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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Playing for Title Doesn't Faze Perez

Louisville girls' coach knows real adversity after his daughter lost a kidney because of a two-pound tumor.

March 02, 2001|CHRIS SHAFFER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was February 1999. Jose Perez and his wife, Leticia, were rolling soccer balls across the carpet in their living room with their 4-year-old daughter, Aimee.

Aimee missed the ball and fell into the arms of her mother, who noticed a large bump on Aimee's stomach. The worried Perezes immediately phoned a hospital emergency room.

After lengthy visits to the hospital, the Louisville High girls' soccer coach learned Aimee had a two-pound malignant tumor on her left kidney.

Doctors told them if the cancer had spread it might be too late. Aimee's life was in danger.

"It was tough," Perez said. "When the doctor told us it may be too late, my wife and I looked at each other and broke down. I was afraid Aimee might die."

A specialist from Seattle flew in to perform surgery, removing the kidney and the tumor.

Aimee's surgery was a success. The cancer hadn't spread and following six months of chemotherapy, Aimee was pronounced healthy.

"The tumor never hurt her at all," Perez said. "She never felt it. She still doesn't know what happened. She just knows something was wrong in her tummy."

Now 6, Aimee has resumed playing soccer. She loves the game and will be rooting for her father's team Saturday when Louisville plays Harvard-Westlake for the Southern Section Division IV title at Gahr High in Cerritos.

"The girls are nice to me," said Aimee, who loves hamburgers with ketchup. "Jenny [Farenbaugh] is my favorite player. They are good players. I like to see them tackle and score goals. I don't like it when my dad gets mad. He gets mad when they don't score."

Aimee averaged more than two goals a game playing at Balboa Park for the Dragonets in the fall.

"She's a baller," said Perez, who coached the Valley United Pride club team to a state championship in 1992. "She's like the best player in the league. She shoots every time she touches the ball. But because she only has one kidney she may not be able to play any contact sports in the future."

Aimee's soccer skills are no accident.

Perez had 45 goals in his career at Cal State Northridge, including 11 in a game against Cal State Bakersfield in 1983. He is the second-leading scorer in Matador history.

In 1981, Perez, a Van Nuys High graduate, earned second team All-American honors. He was selected California Collegiate Athletic Assn. co-most valuable player in 1984.

"He was excellent," said his brother, Adolfo Perez, who coached the Mission College men's team and will start a women's program at Pierce.

"He was a player who didn't practice hard, but when it came to games he was far better than everyone else. He was complete. He had speed, skills and he could shoot with his right or left foot."

Perez said he is a successful coach not only because he is a great player, but because he is a fifth-grade teacher at Woodland Hills Elementary School.

"Teaching at the school has helped me to work with girls," said Perez, who has another daughter, Natali, and has been a teacher for 13 years. "I've learned how to work with students and to know their needs. I can help them to work to get better."

Perez is in his fourth year at Louisville. The Royals qualified for the playoffs the last three years, but nothing has been as impressive as this season's run to the title game.

"Jose's dedication to our team is amazing," said Farenbaugh, the team's top player. "He seems to always bring out the best in each of us. He makes the team a priority and his devotion to us is something that no other coach would even be able to do for us."

The Royals (18-8-2) have beaten four league champions, including a 1-0 victory over Mission League-rival Chaminade, to advance to play league runner-up Harvard-Westlake.

"I feel like we are on cloud nine," Perez said. "Everybody feels great after beating Chaminade. We knew even though they didn't beat Chaminade, Harvard-Westlake was the best team in the league."

Even though Louisville was third in league play and lost, 4-1 and 2-1, to the Wolverines, Perez believes his team can win.

"I think this time we are ready." he said. "The girls are relaxed. They don't feel any pressure. They are going for all the marbles."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

SOCCER PLAYOFFS SATURDAY'S GAMES

BOYS

City Section final

El Camino Real vs. University at UCLA, 1:15 p.m.

Southern Section final

Division IV

St. Francis vs. Diamond Ranch at

Gahr High, 10 a.m.

GIRLS

City Section finals

El Camino Real vs. Chatsworth in City Championship at UCLA, 3:30 p.m.

Poly vs. Marshall in City Invitational at UCLA, 11 a.m.

Southern Section finals

Division II

Buena vs. Mission Viejo at La Mirada High, 2 p.m.

Division IV

Louisville vs. Harvard-Westlake at

Gahr High, 2 p.m.

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