Runners from ‘McFarland, USA’ speak at THS

Thomas Valles and Johnny Samaniego, two of the runners portrayed in the movie “McFarland, USA,” the inspiring story of the 1987 State Championship Cross Country team from McFarland, California, spoke to the freshman class at Templeton High Friday morning.

Valles was a member of the California 1987 State Championship. After graduating high school he attended College of Sequoias in Visalia and also attended California State University Bakersfield where he majored in criminology. Thomas spent four years in the United States Coastguard. He is married to Martha and has three beautiful children. For the past 21 years, he has been working as a correctional officer for the state of California.

Samaniego was also part of the 1987 cross country State Championship. Portrayed in “McFarland USA” as the football player who helped Mr. White start the team. Johnny attended College of Sequoias and graduated from CSUB with a major in Kinesiology. He is married to Norma and also has three beautiful kids. Johnny has taught in the district of McFarland for the past 19 years.

Both runners spoke about the challenges they had to face to be successful, not only on the cross country team but even more in life.  

“Success is not about having a nice car or about where you live, but it's about doing the best you can with what you have,” Valles said, encouraging the students to be “champions in life,” and to “set goals, dream.”

Johnny talked about the importance of “breaking the cycle.” Face the challenges that you have, don’t run from them, he said. He also told the students to “always be rowing, not drifting,” and stressed the importance of attitude. He said there are a lot of things you can’t change but one thing you do have control over is your attitude.

Bijou Burns, a senior at THS, said she was inspired and said the runners set a great example.  She was challenged by Thomas’ idea that you need “make time to be better.” She said, “I just have to get out there and do it. Not just on a field or on a court but in all areas of life”.

“I was challenged when Thomas told us to always be rowing and not drifting,” Freshman President Garrett Goodman said. “We all need to remember we need to be moving forward, pushing on.”

“I was reminded that we all face challenges,” Freshman Dylan Palm said. “It is up to us to face our challenges — no excuses — and be a good example for those who follow after us.”

The assembly was organized jointly by the THS Link Crew and the THS Culture Initiative, a parents group who works to raise support for activities and experiences that build culture and spirit on the THS campus.


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