So far in 2016, the two most irresistible names in Tucson sports are Izzy and Urtuzuastegui.
Ismael “Izzy” Galindo and Francisco Urtuzuastegui. One became a state champion over the weekend; the other hopes to do so later this month.
You can’t make something like this up because nobody would believe it.
Izzy and Urtuzuastegui are not traditional high school coaches. They don’t teach driver’s ed or American history, or point to their names on the gymnasium wall, legends from the class of ’78 or ’88.
Urtuzuastegui grew up in Culiacan, Sinaloa, and became such a skilled soccer player that he found himself playing for the Pima College Aztecs even though he had (and still has) difficulty speaking English. He not only coaches at Pueblo High School, he is a groundsman at the school, working the 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift, planting trees, mowing the grass, making the campus shine.
On Saturday, he coached the Warriors to the boys state championship, finishing the year with 12 consecutive victories. It was his first year as a high school coach anywhere.
Galindo dropped out of Tucson High at 16, got his GED at 25, his college degree at 33, and didn’t play a lick of high school sports. Talk about a late bloomer. Four years ago, he applied for five girls basketball coaching jobs in Tucson. The first four didn’t grant him an interview. He’s up at 5 every morning, working the day shift for the Tucson Parks and Recreation department.
On Saturday, he will coach the 24-3 Warriors into the state playoffs with the best team in school history, a team with such a promising future that Izzy’s four leading scorers are sophomores and juniors.
Izzy and Urtuzuastegui are part of the revival of Pueblo High’s athletic program, one that has turned heads and restored the school to its role from the ‘60s and ‘70s, when it was one of Southern Arizona’s most successful sports precincts.
The two men who orchestrated this comeback, this amazing story of Izzy and Urtuzuastegui, are assistant principal Frank Rosthenhausler and athletic director Brandon Sanders.
“We have a different model for hiring our coaches; we’re not like Cienega or Ironwood Ridge where you post a job opening and have all these amazing applicants,” Rosthenhausler says. “We talked to the kids, to the club coaches, to the people at Pima College, and Izzy’s name and Francisco’s name kept coming up. After our first boys soccer game this year, Brandon and I knew we had the right guy; we knew we had hit a home run. He’s got such fire and passion.”
Pueblo had gone 11-49-3 in boys soccer the last five years. Something had to change.
But, c’mon, a worst-to-first scenario the first year? How often does that happen anywhere?
It was similar when Galindo, a long-time club coach, sought an interview after the 2011-12 season. Pueblo was coming off five straight losing seasons. Galindo was interested because his oldest daughter, Idalis, would be on the team.
Galindo went 4-18. His team lost games by scores of 81-28, 78-19 and 60-16.
“I was overwhelmed,” he says now. “What had I gotten myself into? But I had a good talk with myself and said that I could do this.”
Galindo’s instincts were accurate. He turned that 4-18 team into one that has gone 45-13 the last two seasons.
“You’ll see 10-year old girls wearing Pueblo gear now,” Rosthenhausler says. “They’ve really attracted a nice following.”
Pueblo’s emergence in sports isn’t just the Izzy and Urtuzuastegui Show. Last fall, Sanders coached the Warriors’ football team to a 7-4 record and their first state tournament appearance in 25 years. Basketball coach Kelvin Eafon, who came from the club coaching circuit, is 35-16 in two seasons, awaiting this week’s state playoffs.
Before Pueblo could be successful, it had to keep top athletes and students from transferring to other schools, which had become a problem. In the old days, Pueblo had an enrollment nearing 3,000. Now it’s about 1,500, but the outflow has stopped.
“I think the community has become aware of our success,” Rosthenhausler says. “Fewer students are leaving. We’re hopeful we can get to 1,700 soon.”
The school is in the process of raising money so it can appropriately honor the soccer team early next month. It hopes to be able to buy championship rings for Urtuzuastegui and his players.
Izzy has some work to do before his team can dream of rings. Some think the Warriors will be favored to win the 2017 state championship, but Galindo and girls are thinking about the here and now.
“It took me a while to get my life squared away when I was younger,” he says. “I could never have dreamed of being in the position we’re in now. I work from early in the morning until 7 or 8 most nights, and it can wear you out. But I’ve never done anything more rewarding.”
About the only thing he could do that is more difficult than what has been done at Pueblo is to learn how to spell Urtuzuastegui.
It has become a good name to know.