Walden Grove coach Ryan Atkinson paused while tears welled in his eyes.
He cleared his throat.
“It’s tough for sure, you know?” Atkinson said.
More than two months have transpired since the passing of Raul Alvarado, who is not only the dad of senior Adrian Alvarado but was also a father figure for many of the veterans on the football and soccer teams who are teammates of his son.
Time may heal wounds but the grieving of such a loss has no end.
The last seven months have been especially difficult for Atkinson and Walden Grove. In July of last year, the Red Wolves’ former soccer standout Matthew Parks died in an automobile accident. He was 21, only three years removed from graduating from Walden Grove.
Raul, a campus monitor at Walden Grove for more than 10 years, passed away on Dec. 10 from COVID-19. He was very visible in the hallways and athletic events at the school, particularly around Adrian’s football and soccer teams and coaches.
“He was our security guard,” senior Jacob Garcia said. “A great guy. One of the best guys you’ll ever meet in your life.”
The soccer coaches and players wear black armbands with the initials “RA” in honor of Raul.
When Walden Grove held off Rio Rico 2-1 on Saturday morning, many of the Red Wolves were vocal and getting intense over the close battle.
Adrian, 17, kept a calm resolve about him, quiet and pensive, as he has shown since the start of the soccer season.
“I’ve had him in my program for four years,” Atkinson said. “His work ethic, the way he’s held himself together and the way he’s responded to everything has been amazing to see for a young individual like that.”
Adrian’s mom Rosie was at home watching the live stream of the game because of COVID-19 protocols. His sisters Danielle and Alecia also could not attend. He could feel that his dad’s spirit was there.
“He’s probably watching us right now,” Adrian said quietly of his dad as I interviewed him. We were the only two people remaining on Rio Rico’s field.
About a week after Raul tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 24, he was admitted to Santa Cruz Valley Regional Hospital in Green Valley. His condition worsened and he was flown to the Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix where he was placed on a ventilator Dec. 2. He passed a way a week later.
Adrian, his mom and sisters were unable to be with Raul after he left Green Valley because of the strict protocol.
The Sahuarita and Tucson communities, moved by Raul’s passing and the grieving situation of the family, have raised more than $26,000 in a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for medical expenses.
The outside of Walden Grove’s campus became a memorial for Raul with many people leaving roses and religious candles.
Pita Nastase, a Walden Grove junior, submitted a comment to the Sahuarita Sun last week about the difficulty of going to school during the pandemic. She made reference to Raul.
“It’s been a struggle not being at school but the worst part was losing a staff member and friend at our school,” she wrote. “He would talk to me every day in the halls and called me mija and Walden Grove and the world is darker without him.”
Adrian mentioned he and his family are overwhelmed by the support.
“Everyone’s been there for me and my mom and my family and we are all very thankful for it,” Adrian said. “For me, now, it’s just for my dad. I’m going to do everything for him. And I know he would want me to do my best on and off the field.”
Adrian’s future is promising as a student and a placekicker in football, if he chooses to play that sport in college. He already is set up for success as a caring human being from the guidance of his parents. Rosie has worked as a counseling secretary at Sahuarita High School.
“He just did whatever he could for people,” Rosie said about Raul to the Green Valley News. “He gave kids rides when they needed it. He always wanted to help someone whether they were broken down on the side of the road … anybody. ”
Adrian added about his dad, “Every day of school, he was caring. When I was talking to some kids, he would come up and if they didn’t have enough lunch money to eat, my dad would give them a couple of dollars. It just shows me to treat people like he did. I’m gonna keep doing that and be the best person I can for people.”
Adrian’s booming field goal kicks from as far as 61 yards can be observed routinely on his Twitter account. More than 15 colleges have offered him a scholarship, an unheard of amount for a kicker.
Here’s some field goals from the summer
From 50-60 @CoachSpringerST @Coach_Troyer @CoachMClark @CoachJRom @CoachJChristian @jakeiery42 @CoachChapin @CoachChrisBall @CoachAaronPrice @TheCranesSon @coach_needer @CoachNeilson_WG @ISWEATGREATNESS @CoachAntJones36 @CoachDay_WG pic.twitter.com/nYGl0u7uO8
— Adrian Alvarado (@Adrian2021K) August 18, 2020
Kohl’s Professional Camps rated Alvarado among its top 100 prospects in the nation last summer.
Alvarado, 5-foot-9 and 162 pounds, was rated No. 64 in the nation in punting and No. 71 in placekicking. He was the No. 2-rated kicking specialist in Arizona in kicking and punting in the Class of 2021.
He said he is undecided whether he will attend a small college and get help with tuition or go to a larger university such as Arizona and walk-on. He also may only concentrate on his studies in college. He plans to major in business or criminal justice.
“I am not too sure about what my next step will be,” Adrian said. “I just know that I have people there next to me if I need anything. I want to help my mom out the best I can and do everything that she wants me to do.”
.@WaldenGroveHS senior Jacob Garcia comments on his team’s 3-1 start and his bond with fellow senior Adrian Alvarado, whose father Raul, an important part of the program, passed away recently from COVID-19. #asthsports pic.twitter.com/YOFZaPIDTe
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) February 20, 2021
Adrian and his soccer teammates and coaches are dedicating this season to his dad.
The Red Wolves, who have 12 seniors, many of them who have known Adrian since they were in elementary school, improved to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the 4A Kino with the win over Rio Rico.
If Atkinson’s team defeats Amphi at home Monday night, they will clinch the region title before concluding the regular season with four matches, including against Nogales (7-1) and Salpointe (6-0).
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) February 20, 2021
“They’re family. They’re brothers. They’re brothers on the field and off the field,” Atkinson said as he looked at his players on the bench after Saturday’s win. “They’ve created that bond and they’ve been there for Adrian through the tough times, too.”
His voice once again quivered.
“His dad was a big part of our program. That’s why we’re wearing the ‘RA’ bands,” he said. “I love Adrian. I love his family. I love his work ethic. I love everything about the kid. He’s an awesome individual. That’s an awesome family to be around.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.