The real “McFarland USA” beach scene, from the album of Silvia Diaz

In this photo provided by Flora Diaz, the niece of Sylvia Diaz, one of the two runners killed in the 1986 practice accident, the 1985 McFarland boys and girls team enjoy the beach at Cayucos.
In this photo shot with Raul Diaz’s camera and provided by Flora Diaz, the brother and younger sister of Silvia Diaz, one of the two runners killed in the 1986 practice accident, the 1985 McFarland boys and girls team enjoy the beach north of Morro Bay. The pictures are from Silvia’s album. Sylvia is on the left, #3.

One of the more touching scenes in the movie “McFarland USA” – as in  get-out-your-Kleenex and hankies – is when coach Jim White, played by Kevin Costner, takes his team to the beach for the first time in most of the runners’ lives. Well, it really happened, though a little different from the movie. Coach White took both the boys and girls to the California central coast beachs at Morro Bay and Cuyucos during the 1985 season, and for many, it was the first time they ever saw the ocean.

Clip courtesy of Norma Takahashi.
Clip courtesy of Norma Takahashi, Herlinda Gonzales and Slivia Diaz’s teammate.

These photos of that day were shot by Silvia Diaz’s brother, Raul, or by teammates using Raul’s camera, and provided by Flora Diaz, Silvia’s younger sister. Silvia was one of the two runners on the girls team, the other was Herlinda Gonzalez, who were struck by a car and killed in the practice accident on October 27, 1986. Silvia died on October 27, Herlinda on October 28. Both girls were on this trip to a meet in Santa Maria and the beachs, and these photos are from Silvia’s album, which her family had saved. Silvia was 16 and Herlinda was 14. Raul was also a runner on the team when his sister was killed.

In this photo from the album of Sylvia Diaz and shot by her brother, Raul Diaz, the McFarland boys and girls cross country team plays on the beach at Cayucos after coach Jim White took them there in 1985.
In this photo from the album of Silvia Diaz and photographed by her brother, Raul Diaz, the McFarland boys and girls cross country team plays on the beach north of Morro Bay after coach Jim White took them there in 1985.
At Morro Bay, Herlinda Gonzalez (6) wrote "MHS #1" in the sand. Silvia Diaz is #3, her brother Raul is at right. (Working to get name of runner at left.) Picture was taken with Raul's camera by a team member.
At Morro Bay, Herlinda Gonzalez (left) wrote “MHS #1” in the sand. Silvia Diaz is #3, her brother Raul is at right. Delfina Herrera is between Silvia and Herlinda. Picture was taken with Raul’s camera by a team member.
At left, Silvia Diaz and Alicia Herrera. Center from left, Tammy Carter, Gabby Perez, Norma Lopez and Dolores Plata. Top, standing on rock is Albert Torrez. Photo is by Raul Diaz and is from the personal album of Silvia Diaz.
At left, Silvia Diaz and Alicia Herrera. Center from left, Tammy Carter, Dolores Plata, Norma Lopez and Gabby Perez. Top, standing on rock is Albert Torrez. Photo is by Raul Diaz and is from the personal album of Silvia Diaz.

Dolores Plata – now Cesar Chavez High School in Delano assistant principal Dolores Rodriguez – was on the 1985 team and here’s what she said about that day: “This was actually our 1985 fall season. Those beach pictures are from the first time (Coach) White took us after the Atascadero race. It was the first time all of us ever stepped foot on a beach. That was a great day!

The McFarland boys and girls teams in Atascadero, the day coach Jim White took them to the beach.
The McFarland boys and girls teams in Atascadero, the day coach Jim White took them to the beach. From the album of Silvia Diaz, photographed by her brother, Raul, and provided by her sister, Flora. Silvia Diaz is seated, second from left, and Herlinda Gonzalez is seated to Silvia’s right.
The McFarland girls in Atascadero. They would later be taken to the beach, with the boys team. For many, if not all, it was the first time they would see the ocean. This photo is from the album of Sylvia Diaz, was shot by her brother, Raul, and provided by her sister, Flora.
The McFarland girls in Atascadero. They would later be taken to the beach, with the boys team. For many, if not all, it was the first time they would see the ocean. This photo is from the album of Silvia Diaz, was photographed by her brother, Raul, and provided by her sister, Flora. Silvia is in the center, in the pink shirt. Herlinda is on the right, and Dolores Plata is standing in white hat..
The teams on the day of the beach trip, fall of 1985.
Coach Jim White with the teams on the day of the beach trip following a meet in Atascadero, fall of 1985. From the album of Silvia Diaz, photographed by her brother, Raul Diaz and provided by her sister, Flora. Silvia is at far right, in pink shirt.
The McFarland boys and girls teams the day of their meet in Atascadero, when coach Jim White took them to the beach.
The McFarland boys and girls teams the day of their meet in Atascadero, when coach Jim White took them to the beach. From the album of Silvia Diaz, photographed by her brother, Raul and provided by her sister, Flora. Silvia is at the far right, #3.

These photographs are the property of the Diaz family and are published here with their permission. Thank you to Cesar Chavez High assistant principal Dolores Rodriguez for facilitating the use of these photos. To learn more about the story of McFarland, the hardships it encountered, Silvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez and the role the cross country teams played in bringing some sunshine to a town enduring unspeakable tragedy and heartache, please visit these links on this blog:

The real McFarland USA kids and coach Jim White

McFarland’s never-ending heartache

Prom night, a crash and six teens lost

Show the world what has happened to my son

Pictures from the Bakersfield sneak peek of “McFarland USA”

 

A look at the real “McFarland USA” kids and coach Jim White

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Thomas Valles, of the McFarland Cougars 1987 team, hoists the California Southern Area championship trophy. Victor Puentes is just to his left. David Diaz is behind Victor wearing a white t-shirt and McFarland hat. Jim White is to Thomas’ right and Gary Adams is to White’s right.
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Coach Jim White and his wife, Cheryl, with team member Thomas Valles at the 1987 California Southern Area cross country meet at Hart Park in Bakersfield. Eliu Garza, also a McFarland High runner, is at right with the camera.
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Victor Puentes (left), Thomas Valles (center) and Damacio Diaz (right) just before the start of the California Southern Area meet in 1987. Luis Partida is behind Victor and Jose Cardenas is directly behind Thomas Valles.

I received a nice surprise today when my pal, longtime Bakersfield Californian photographer Felix Adamo, found these photos I shot of the 1987 McFarland boys cross country team. They were requested by People Magazine. This is the team featured in the movie “McFarland USA,” which opens to general release on February 20. There is much excitement and anticipation in McFarland about the film, which stars Kevin Costner as coach Jim White, and as I mentioned in my previous posts that dealt with the enormous heartache this town endured in the 1980s – “Show the world what has happened to my son,” “Prom night, a crash and six teens lost” and “McFarland’s never-ending heartache  – this close-knit town deserves some good will and national love. Because Thomas Valles, McFarland’s top runner in 1987, is the focal point of all these photos, this was most likely a profile I was assigned to shoot of him in advance of the state championship meet. These photos, by the way, are from the California Southern Area meet held at Hart Park in Bakersfield, probably November 1987, and if I remember correctly, it is the meet before the California Interscholastic Federation section championship and the California state championship, which the team went on to win, and is a focus of the film.

The real Thomas Valles in 1987.
The real Thomas Valles in 1987.
This photo by Henry Barrios is from the Kern Invitational in October 1987. Thomas Valles runs in the center and Johnny Samaniego to his right. Danny Diaz is behind them.
This photo by Henry Barrios is from the Kern Invitational in October 1987. Thomas Valles runs in the center and Johnny Samaniego to his right. Damacio Diaz is behind them.
I also shot this photo of the 1988 team. McFarland's cross country team was a bright light for a town enduring unspeakable tragedy at the time, including the infamous child cancer cluster, the accident that killed two members of the girls team and an emerging culture of gang activity and violence.
I also shot this photo of the 1988 team. This might be both varsity and junior varsity runners, some of the kids look pretty young. McFarland’s cross country team was a bright light for a town enduring unspeakable tragedy at the time, including the infamous child cancer cluster, the accident that killed two members of the girls team and an emerging culture of gang activity and violence.

Update, February 19, 2015: I found these additional photos from my coverage of the 1986 South Area championship at Hart Park. This race occurred two and one-half weeks after two teammates on the girls team, Silvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez, were struck by a car and killed while practicing. It’s not part of the movie, but the team was, obviously, grieving and impacted deeply.

Still grieving following the deaths of Sylvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez from the girls team, a parent arranged to have the boys arrive at the section championships in a limo. From left: Thomas Valles, Victor Puentes, Johnny Samaniego, Damaci Diaz, David Diaz, Amador Ayon and Luis Partida.
Still grieving following the deaths of Silvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez from the girls team, a parent arranged to have the boys arrive at the area championships in a limo. From left: Thomas Valles, Victor Puentes, Johnny Samaniego, Damaci0 Diaz, David Diaz, Amador Ayon and Luis Partida.
Aaron Mears and Kevin Larson, two runners from the Bakersfield High Drillers, wish the McFarland runners well before the start of the Southern Section championships. The gesture is in contrast to the film, which portrays McFarland's opponents as snobby rich kids who look down on the runners. McFarland runners in this picture are (from left) David Diaz, Victor Puentes, Thomas Valles and Luis Partida.
Aaron Meares (far right) and Kevin Larson, two runners from the Bakersfield High Drillers, wish the McFarland runners well before the start of the South Area championships. The gesture is in contrast to the film, which portrays McFarland’s opponents as snobby rich kids who look down on the runners. McFarland runners in this picture are (from left) David Diaz, Victor Puentes, Thomas Valles and Luis Partida.
The McFarland runners take off at the start of the Southern Section championships at Hart Park in Bakersfield, California on November 13, 1986.
The McFarland runners take off at the start of the South Area championships at Hart Park in Bakersfield, California on November 13, 1986.
Thomas Valles runs in the 1986 CIF Southern Section championships at Hart Park in Bakersfield.
Thomas Valles runs in the 1986 CIF South Area championships at Hart Park in Bakersfield.
Thomas Valles runs in the 1986 CIF Southern Section championships at Hart Park in Bakersfield.
Thomas Valles runs in the 1986 CIF South Area championships at Hart Park in Bakersfield.
The real 1987 California state championship McFarland Cougars. Photo provided by Dolores Plata Rodriguez. From left: Thomas Valles, Victor Puentes, Damacio Diaz, Johnny Samaniego, Jose Cardenas, Danny Diaz and Coach Jim White. Luis Partida is not pictured.
The real 1987 California state champion McFarland Cougars. Photo provided by Dolores Plata Rodriguez. From left: Thomas Valles, Victor Puentes, Damacio Diaz, Johnny Samaniego, Jose Cardenas, Danny Diaz and Coach Jim White. Luis Partida is not pictured.
Here's another image of the 1987 California state champion McFarland Cougars, this one provided by Jim and Susy Beltran. Bottom, from left: Thomas Valles, Danny Diaz, Victor Puentes, Jose cardenas. Top, from left: Johnny Samaniego, Luis Partida, Damacio Diaz and Coach Jim White.
Here’s another image of the 1987 California state champion McFarland Cougars, this one provided by Jim and Susy Beltran. Bottom, from left: Thomas Valles, Danny Diaz, Victor Puentes, Jose Cardenas. Top, from left: Johnny Samaniego, Luis Partida, Damacio Diaz and Coach Jim White.

Read about and view photos of “McFarland USA’s” forgotten inspiration, team members Sylvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez, who died in a practice accident in 1986. Without these two beautiful young ladies, there would be no “McFarland USA.” Click here.

To see additional photos of the McFarland boys and girls teams competing in the 1986 Kern Invitational five days after the tragic accident that took the lives of their teammates, please visit the post “McFarland’s never-ending heartache.”

Also check out the incredibly moving real photos from the beach scene depicted in “McFarland USA” from the personal album of Silvia Diaz.

McFarland’s never-ending heartache

Thomas Valles prays before the start of the Kern Invitational on November 1, 1986, five days after two teammates from the girls team were killed during a practice session.
Thomas Valles prays before the start of the Kern Invitational on November 1, 1986, five days after two teammates from the girls team were killed during a practice session.

Update, February 18, 2015: I have located my original images from the 1986 Kern County Invitational, the first race the McFarland girls and boys ran following the tragic accident that killed their teammates Herlinda Gonzalez and Silvia Diaz. I also found the images from the California Interscholastic Federation central Section South Area race two and one-half weeks later. I remember shooting both of these races as they were extremely emotional. They are presented here.

I don’t know if any city as small as McFarland, California, population around 6,500 back then, has endured as much heartbreak and despair involving their children as this town did in the mid and late 1980s. My coverage of two of those are detailed on this site (Show the World What Has Happened to My Son and Prom Night, a Crash and Six Teens Lost). On October 27, 1986, as parents were desperately searching for answers and help finding the cause of a cancer outbreak that was claiming the lives of the farming community’s children, and just a few months before the horrific Valentine’s Day car crash that claimed the lives of six teens from McFarland and neighboring Delano, two members of McFarland High’s cross country team were killed. Silvia Diaz, 16, and Herlinda Gonzalez, 14, were struck by a car during a practice run along one of McFarland’s roads.

The McFarland girls cross country team in 1986. Sylvia Diaz, 16, is second from left, seated on the bench. Herlinda Gonzalez, 14, is seated on the bench second from the right, the girl with the big smile. This photo was provided by their teammate, Norma Takahashi, middle of the standing row.
The McFarland girls cross country team in 1986. Silvia Diaz, 16, is second from left, seated on the bench. Herlinda Gonzalez, 14, is seated on the bench second from the right, the girl with the big smile. This photo was provided by their teammate, Norma Lopez, middle of the standing row.
Clip courtesy of Norma Takahashi, Slivia and Herlinda's teammate.
Clip courtesy of Norma Takahashi, Silvia and Herlinda’s teammate.

McFarland would continue to endure unspeakable heartache, though I didn’t work any of the other stories. They were the death of football coach Gerry Pitts, who suffered a heart attack and the Kern River drowning of 16-year-old James Lopez that summer, the death of McFarland High junior Stacey Morris in a traffic accident earlier in the year and the stabbing death of Daniel Gonzalez, 16, at a party in 1985. In the late 1980s, Eduardo Martinez, a popular student and football player at McFarland High, lost his life in a post-graduation car accident on the way to Avila Beach in a crash that also seriously injured several other teens. Fate apparently wasn’t cruel enough to McFarland in the 1980s. During the football season of 1991, Freddy Mendoza, 17, a captain on the varsity football team, collapsed during a game and died of a brain hemorrhage.

A movie starring Kevin Costner, “McFarland USA,” about cross country coach Jim White and the remarkable cross country team, is coming this February, and hopefully it is going to be a winner, because this town has paid its dues in a big way and deserves some positive attention and a little national love. This remarkable Los Angeles Times article and photo story, published in 1997, provides a great, richly-detailed picture of what the residents of this town endured.

November 1, 1986. The Kern County Invitational:

In these four photos, McFarland girls runner Tammy Carter finishes the Kern Invitational at Hart Park in Bakersfield and lands in the arms of coach Gary Pierson. Carter ran the race just five days after the accident that killed her two teammates.

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The boys team readies for the start of the 1986 Kern Invitational. From left are Victor Puentes (7), Johnny Samaniego (2), Damacio Diaz (5), Thomas Valles (16) and David Diaz.
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Thomas Valles runs in the Kern Invitational in 1986. The team raced just five days after their teammates Silvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez were struck and killed by a car during practice.
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David Diaz runs in the 1986 Kern Invitational at Hart Park.
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Johnny Samaniego runs in the 1986 Kern Invitational on November 1, 1986.

November 13, 1986. The South Area Championships:

The McFarland girls cross country team competes in the South Area race in Hart Park in Bakersfield on November 13, 1986.

McFarland_girls_2McFarland_girls_6McFarland_girls_8McFarland_girls_web_1McFarland_girls_5In the two photos above, Norma Gonzalez and Hollie Wycoff after their race at the South Area championships, still grieving following the deaths of teammates Silvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez.

The parents of one of the girls arranged to have the team driven to the race in a limo, an effort to lift their spirits as they were still grieving after accident that killed Sylvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez.
The parents of one of the girls arranged to have the team driven to the race in a limo, an effort to lift their spirits as they were still grieving after accident that killed Silvia Diaz and Herlinda Gonzalez. From left are Eva Renteria, Hollie Wycoff, Delfina Herrera, Maria Herrera, Alicia Herrera, Tammy Carter, Norma Gonzalez and coach Gary Pierson.