Many people love different games, but there are a special few who selflessly share their love with others who in turn share it.
Ruben Mendoza was that kind of person when it came to soccer.
He loved the game as a boy in Mexico, and carried that passion to the U.S. national team and U.S. Olympic soccer team. When he hurt his knee and could no longer play after 1960, he found a way to spread the joy well beyond himself.
He started soccer in Granite City. The kids needed opponents, so he got teams started in Collinsville and Edwardsville. It spread from there.
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The high school program went from only two wins that first season to capturing 10 state titles.
More than 50 years later there are still former players who appreciate the joy and lessons they learned from Mendoza on the soccer field. Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn is one of them. Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer is another.
Mendoza passed away in 2010, but those who remember “the father of metro-east soccer” or care about the gift he gave generations of young athletes are raising money to create a statue of him performing his trademark bicycle kick. It will be in Granite City on a stretch of Niedringhaus Avenue to be renamed Ruben Mendoza Way.
Thousands of fans and players have benefited from the idea pushed by a guy too hurt to continue playing. It’s a good illustration of that old Irving Berlin line: “Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it.”