GONZALES — Arthur Berlanga, head coach for the Gonzales High School varsity football team, was the recipient of the Semper Fi Coach Award on Feb. 7.
The award is given by the U.S. Marine Corps and Glazier Football Clinics to football coaches who show leadership that exemplifies the Marine Corps motto of Semper Fidelis, which means “Always Faithful,” and models the values of Honor, Courage and Commitment. Berlanga traveled with his family to San Francisco for the honor as part of the weekend-long Glazier Football Clinic.
“I’m humbled to be here. I’m humbled to receive such a great honor. I’m humbled they picked me,” said Berlanga in his acceptance speech on stage. “All I can do is be grateful for the opportunity to be here today.”
Berlanga continued, “All we do is serve. And that’s why I’m in this business, to serve our young people, to reach their heart by teaching from the heart. The only limitations we have are the ones we place on ourselves.”
During the awards ceremony, Berlanga was described as, “A maker of men, a winner of battles and a developer of quality citizens.”
“Anytime you get recognized by the military, it’s a huge reward,” Berlanga said the day before he left to the ceremony.
He explained he was not in the military, though his father was in the Navy and his father-in-law served in the Army, and he has had numerous friends and family members who were part of the armed services.
Berlanga was notified of the award in December but wasn’t informed of who nominated him. He said the award had more to do with what the team does off the field, rather than their back-to-back season victories on the field.
“We do a lot of community service,” Berlanga said. “We serve on Memorial Day here in town. We help set up the flags and the flagpoles for the City of Gonzales. We help with cleanup and help veterans with their yards, picking weeds for a couple hours and taking trips to the dump for them because they can’t do it themselves.”
The team also cleans up litter and supervises the bounce houses during the Fourth of July celebration in Central Park. Part of the learning for his team is “giving back to our community and trying to teach these boys to give back to their own,” Berlanga said.
Being part of the football team is more than the sport for Berlanga.
“This is just a format I use to teach these young men about life and prepare them for life and making sure they have all the resources that I can provide for them within my own power and my own responsibilities I’ve been given as the head coach,” he said.
In addition to community service, Berlanga said the team makes trips to the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad to learn from the inmates as a part of the We Care Program, to learn how a momentary error in judgment can transform a life for the worse.
“You don’t necessarily have to be a drug dealer or gang banger to get caught up in that type of environment, it takes one error in judgment,” Berlanga said. “It’s a great mentor program that they provide our student athletes.”
Gonzales has 37 athletes participating in the off-season football training, which began the first day the students returned to school in January. Berlanga said he expects to have more than 60 students in the program once the winter sport and spring sport athletes are able to join the off-season training sessions.
“That’s the biggest number I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Berlanga said. “With the success we’ve had in recent years, they’ve seen how much fun the kids are having within our program and the experience they have. It’s just contagious, and they want to be a part of it.”
Berlanga appreciates the support he has received at Gonzales.
“It takes a village,” he said. “They’ve given me every support and advantage a head coach would love to have. A lot of coaches in my position don’t have nearly the support I have here, and that’s why this place is so special, because I have that support.”
Berlanga has been head coach for the Spartans for three years, going on his fourth.
“This high school is the first high school that gave me the opportunity to be a head coach,” Berlanga said. “We did things I expected to do when I first got hired here as far as our goals that we set. But it’s gone beyond that into serving our community.”
Heading into year four of head coaching, Berlanga said, “Even if I didn’t get recognized for it, I am who I am and I was doing this just to do my part, regardless of if I was recognized along the way or not. We’re going to continue to do this. If anything, we’re probably going to add more onto that and continue to take care of our own.”