Tuesday, October 16 , 2018, 2:38 pm | Fair 79º

 
 
 
 
Olympics

To Delight of Fans Back Home, Santa Maria’s Carlos Balderas Makes Olympic Debut with Boxing Victory

Scores of supporters pack community center to watch ‘The Pride of 805’ punch his way into Tuesday’s second round

Fellow boxer Maggie Suarez watches anxiously as her friend, Santa Maria boxer Carlos Balderas, competes Saturday in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero. Suarez was one of more than 100 fans who gathered to watch the match on TV at the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center in Santa Maria. Click to view larger
Fellow boxer Maggie Suarez watches anxiously as her friend, Santa Maria boxer Carlos Balderas, competes Saturday in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero. Suarez was one of more than 100 fans who gathered to watch the match on TV at the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

With friends and strangers cheering from his hometown, Santa Marian Carlos Balderas boxed his way into the next round of the Olympic Games on Saturday.

Early Saturday, more than a 100 people gathered at the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center to watch Balderas, the first American boxer to take the ring in Rio de Janeiro, beat a competitor from Kazakhstan.

Loud applause and cheers sounded in the center’s gym after the referee raised Balderas’ arm to signify the win in the round of 32. Spectators in the gym jumped out of their chairs in excitement.

Afterward, Santa Maria High School Principal Joe Domingues said it was surreal to see Balderas in the Olympics.

“I think he has a good shot of going to semifinals, the way he looked,” he said. “He’s going to medal.”

Balderas, a 19-year-old Santa Maria High graduate, used the campus for training with the familiar sights appearing in the pre-fight feature that aired Saturday morning on NBC.

Domingues got to know Balderas as he worked to qualify for the Olympics while keeping up on classwork through independent studies. His goal was to graduate in 2015, in spite of a heavy international travel schedule.

Balderas — whose first name is Carlos although he prefers Karlos — had vowed he would make the Olympics.

Friends and fans of Santa Maria boxer Carlos Balderas capture his big Olympic moment. Click to view larger
Friends and fans of Santa Maria boxer Carlos Balderas capture his big Olympic moment. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“He told me. ‘I’m going to do it,’” Domingues recalled. “I sat back and watched him and he actually did it.

“For him to qualify for the Olympics at the same time he graduated from high school is a testimony to his intelligence and his focus.”

Balderas comes from a Mixteco immigrant family, and the first-generation American was pushed toward the sport to keep him out of trouble, according to USA Today.

“His story is the American dream,” Domingues said. “His story is why America is the greatest country in the world. How an immigrant family that came from poverty can have this opportunity in America. It makes me proud to be an American. It makes our Latino community proud because this is a great story of success, his faith and his dedication.

“I call him ‘The Pride of 805.’”

As Balderas took the ring, some of those watching in Santa Maria were too nervous to sit down, while others held up smartphones to record the bout.

Santa Maria High School Principal Joe Domingues was among those cheering on Carlos Balderas, an SMHS grad, at the Olympics on Saturday morning. Click to view larger
Santa Maria High School Principal Joe Domingues was among those cheering on Carlos Balderas, an SMHS grad, at the Olympics on Saturday morning. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Family friend and boxer Maggie Suarez, sporting a Olympic boxing shirt, watched the fight while standing up, hands folded.

“I can’t even sit down,” she said. “I support him 110 percent. ... I’m so excited to see him, I can’t even really explain it.”

Pete Flores, director of student services for the Santa Maria Joint Union School District, said Balderas serves as a role model for other youths and a “shining beacon” about great people from Santa Maria.

“It’s a real-life example that if you set your mind to accomplish your goals, you can get there,” he said. “That’s what’s really exciting — now I can point to someone like Carlos when I speak to other students, that they can achieve great things if they just set their mind to it.”

Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley organized Saturday’s gathering with support from Have It Wired and the Santa Maria Recreation & Parks Department.

A poster said it all at the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center. Click to view larger
A poster said it all at the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“This is a historic event for Santa Maria,” said Edwin Weaver, executive director of Fighting Back.

Another viewing party is planned for Tuesday to watch Balderas’ next bout, likely in the morning.

“I think it shows the community we care about Carlos, it shows his family we care about Carlos, but more important it sends a message to all of us what we’re united when it comes to kids,” Weaver said.

“When it comes to our kids, this city rallies and steps up, and one way we do that together is sports.”

Tuesday night, people again will gather at the youth center to watch the Santa Maria Valley’s Josh Prenot hit the pool in the semi-finals. Santa Maria Swim Club members are expected to be in the audience to cheer on their former teammate, a graduate of Family Partnership Charter School in Orcutt and a senior at UC Berkeley.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Maggie Suarez sports a T-shirt supporting Santa Maria boxer Carlos Balderas as his fight is broadcast at the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center during the Summer Olympics. Click to view larger
Maggie Suarez sports a T-shirt supporting Santa Maria boxer Carlos Balderas as his fight is broadcast at the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center during the Summer Olympics. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

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