Athletes from other schools flock to Fort Worth's South Hills High School just to have a shot at playing on the same field with them. Kids who never thought about the opportunity to go to college and play at the collegiate level look at them and see hope for themselves.
They are an inspiration to their school, their community, and their peers.
Meet Esmeralda (Esmie) Gonzales, 18, graduating class of 2016, and Patricia (Paty) Loredo, 16, class of 2017. They came from different backgrounds and reached high school superstar status in different sports. Gonzales has played soccer since she was five years old. Loredo started playing baseball with boys at five and select softball at age eleven.
Gonzales also plays softball. She made First Team All-District this year.
Gonzales has made Super Team in soccer every year where she earned Super Team MVP as a freshman and senior. On March 3 this year, the 4’9” striker took the field determined to break the all-time national record for goals scored in a career. She needed two goals—one to tie the record with 286 and 287 to go ahead. She scored nine goals that night against Trimble Tech, finishing her season with 316. She also had the most goals in a season with 109.
In her freshman year, while pitching against Aledo High School, one of the toughest teams in the state, Loredo was voted unanimously by all the coaches in the district as the MVP. This would be repeated her sophomore year. She would be awarded the Female Athlete of the Year by her school, going toe to toe with Gonzales. In 2015, Loredo batted .797. She ranked third on the National Leader Board, second in Texas and was named Offensive Player of the Year. In 2016, she was selected as MVP in the Hillsboro Tournament and Honey Bee Classic in Stephenville.
Excellence does not stop on the field. Gonzales and Loredo both earned 3.7 GPAs. Gonzales serves on the school’s Leadership Council and Academic Council. Loredo achieved Honors, Culinary Gold Seal and the Bronze Medal in Mathematics in a class of 400.
Though each of these athletes is completely different, they are one and the same, says Laura Woerner, South Hills softball coach, and the girls’ biggest fan. “Since I can remember, each of these children has talked to me about one dream, and that is to go to college and play ball. As a coach, you dream about having one of these phenomenal athletes in a lifetime; I have been fortunate enough to have two.”
Woerner remembers Gonzales in her freshman year, walking into her office “with enough personality to fill a room. Kids flocked to her; she was happy; she was positive. She is the kind of kid that everyone hopes to have as a friend,” Woerner said. Gonzales told Woerner she had received an invitation to play for the Mexican National Team. She did not know what to do. She was 15 years old.
“Any kid offered this opportunity would have jumped on it,” Woerner said. “I could tell that this decision was weighing heavy on her heart, so I asked her, ‘What is your dream?’ ”
Gonzales said she wanted to go to college and travel the world doing what she loved, playing soccer.
“It was a big honor. However, I really wanted to finish my education,” she said. “I wasn’t ready to give it up yet.”
At the end of her junior year, Gonzales was the No. 1 player in the state of Texas, but she was not being recruited by any college. The coaches, who had watched her play and saw the talent, couldn’t fathom why she had not been recruited. “She was stressed thinking she would not be able to play soccer again at a competitive level,” Woerner said.
Her soccer coaches, James Southern and Christina Moore, refused to let that happen. They compiled a video of Gonzales playing during district and sent it to many colleges at the Division 1 level. The phone calls started to pour in.
“How had they not seen this child?” Woerner recalled thinking at the time. “Why had she slipped through the cracks? Well, many athletes these days play select; I did as well. However, the costs to play select ball of any kind have gone to astronomical levels. South Hills is considered to be a low-economic school. Esmie could not afford to pay to play on any of these, although all had asked her to play. She could only play pick-up for tournaments. She did not play at the tournaments where any of the college looks take place. One video of this kid had colleges fighting for her.”
Gonzales signed with Southeastern Missouri where she will receive a full ride to attend, the first ever full ride to be given to any women’s soccer player. She will major in Sports Management. “I’m looking forward to the college experience, especially playing soccer,” she said.
Gonzales has not had an easy life. She doesn’t live with her parents, but with her best friend’s family. She said she did not know if she would ever get to go to college and that she was grateful to her soccer coaches and other people who believed in her.
“I really want to give thanks to my best friend, Haley, my bro, Jordan, and their parents, Maya and Paige Pruitt, for never giving up on me and always being there for me," she said. “When I was getting down, they picked me right back up and stayed on my feet. I just want them, Coach Woerner, and my softball and soccer teams to know that I give thanks to them for being there for me through everything.”
In 2005, Woerner finished her collegiate career. She took a job as softball coach at Trinity Valley Private School in Fort Worth. She also gave lessons. “One day a little girl with her hat on backward and a glove that was bigger than she was ran up to me and said, ‘Hi, my name is Paty, and I want to be a pitcher,’” Woerner said. “She stole my heart from the second I met her. Not only was she one of the cutest kids I have ever seen, but she was also so talented at that age of 5. When her lesson was over, she would always say, ‘Just one more, coach.’ I never had to motivate this child to come to lessons in 100-degree weather while the sun beat down on her to pitch. She already knew that softball was her love, her passion.”
Her grandfather called her “Mighty Might” because she was so little. Later one of the parents called her “Little Bull” because she kicked dirt when she batted. Now they call her “Pat the Bat.”
“When I started playing ball, there was no team for little girls at University Little League in Fort Worth,” Loredo said. “I had to play baseball with the boys. I always thought they felt I was not good enough so I had to work harder.”
Over the next five years, Woerner watched Loredo continue with every pitch to become physically and mentally tough. She grew close to the family and remembered thinking that this was such a lucky little girl who had parents and siblings who knew how talented she was and who continuously support her dream of being a college softball player. Woerner changed jobs and started to work at South Hills. “With time being of the essence and starting my own family, little time was left for lessons anymore, and I had to say goodbye to my little superstar.” Then in 2013, as Woerner was looking at her roster, a name popped up - Patricia Loredo.
“I am now watching Patricia go through the same thing that Esmie did her junior year,” Woerner said. “Why am I not being recruited? What do I have to do to get noticed? She was the No. 2 ranked player in hitting in Texas and was voted to the Super Team in Fort Worth. She has now watched athletes that Paty has blown out of the water receive Division 1 and Division 2 offers. Strangers walk up to her to tell her what a phenomenal athlete she is, stop what they are doing to watch her play, and all I can think is that she is telling herself she is not.”
Loredo is not receiving the offers that athletes half her caliber are receiving. But no matter what obstacle is thrown at her, she never stops exceeding every expectation. “Someone will want her and when they do, what a diamond in the rough they are receiving,” Woerner says.
The difference between Gonzales and Loredo is that Loredo plays select ball and her parents and siblings have done all that has been asked to make sure this little girl with a big dream can reach her goal of becoming a college athlete. Her mother Yolanda is a school teacher; her dad is just recently disabled and can’t help at the capacity that he once had. Her sisters work extra hours to make sure that she gets the latest bat or can buy gear that all the other athletes are required to buy.
“My whole family supports me playing ball despite the sacrifices,” Loredo said. “After my father became disabled, my sisters, Leslie and Samantha, had to pitch in. I have traveled to play in Colorado, Florida, California, Oklahoma, Nevada, and Georgia.”
Loredo visited a college in May.
“She is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it will only get brighter from here. Someone saw the spark that we have always seen,” Woerner said.
Loredo is interested in Arkansas Tech. “But I still have a year to revisit my options,” she says. She loves hitting and aspires to be like Lauren Chamberlain from OU.
“The fact that these two athletes are teammates is such an inspiring thing to watch,” Woerner said. “They know what makes the other tick; they know what the other needs; what motivates them to be the best; and the best part is neither of them knows how special the other is. They have no idea that they have changed the course of history for South Hills High School. As a coach, as their coach, I leave every day knowing that I have been privileged enough to coach two of the best female athletes that the state of Texas has ever produced,” Woerner continued. “If I were never to coach another day in my life, I would be complete knowing that I was a part of their journey. No matter what wall has been built up, they continue to plow through it. They will forever be a legacy at South Hills and in my heart.”