Senior Alondra Hernandez and freshman Eunice Garcia both grew up in the same region in Mexico. Both are talented volleyball players. Both are contributors to the excellent Timpview volleyball team.
And both have had to sacrifice a lot to get where they are.
"They moved here in the last couple of years and are adapting to the culture," Thunderbird head coach Charmay Lee said Tuesday. "We are expecting Alondra to get a scholarship, but right now, she works at Taco Bell, doing everything she can to help her family. There have been games where she has been gassed in games because she was working late the night before. Eunice is still improving her English. They are physically gifted, but it's hard because of their circumstances."
It's not possible for many families, including a large number in Utah Valley's Latino community, to spend their financial resources on sports. At the highest levels of youth competition, the price tag of athletic commitment can be thousands of dollars per year.
Hernandez, who is the starting libero for Timpview, understands that she can't just be a student-athlete.
"I have to wake up for school at 6 a.m.," Hernandez said. "I'm done with school at 2:15 p.m., then I have practice that ends at 5 p.m. Then I have work at 5:30 p.m. until 10 or 10:30 p.m. I get home to do homework and then start over again. It is really challenging, but I can balance it."
Hernandez and Garcia both play club volleyball, but have to work hard to defray the costs.
"I go and work at tournaments to help my parents pay for it," said Garcia, who is a defensive specialist for the Thunderbirds. "Sometimes, they don't have the money to pay, so I come and work to help my parents to pay for anything we need."
While the rise of the club sports scene has changed the dynamic of athletics at the youth and high school levels, competing for a school is still of tremendous value as well as being much more affordable.
"A lot of our coaches have open gyms where athletes can practice," said Fidel Montero, principal of Timpview High School. "We have weight-training classes they can take. We try to get them involved that way. It's not the same as having a personal coach, but it goes a long ways. We can help them and we can do a lot."
He recalled a young man many years ago who found acceptance and belonging in high school sports.
"I love what athletics can do for a community, for a school and for an individual," Montero said. "The community that I grew up in in northern California was a small farming community and there were a lot of migrant workers who lived there. Sports sort of brought the community together. I would be playing across from guys whose dads owned the orchards, who my dad worked for. It was an interesting environment. For those of us who came from immigrant backgrounds or backgrounds where you didn't have a lot of resources, high school sports connected you to your school and your education."
He acknowledged that things have changed since those days as club sports, camps and private coaching have a much greater impact on sports.
"I wouldn't have been able to afford those things," Montero said. "There is just no way. You hear of people spending $500 or $1,000 or more per month on their children's development. When my dad was making less than $20,000 per year, there's no way he could afford something like that."
Because of his own experiences, Montero is very cognizant of the many young people who simply don't have the same access because of their economic situation.
"I believe that access level is creating a barrier in sports," Montero said. "I want to give a shout-out to our city programs, which I think are doing their best to have competitive programs at the city level. There are also local clubs here who sacrifice a lot to provide opportunities."
One of those clubs — Provo Futbol Academy — is run by Lugwig Sanchez, 42, of Provo, who has worked hard to give Latino soccer players chances to develop their skills at an elite level.
"I started with the idea of building something for an underserved community, to provide quality training for them," Sanchez said. "The challenges make it really hard to establish a solid organization that can compete at the highest level. I'm fortunate to have kids that like soccer and a wife who has been very supportive because I've stubbornly wanted to do this for the kids. It's not just about soccer. We always encourage kids to keep up with school, to have a Plan B. Soccer can be one of the greatest things but it's not probable that the kids will become pros."
He said he has seen a lot of successes, including having five players get college scholarships, but it can be heartbreaking to see the challenges some of the athletes face. He said he sees sports as a tremendous teaching tool.
"It affects every aspect of their life and their families as well," Sanchez said. "I've seen parents with bad habits improve because they see what their kids are doing, they get excited and become more committed. If there is a vision, soccer can be a vehicle that can provide opportunities and develop the character of a person."
That's where Garcia and Hernandez find themselves learning those types of lessons right now as they pursue their volleyball dreams.
"Sometimes I wish it was easier but I'm grateful for what I have," Hernandez said. "I'm grateful for my parents and all they give me. My advice to someone would be to keep going. It's going to be hard but you can do it."
Having each other on the same team is something they both value.
"Alondra is really good," Garcia said. "Sometimes when I don't know what I'm doing wrong, she helps me. I'm really glad she is part of the team, because sometimes, it is hard to speak English. We can talk in Spanish and communicate really well. I learn from her and she learns from me. We have each other's back all the time."
Hernandez added, "Eunice is amazing. She is so nice and I'm grateful she is on my team because we bond a lot together. It's really nice to have her."
Garcia believes all of the sacrifice and challenges makes her appreciate her experiences all more.
Many of the high school sports programs -- including the Thunderbird volleyball team -- get significant benefits from these athletes because they have no sense of entitlement and are driven to earn everything they get.
"They are phenomenal students, phenomenal athletes who work very hard," Lee said. "We couldn't be more happy that they are here at Timpview."