El Camino College Union

Volleyball player juggles fatherhood and being a star athlete

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There’s a 2-year-old ball of energy roaming the stands in the South Gym at El Camino.

Ailani Medina runs around climbing up one bleacher step and then down one bleacher step, as her uncle, Miguel Macias, watches over her.

She smiles, enjoying herself. Every now and then she lets out the occasional cheer for her dad.

All of a sudden there’s down time, her father Cesar enthusiastically hops up the bleachers with light steps and then stops right in front of her.

As the two share a quick smile and head bump, he takes his gold chain off and puts it on her, gives her a kiss on the forehead and scales down the stands before he gets in trouble for taking a break during the pre-game men’s volleyball warm-ups.

“I think the biggest struggle (of being a student athlete and a parent) is managing the time or making time for everything,” he says.

Cesar, 23, business major, is normally all smiles and playful attitudes wherever his daughter is concerned.

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On the court however, the South L.A. native is the go-to player and if he wants to prove that he can make it to the next level then he has to perform game after game.

“Compared to someone who started out at a university, the chances for a player from a community college who strive to make it to the national team and the professional level,” David Portney, director of marketing and communications for the American Volleyball Coaches Association, said. “If they have that dream, they have to put in the extra work to really stand head and shoulders above the competition that force those coaches to take notice.”

His 6-foot-1-inch frame is slightly thin in stature, but his muscles are lean and when he attacks a ball on the court, people would think he’d have arms ripping through his shirt with that thunderous bang.

His body towers over his daughter, so whenever Ailani runs up to hug Cesar, the top of her head barely clears his knees, although compared to the men on the court he’s just like everybody else.

“I feel like I have something to prove because a lot of people doubt me (because of) my height,” Cesar says. “My height doesn’t determine my game or (my strength on the court,) my mentality and my heart (are what count.)”

But the struggles of a parent, a student-athlete and someone who works five days is a week is all compiled into one person, so reality can be somewhat different than expectation.

“He’s a blessing and a curse,” El Camino head coach Dick Blount says. “(He misses) practice (because of work and his daughter,) but the (guys) love him. He’s the best player on the team, so what can you do?”

He knows that he has a tough schedule for a student athlete and a parent, but he also knows that this is the best plan for him and Ailani.

“There (is) no room to mess around and if I want a better life for my child, the life I didn’t (get) have, (then) I know I have to grind,” Cesar says.

Midway through the El Camino men’s volleyball campaign in 2015, Cesar’s ex-girlfriend gave birth to their daughter, Ailani, on March 22, 2015.

“I was shocked (when I found out),” Cesar says. “I guess it caught me by surprise (even though) I kind of knew that I was (going to) be a dad because I would see her have nausea and all (that).”

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He says that beyond the shock and surprise, he was happy that he was going to have a child. It was a brand new experience for him.

“It changed my mindset in a way where I had to be more responsible about things, (like) work and of course getting back to school,” Cesar says. “(She) was my new motivation and every time that times were tough I would think of my baby.”

Cesar has been a force on the court for a long time and during his time as a freshman on the El Camino team in 2015 was a dominant one.

“He really wants to compete,” Dick says. “But he has to work and a daughter to support.”

Off the court, his daughter is an important factor in his life that brings him joy.

Ailani loves to wander around, even when her father is in plain sight and her new favorite Elmo toy is always with her as she plays.

She’s only at Cesar’s around three to four days a week, as his ex-girlfriend shares custody over Ailani right now.

It’s been a day since Ailani and Cesar last saw each other.

She runs up to his leg, hugs him and says, “I love you.”

This happens on multiple occasions throughout their day together.

Cesar says that his daughter is very obedient with him and she always listens to him, but his favorite part is that Ailani loves to be around him.

But when he’s doing homework she’s always trying to mess with him or write on his book to get attention.

Cesar works five days a week at T-Mobile, spends about three days a week with his daughter, has practice three days a week, matches twice a week and the academic schedule of a student-athlete at EC.

“It feels really good being back, but I want to leave my legacy and a mark at (El Camino),” Cesar says.

He wants to win the California Community College’s Athletic Association’s state championship.

Something he failed to do with the team in 2015, and something that couldn’t be done in 2016, due to his absence from the team.

During that span he was trying to find a job to support his family and his daughter.

He had been playing “moneyball” as a side job, which kept him in shape and condition to return to the team this year. But playing volleyball for money can only help so much.

“I needed a job and trying to find classes was hard,” Cesar says.

His absence can be a burden on the team, especially when he’s not at practice or is late to games, yet he’s a starter, game-in and game-out.

“It’s better that we have someone we can go to, to put the ball away,” setter Pedro Campos says.

Some days the team needs a push, and they look for Cesar.

“(Having Cesar on the team is important) especially in the middle of a really intense game,” sophomore outside hitter Erik Jensen said. “Watching him get the crucial kills just gets the whole bench pumped up and on our feet.”

Now it’s April 29, it’s the men’s volleyball state championship match and Cesar is back again to try and win El Camino’s first ever State Title.

He’s playing a crazy good game, and his teammates are doing their best, but the passing isn’t there.

The team seems to be in a lull after the big win on April 27, and Cesar needs to step it up if he and the team are going to win.

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But they can’t.

Ailani is nowhere to be found in the stands.

Why?

Because Isabel has custody over her on Saturdays.

Ailani isn’t there and Cesar’s team can’t make the most out of its chances to win and they eventually lose in the 2017 State Finals.

It’s not over for Cesar himself, but he also has Ailani to worry about, and depending on the near future, his volleyball career might be over, but he definitely doesn’t want that.

“(My goal is to) make things happen (for myself in life) and (I want to) make an impact in the volleyball world,” Cesar says.

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Volleyball player juggles fatherhood and being a star athlete