By Jennifer E. Beaver
A fallen soldier’s passion for soccer will run through future generations thanks to his family and a handful of strangers who never met Sergeant Israel Garcia– former Poly High School soccer player and posthumous recipient of the Silver Star Award, the nation’s third-highest award for valor. Sgt. Garcia’s widow, Lesly, presented a trophy in his name to varsity player Brett Busse March 10 at the Poly team’s post-season banquet at the Petroleum Club.
Garcia attended Poly from 1998 to 2002 and played all four years. “I like soccer so much it was once my life,” says his Facebook page. He joined the Army right after high school and did his first tour in Iraq. He died in Afghanistan in 2008 while serving with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. He was 24.
The Sgt. Israel Garcia Silver Star Award is presented to a male athlete who exhibits extraordinary courage in his athletic performance, demonstrates the ability to overcome adversity and serves as an inspiration and role model for others. It’s given not necessarily to the best player, but to the one who shows the most courage. “Brett has demonstrated a will to be the best he can be, even at times when things didn’t look good on the field,” said varsity coach Efren C. Garcia (no relation). “He always looks for solutions and doesn’t let anything bring him down. When I read the description of the award, the first person that came to my mind was Brett.” Garcia called Busse, a junior wrapping up his second year as a varsity player, “a true student athlete” who also maintains a high grade-point average.
Though Coach Garcia never knew the sergeant, he is one of the people making sure his memory lives on. The other is Colin MacDiarmid, who contacted Sgt. Garcia’s family as a result of the Long Beach Giving Project sponsored by community activist Justin Rudd and his nonprofit Community Action Team. The project helps those in need and benefits the community.
In addition to a trophy and a perpetual plaque where names of winners will be recorded, the Garcia family also donated a 20-gallon portable water tank to the boys’ soccer team. At a school where the football team is the talk of the town and the country, other sports get less recognition. So when someone reaches out to the soccer players, they notice. “When the kids saw the water tank, they cheered,” said the coach. “They felt that someone cared about them.”