TUSD’s governing board will on Tuesday honor former Tucson High boys soccer coach Ismael Arce, who died Jan. 28 from COVID-19. He was 51.
The board will remember Arce and the seven other TUSD employees who have died of the virus in the last year during their scheduled meeting, a district spokesperson said.
Arce coached the Badgers’ boys team for 19 seasons, winning the 2014 Division II state title while going undefeated.
Badgers athletic director Bobby DeBerry said Monday that Arce was well-liked by students and faculty alike.
“Being here at Tucson High for almost 20 years, he was a cornerstone here,” DeBerry said. “He was a good coach, the kind of coach that players go to. He was good with his kids, managing … their teenage years. And he was a good mentor.”
Tucson High’s 2014 team might have been Arce’s best. Led by striker Julian Gaona and his 32 goals, the Badgers went 24-0-3. Their 3-0 win over Glendale Copper Canyon in the Division II championship game secured the program’s first-ever state crown and the first state title by any Tucson High team since 1988.
Arce was named the Star’s 2014 boys soccer coach of the year, while Gaona earned player of the year honors. In a 2019 column, the Star’s Greg Hansen rated the Badgers as the 10th-best team of the decade, all sports and all levels.
Arce referred to the season as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. DeBerry said the undefeated state title run was “a huge deal” in the community.
“Being able to pull that off was an awesome experience for everyone,” he said. “It was good for the kids, the community and the school. I mean, kids come to Tucson High to play soccer.”
Arce stepped down following the 2020 season, one in which the Badgers went 11-4, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.
The Badgers remembered Arce with a moment of silence before Thursday’s home opener against Rincon/University and presented his family with a framed oversized photo. Tucson High also plans to honor him on senior night.
A larger memorial will have to wait until after the pandemic. Tucson High switched to remote learning when the pandemic began, and has not yet announced plans for in-person classes. Attendance at soccer games is limited to the parents and guardians of the home team’s players, per TUSD policy.
“It’s difficult, because we can’t have everybody there,” DeBerry said. “Hopefully, when things begin to lighten up, we’ll do something else.”
Arce taught social studies across all grade levels, assistant principal Mario Gastellum said Monday. His Mexican-American studies class was especially popular. A memorial page set up by Tucson High included messages from students in both English and Spanish. One wrote that Arce taught him how to write a résumé; another said he was both a “wonderful teacher” and “someone I could look up to for guidance or for motivation.”
Another tribute addressed Arce’s family.
“Please know that your father was a very special teacher who touched the lives of many students,” it read. “He will be dearly missed.”
Arce is survived by his wife and three children, including a son, Ismael Jr., who played soccer for his father at Tucson High. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help pay for Arce’s funeral. As of Monday, the drive had raised more than $9,700.