For Francisco “Panchito” Javier Ramírez Rueda, dreams are deliberate plans supported by a little bit of luck and a lot of faith. That’s how the 26-year-old soccer afficionado managed to graduate in 2019 with a double major in sociology and education. A year later, Ramírez Rueda, known by his nickname, Panchito, obtained a master’s in education with an emphasis in leadership and policy from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor on a full-ride scholarship.
His love for education and soccer have always moved in a parallel direction. He started playing soccer at age 4, a way to keep an active boy’s energy focused. The friends, the discipline, and the focus that soccer brought to his life — and later to that of his younger brother — made him love the sport. When he enrolled at UCR, men’s head soccer coach Tim Cupello gave Ramírez Rueda an opportunity to play on the team as midfielder. One of his most memorable moments was making the roster and debuting on Oct. 12, 2016, versus UC Irvine.
That same year, Ramírez Rueda founded The Dreamers Soccer Clinic, a volunteer-based nonprofit for underprivileged youth in his hometown of Lake Los Angeles, an unincorporated town within Los Angeles County with nearly 13,000 residents.
“AS A FIRST-GENERATION STUDENT, NOTHING IS GOING TO COME TO YOU. YOU’VE GOT TO COME AFTER IT.”
The Dreamers Soccer Clinic provides more than an athletic program. Ramírez Rueda and his brother Christian, also a UCR alumnus, teamed up to offer Lake Los Angeles, Littlerock, Palmdale, and Lancaster youth an opportunity to strengthen their educational journeys. Participants receive tutoring, mentoring, and, as of last summer, may participate in the Dreamer Scholars Program, which allows them to meet with a coach and an academic advisor. Ramírez Rueda designed the program so that good grades are a requirement and an incentive to continue playing soccer. All kids also have a padrino/a, a godfather or godmother whose goal is to keep students on track academically.
“I knew I had to do something for my community. I saw how bad it was during the 2008 recession. There were no sports programs, the elementary school closed, we had no soccer fields in Lake Los Angeles. For kids who didn’t have a sport, they were just on the streets, with nothing to do,” said Ramírez Rueda, the second oldest of five siblings, noting his parents worked hard to save every dollar to keep them in sports.
A proud moment for Ramírez Rueda was bringing The Dreamers Soccer Clinic participants, along with their parents, to tour UCR and the School of Education, or SOE. The support he found in UCR’s Center of Educational Transformation, SOE Interim Dean Louie Rodriguez, and the rest of the staff was invaluable, Ramírez Rueda said. Another key mentor was Gabriel Mendoza ’86, a now-retired assistant coordinator of academic intervention programs at the Academic Resource Center.
“I remember Mr. Mendoza sat me down and said, ‘Panchito, it’s up to you to make the best of the resources we have here.’ I really had to think hard about that. I knew soccer was not going to be my career,” he said.
Ramírez Rueda joined the UCDC program, which allows students to study in the nation’s capital, applied for a research grant, and later went to Michigan on a full ride.
“As a first-generation student, nothing is going to come to you. You’ve got to come after it,” he said. “I like to dream big. I consider myself a dreamer. I want to go back into those communities and tell kids, ‘You can dream big. It can be hard but not impossible.’”