SOCCER: Prize of perseverance: Hard road from Honduras to Port Arthur results in Pagoaga’s scholarship

Ivana Pagoaga had just gone through Tropical Storm Harvey and moving from one home with family to one of uncertainty.

But when October came, the Port Arthur Memorial senior was dealt more adversity.

“My dad passed away Oct. 31 of cancer,” she said.

Lemin Pagoaga resided in Tocoa, Honduras, by land a 2,024-mile drive mostly along the Mexican Gulf Coast through Guatemala into Honduras. Ivana’s mother Telma was deported from the U.S. when Ivana — who was born in Miami — was 7, and mother and daughter stayed in the Central American country together for seven years.

“My family, they were telling [my mother], ‘Why don’t you send her over there [to America]? There are better opportunities over there,’” Ivana said. “My mom was like, ‘No, I don’t want to leave my daughter. She’s the only person I have. My family was convincing her to send me, so … she sent me.”

Ivana returned to the U.S. at age 14, this time in Port Arthur.

“Those first couple of years [in Port Arthur], it was hard because of my family over there [in Honduras],” Ivana said. “I was staying with an aunt. But over the years, I just kept going on and thinking about college and graduating. I just kept my head up and [would] think about my mom, who was the one supporting me all this time, and people who have been there for me.”

She met Daniel Garcia, a math teacher at Memorial who was her English as a Second Language instructor at the time.

“She’s one of the hardest workers I’ve had,” Garcia said. “She’s one of my top students. It’s carried over.”

DADDY’S LITTLE PRINCESS

What Ivana intended to be a two-week absence this past October to be at her father’s side turned into three as his condition worsened.

“I was there to be with him until his last breath,” she said. “He wasn’t the perfect dad, but he was very supportive. He always loved his little princess.”

As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, Ivana’s aunt left town and some of the aunt’s friends took Ivana in afterward. Things didn’t work out in that household.

Her friend and teammate Karina Terrazas could tell Lemin’s death took an emotional toll on Ivana.

“She was, like, heartbroken,” Terrazas said. “She was not herself. I told her move in with us, and she took the chance. We’re always there for her.”

A forward and right wing on the Memorial soccer team, Ivana had some catching up to do in her schoolwork.

“I wasn’t focusing in school,” she said. “I had some things to do, work, make-up work, soccer, having problems with people I used to live with, so it was a lot of things.”

ROAD TO REDEMPTION

Turns out, Ivana Pagoaga did not let a three-week setback stop her.

“I was just running off and on with my teachers and asking for my work and telling them the reason I wasn’t in school,” she said. “They understood.”

And Terrazas saw the perseverance firsthand.

“After all that happened, she fought through it. She never gave up. She was always there for us, and we’re always there for her.”

Her grade-point average is now a 3.6 with graduation coming June 6. She ranks 146th in a class of 486, by her count.

On the soccer pitch, Pagoaga was a key player for a Titans team that nearly made the 5A playoffs. She earned second-team All-District 22-5A honors and was named Academic All-State by the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches, according to Garcia.

And on Friday, she signed a letter of intent to play soccer at Jacksonville College, achieving a life goal of furthering her education. Five of her teammates, assistant coach Jacob Hoover and Garcia surrounded her in support at Memorial’s gymnasium, where two basketball players committed to Jarvis Christian College hours earlier.

“She’s a very important person to me, the team and the coaches,” Terrazas said. “I’m really proud of what she’s done. I want her to be somebody in life.”

Pagoaga’s mom, still living in Honduras and unable to make it to graduation, will be glad to know that’s not a problem. Pagoaga is considering studying psychiatry and nursing.

She credited Garcia with staying “on her back” helping her earn a soccer scholarship. Western Texas College in Scurry also extended an offer to her.

“I’m proud of her, but it’s been a tough start,” Garcia said. “We know she’s going to do good things.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

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