thing and I wasn’t hearing about anybody whose little brothers or sisters were playing soccer, certainly not in the neighborhood I grew up in. I think in Clovis it began later, probably in the late 70s and yeah, because of the competitiveness of both Clovis and Fresno, with regards to the other sports, which were already in CIF, soccer just took off and so we were doing that, we were getting into the history of that. Clovis, no, there was no junior soccer there in my time, but in Fresno it had already started. If I would have known about that, I probably would have joined earlier. I was not aware of it until college.
NorCal: As a coach, what values or lessons that you learned from your playing career do you try to pass on to your players?
Ramirez: There are many and certainly one of them, from the very, very beginning, particularly when I started playing with Ararat, was the mentorship aspect. The mentorship aspect. If it hadn’t been for those guys (who helped me), the guys who told me I was a good player and taught me what to do, Mike Ross was probably one of the gentlemen of the game for me. He wouldn’t fight but you know how fighting is part of the adult league culture, right? Big brawls, back in the day, Mike and some of those guys would tell me that no, I didn’t need to fight, I just needed to stand up for what was just, what was correct. He helped me all along through my athletic experience in high school, Mike took me under his wing and he was hard on me. He always told me to apply pressure, and you know, I was an attacking player, so he always told me that I was wonderful with the ball, but when you lose the ball, you have to defend. He would always yell at me, “man, put the pressure on!” Because I lacked that, you know. But that mentorship aspect and the competitiveness, I already had it, and I think that the camaraderie and the love of the people and loyalty to those who gave you opportunities. I did not want to disappoint Eddie and then when Ben gave me that chance, I did not want to disappoint him, I did everything I could to over prepare if I needed to to make sure that when I had to represent the school, the club, I could do it in the best way possible. Having learned those lessons because during my college years I played for Ararat and won two championships, in the Central Valley Soccer League and then we won championships with Fresno Pacific, but having had that kind of demeanor on the pitch, the way I carried myself. My senior year of college, California had all the colleges together, all of the California coaches decided to get together for the senior bowl. The top seniors for the north played against the south and I got selected on the north. A very young Sigi Schmid was my coach. Rest in peace, Sigi. Sigi was so wonderful to me, he respected me, he gave me the captain’s armband for a game and I was playing really well and we beat the south 5-1, we killed them. We had guys who went on to play in the NASL and they were all Division I and Division II players, with just a sprinkle of NAIA guys, me and one other guy. That’s where the LA Aztec scouts saw me play and gave me an opportunity. Those values that were taught to me from all these coaches I had about respecting the game, gentleman-like behavior on the pitch, love of your teammates, the value of a teammate for their characteristics, the style of play was so critical. There are kids that always want to play with the best players, right. That’s part of our culture. I always wanted to play against the best players because then that would be a test for me, I wanted to measure myself. If I played with them, maybe I was more self conscious that they would take the spotlight from me, but if I played against them, I could learn something from them and if I beat them in competition, when you beat someone that’s good or better than you, there’s no better satisfaction. Ben taught us that, to fear nobody. My junior and senior year, we played USF, they were national champions, we’re playing who? USF? Fresno Pacific? Okay, we learned to compete against those guys. Individually, none of those guys were better than you because this is a team sport. When Ben had us play against those teams, it was an opportunity for us to show what we could do. And because teams like that played us, not because they needed a win, but because those old school coaches at the college level, who came from other countries, knew that everybody deserves an opportunity to play everybody. And in this country in particular, when we were really building this sport, they had no room to think like an elitist. Now, there are a number of coaches who think that way, who think, “an NAIA school? We don’t play those schools.” We had that same mentality at Ararat too. We’d go to State Cup and play the San Francisco Glens, we’d go play whoever, El Farolito, all those teams. We played those teams because they were the best and we wanted to be the best. I think those kinds of experiences were what Sigi saw in me when I reflected on the couple of practices we had before the Allstar game before he gave me the captain’s armband and really gave me a lot of confidence. Honestly, I didn’t know a lot about…I mean how many college kids really know about the spectrum of college athletics, college soccer across the country? Not a lot of them. I mean there’s the perception, right? But how many really know what UCLA, Stanford, Berkeley, and back in those days, Santa Clara, Indiana, were really like? Not a lot of them. Until you’re actually on the pitch playing against them, then you really realize that you can play. For me those lessons learned, the lessons of competitiveness, of camaraderie, love of the game, and then having high expectations. I always wanted to compete in every single game. For me, the non conference schedule, in some respects, if it can’t be stronger than your conference schedule, you’re not preparing your team for conference, where you really have no control over who you play. The other lessons learned from my coach that have been tremendous in my life, was that Ben was willing to travel anywhere. With Ben, we took a 17-day trip to the Midwest. Seventeen days!
NorCal: What have been the challenges of coaching during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ramirez: Obviously the challenge is not being physically present with all of your players. We are social beings. To say that part of our social networking is through social media, but there’s nothing like being physically social, just being there with people and meeting face-to-face. It’s been a challenge for all of us, certainly for me because I’m old school. I love having face-to-face meetings in my office, I love meeting with my team, I love being able to support people in person, in train sessions, I want to give some of my players a hug. It’s just really been challenging. Having to wait, having your patience tested…the patience and lack of physical contact has been a challenge for me and also for my kids and then on a personal level, my daughter was affected by the virus. Having lived through that experience, where for a few days we didn’t know what was going to happen, was harrowing.