By Kayla Anderson
The Sparks Elks Lodge #2397 recently named Sparks High School alumni Jose “Chava” Espana its Citizen of the Year award following a multitude of recommendations from his fellow Railroaders, former bosses, co-workers, and young men who he has coached soccer for.
Nominated by Sparks City Councilman Donald Abbott, Espana modestly accepted the award and had no idea it was coming.
“I’m definitely humbled. I know I was nominated by Don and I’m just a soccer coach, I don’t feel like I deserve it,” he says. “My wife played a crucial role in helping me receive this award,” he adds. “I have three young boys so I need all the support I can get.”
Graduating from Sparks High School in 2006, Espana has four other siblings who also attended and graduated from Sparks High. After graduating, he worked at Small Smiles dentistry in Reno for 10 years. He credits his former boss Dr. James Mann for allowing him the time to pursue his passion of going back and coaching soccer at his high school while also doing good for the local community.
“At Small Smiles I was involved in a pre-dental day called ‘Give Kids A Smile’ where we gave access to dental care to kids who didn’t have it,” Espana says. Always held the first Saturday in February, Espana has seen upwards of 100 kids participate in the one-day event.
“It’s all volunteer work- there are about 45 total volunteers and 10 dentists who are working tirelessly for eight hours a day giving these kids the services that they need,” he says.
However, Espana believes that his work with the school helped earn him the Elks Lodge Citizen of the Year award.
“I try to do as much as I can for the community, but I believe a lot of the nomination comes from my work with the school,” Espana says. He’s proud of the fact that he’s helping move Sparks High from a 3A division school to the 5A division (“We want to compete with the best,” he says) and that his team hasn’t missed a soccer tournament in a decade.
Espana is also proud of the fact that all his assistant coaching staff are also former Railroaders. “It’s rewarding to me that they want to come back and give back to the younger generation,” he says.
Considering that Espana has about 50-55 students on his team, he’s mentored a considerable number of young men over the last 10 years.
“I was first asked to coach at Dilworth Middle School. When I was in the eighth grade, I didn’t understand why there weren’t any soccer teams at the lower levels, so my teacher encouraged me to write a letter petitioning to start a team there. Two years later, Dilworth started a soccer league and I coached it during my sophomore and junior years (during high school). I’ve built relationships with kids from that point on,” Espana says.
“I like coaching and teaching what I know. Now that I’m teaching high school, I have to tell the guys how to make a positive impact on the community. I have three young boys and I tell them, ‘My kids are looking up to you, what you do affects them. It’s important to be a positive influence’,” Espana says.
“My whole family were Railroaders, too, that’s why I’m so passionate to coach. For the Elks Lodge to recognize that, being close to Donald…being nominated carries some weight,” he says.
“I feel humbled. I don’t do it at all for the accolades or awards, I do it to give back,” Espana smiles.
Cutline: Sparks High School soccer coach Jose Espana was recently named the Sparks Elks Lodge Citizen of the Year.