Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 | 2 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Ray Brewer and Taylor Bern discuss a few of the highlights from signing day and a look at the games that will set up some of the upcoming playoff seeds.
Eldorado High’s Gerald Pentsil had been offered other soccer coaching and teaching positions numerous times.
Some came from schools with more resources or in a perceived better part of Southern Nevada.
But Pentsil was never tempted to leave, knowing his home is a place that needs him most — at-risk Eldorado in northeast Las Vegas. He’s been an earth science teacher and soccer coach at Eldorado since 1988, making him one of the state’s longest-tenured coaches.
He was previously offered a job in administration at Eldorado but could only accept the position — and pay raise — if he stopped coaching the Sundevils' soccer team. No thanks; he’s happy on the soccer pitch and in the classroom.
He’s the type of educator you expect to hear about at schools in more stable parts of town, where students have high test scores and athletic teams make memorable playoff runs.
What those on the outside looking in fail to realize is Pentsil still produces those results with his soccer team. They have proved to be champions on and off the field.
Some would say Pentsil’s loyalty was finally rewarded last fall when Eldorado won the state championship, giving the veteran coach his first title after some near misses and much heartbreak in a 25-year career.
Pentsil, proudly sporting one of the silver state championship rings the team received last week, begs to differ.
He calls the championship icing on the cake, knowing this season and his career were already a success because of the results off the field. Being a coach and educator isn’t always about what’s on the scoreboard at the end of game.
And that’s not lip service. Pentsil is sincere. He gets the true meaning of high school sports.
“I always told the team winning the state championship would be nice, but it’s not what our program is about,” he says. “We’re here to build men of character.”
He’s the guy you see in those Applebee’s commercials, staying at one school for his entire career and respected by all in the community. He’s so passionate about the children at his school that he devotes his life’s work to putting them on the right path.
Pentsil surely sees a little of himself in his players.
Pentsil is from Ghana, coming to the United States as a teenager to attend Bradley University in Illinois. His players are mostly Hispanics and first-generation Americans, sharing a passion for not only soccer but for a better life.
When Pentsil blows the final whistle at practice, he doesn’t rush home. He takes time to talk with the players, listening to their problems and making sure they know he’s in their corner. It’s how all coaches should do it.
“He’s a second father to us all,” said Sammy Tapia, a senior goalie. “He talks to us about our life, not just soccer. He believes in us. That gave us confidence.”
That confidence was vital with this group of players. They’ve grown together, celebrated wins together and, in the previous two state semifinals, consoled one another after tough-to-stomach defeats.
Most of Eldorado’s nine seniors last fall were three-year varsity players who lost in the state semifinals in the previous two seasons. Last year, it wasn’t even close in a 4-1 loss to Bishop Gorman.
That’s where Pentsil’s true character came out. Even before the game ended, he was reassuring players of their talents, telling them they’d be back in the state tournament. They would grow — as soccer players and in preparation for life — by learning from the defeat.
“He’s great to have on staff. Always positive,” Eldorado Principal John Anzalone said.
It’s obvious to see Pentsil, who later became Eldorado’s athletic director after it was agreed he could continue coaching, has transformed them into more complete players. They have returned the favor by forcing him to be a more complete coach. He had to change his coaching style to adapt to a more finesse style of play common among Hispanic players.
The Sundevils beat Spanish Springs 2-0 in the state semifinals to earn a spot in the championship game, returning to the finals for first time since 1995. That year, Eldorado lost 1-0 to Carson City.
Pentsil couldn’t help thinking about the players from that team, and other Eldorado teams, the night before the championship game. The current players knew they had to win — for their longtime coach and all those players before them who didn’t have the opportunity to get a ring.
They did just that with a 2-0 victory against Palo Verde, giving Pentsil that elusive championship. They finished ranked No. 28 nationally by MaxPreps.com and were featured on the local television news.
Not Gorman. Not Palo Verde. Not one those schools in upscale Henderson. It’s Pentsil’s Eldorado Sundevils everyone is talking about.
“Our motto is believing. I wouldn't be true to our motto if I went somewhere else,” he said.