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posted: 9/25/2012 2:08 PM

Hispanic sports leaders honored in Aurora

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By Dan Ferrelli
City of Aurora

Six area sports leaders recently were honored for their achievements in soccer, baseball and boxing during the eighth annual Aurora Hispanic Pioneers Breakfast.

The event coincided with the celebration of Mexican Independence Day. The inaugural breakfast in 2005 honored the migration of the first Hispanics to Aurora and detailed the historical significance of the Eola Boxcar Camp.

Hispanic military leaders, public safety officers, educators, artists, entertainers and health care providers also have been recognized throughout the years.

"Today, we honored those Hispanics whose love of sport helped pave the way for future generations," said 2nd Ward Alderman Juany Garza, who sponsored the event along with the Ward 2 Committee.

The sports pioneers honored included:

• Juan Avendano, who took up boxing as a child sparring with his friends in southern Texas. When he entered the U.S. Army, he was known for fancy footwork and being a calculating attacker with his quick jabs, which earned him a title in the Central Command Championship in Japan.

After being discharged from the military, Avendano won a Golden Gloves belt and championship in Texas. He moved to the Chicago area looking for work -- he also had a short stint as a professional fighter -- and later to Aurora, where he met his future wife. Starting in the early 1970s, he operated boxing gyms in Aurora for the next three decades.

• Frank Navarro enjoyed the game of soccer when he moved to Aurora in 1967, but had few opportunities to express his passion. His first foray into league play was with a group of friends from West Aurora High School who started the Aurora Soccer Club, which competed in leagues across the Chicago area.

After playing for the Kickers, a German club, he sacrificed his play on the field to start the Aurora Soccer League, where he coached, refereed and managed. Navarro's involvement in youth and adult leagues has provided a recreational outlet to thousands of soccer players each year.

• Guillermo Pacheco was a two-time state Golden Glove Champion and finished in second place in 1973 as a middleweight fighter in Mexico's national Golden Gloves championship.

Pacheco moved to Aurora in the 1970s, trained at Juan Avendano's boxing club and added another Golden Gloves belt to his collection in 1974. Five years later, he began coaching boxing at the YMCA and, after a short stint coaching soccer, he returned to the ring to train up-and-coming fighters, including his two sons.

While none of his training venues were ideal -- just some punching bags and rolled-out mats, the Aurora Boxing Club produced many champions throughout the years.

• Raul Rivera Sr. moved to the United States from Mexico when he was 12, first to California and then Aurora. In 1981, Rivera played two years for the Spanish American Baseball League in Joliet.

Two years later, he started his own Spanish American Baseball League, playing at Phillips Park and East Aurora High School. The league served as a recreational outlet for many children on the city's East Side.

Rivera ran the league for 12 years before he moved back to California to care for his parents. In 1999, the league was renamed the Raul Rivera Sr. Baseball League in honor of its founder.

• Rafael Valencia is famous now for being the owner of the Tecalitlan Restaurant, but his first passion was soccer. He moved to the United States from Jalisco in his 30s and wound up working at Aurora's meat-packing company. He attended soccer games and noted a weak link in the Tecalitlan team: coaching.

In 1975, he became the trainer and also added the title as team sponsor two years later. As his reputation in the kitchen grew -- he often cooked food for the soccer players -- he opened a three-table taqueria, El Rodeo.

In 1995, Valencia bought a larger space at Broadway and Downer Place and renamed his business after his soccer team. His team boasted more than 20 championships before he retired from the sport to turn his attention to his family and restaurant.

• Pedro "Pinky" Zepeda joined East Aurora's sports boosters' organization more than three decades ago and has served as its president since 1989. Having grown up on the East Side of Aurora, Zepeda attended East Aurora schools before enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1974. When his tour ended, he returned to Aurora and decided to get involved coaching in the Aurora baseball league.

Over the years, he has coached minors, majors, Pony League and Legion leagues, the latter where he currently serves as vice president. His favorite accomplishment as boosters president was the creation of the East Aurora Hall of Fame in the early 1990s.

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