West Forsyth’s Gonzalez excels on, off field

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 18, 2023

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By Jay Spivey
For the Clemmons Courier

CLEMMONS — Rosa Gonzalez is a senior on the West Forsyth girl’s soccer team, but she’s not just a face on the team. She puts a smile on everybody’s faces.

“Just joyous,” Coach Scott Bilton of the Titans said of Gonzalez. “It’s a great word I have to describe her. She is one that just smiles and has fun. And we want her to be that way. We want her to be loose. We want her to be, you know, happy. And she just makes everybody smile. And she brings joy to the game.

“And along with that obviously is some great play, as well, because she is a very good player, and she’s able to do those things.”

Although she has a cheerful demeanor, it hasn’t always been easy for her. Gonzalez was born in the United States, but her parents, Jeremias and Anel, were born in Mexico. According to Rosa, her parents moved to the United States a year or two before she was born.

With her parents being from Mexico, they mainly spoke Spanish to each other. Gonzalez started learning English when she went to Forest Park Elementary School in Winston-Salem, from pre-K through fifth grade, beginning at four years old. In addition, she is the eldest of four children — sister Rosmar, 14, brother Jeremias, Jr., 10, and sister Genesis, 5.

Growing up as the eldest child of a family of six, Gonzalez was the only one trying to learn English as a second language. Although she speaks very good English, she’s self-conscious of how she sounds.

“I stutter a lot,” she said. “I struggle at times to use the right vocabulary. To me, in Spanish, I’ll say something, and I’ll think like the translation will work in English, but it doesn’t. It’ll mean the complete opposite thing. So, I struggle at times a little bit.”

Although she has struggled with the perception that she doesn’t speak English well, she wants to be a role model to her siblings.

“I sometimes feel pressure because … I have to lead like a good example to be something my parents, my siblings look up to,” Gonzalez said. “I’m like a representation of who my parents are. And so, I really try to keep up with good grades so my siblings can see focus in school and stuff like that.

“I have to be, I don’t know how to say it, like well-mannered, have good manners around people because that really says a lot about your parents.”

Along with being a positive influence on her siblings, Gonzalez has tried to take it even a step further.

“I just try to be the best version of myself in public,” she said. “And so, I want my siblings to be that and be like that. Not be exactly who I am, but very kind, nice to others and stuff like that.”

One way Gonzalez used to feel more comfortable was playing soccer. She started playing at five or six and eventually started around town in some Hispanic pickup leagues.

“So, it was outdoors, and I started playing in those leagues when I was young,” she said. “My uncle told my mom (to take me to the) community. And so, that’s how I started with some family members of mine.”

Lucky for her, she wasn’t the only girl playing.

“There were some other girls,” Gonzalez said. “I started playing with them. I have three cousins, three females, and the rest are guys. Once the league started evolving more and getting better, it started breaking up into female and male leagues. If you wanted, you could play on the males team.”

As Gonzalez grew older, she went to middle school at East Forsyth Middle for sixth grade, but she transferred to Clemmons Middle in seventh and eighth grade after her parents moved to Clemmons.

“When I was at East Forsyth, I lived in Winston, near Forest Park, and that is a very big drive,” Gonzalez said. “So, I would have to wake up very early in the morning to get to the bus.”

While at Clemmons Middle, she made more friends because of her proximity to the school. Also, Gonzalez played soccer there, first as a defender, unlike the midfield position she plays now at West Forsyth.

“I think I was way better than what I was when I was 5 or 6 years old,” she said.

One thing that helped her get better as a player was playing club soccer for PTFC, followed by NC Rush. That led her to get ready for high school, but it wasn’t at West Forsyth. She went to Parkland for her first two years. Her freshman season for the Mustangs was stopped abruptly because of COVID-19, and during her sophomore year, the team eventually disbanded because it didn’t have enough players.

She then transferred to West Forsyth just before her junior year, partly for soccer but for academics, as well. And it helped that she knew Bilton’s assistant coach Penny Fuehrer, through some family members.

“Parkland is a good school, but I feel like I wasn’t getting enough (there),” she said.

Now with a 4.0 GPA at West Forsyth, she’s flourishing as a student and a soccer player.

“I think it’s just tough,” Bilton said of Parkland. “That school’s been through a bunch of coaches. You know, it just makes it challenging.”

Bilton has had Gonzalez on the team for the past two seasons. West Forsyth was 15-6-1 last season, and they’re 19-3-1 so far this season, winning the Central Piedmont 4-A championship each season.

“I didn’t know how well she would fit in,” Bilton said. “I think she self-admits that she was very timid for a while and honestly didn’t play to her full potential until the season got going. Once the season got going, it really was impressive to see, you know, what she could do. And basically, once she came out of her shell, I remember sitting there talking to (Fuehrer), and I said, ‘You know what,’ she wasn’t starting at the time, and I said, ‘You know what, she is good enough that she needs to get out there.’ She moved into the starting lineup, and she played phenomenal and has never given up that position.”

Third-seeded West Forsyth just defeated No. 30 Monroe Piedmont 6-1 Monday night in the first round of the NCHSAA Class 4-A tournament and will play host to No. 16 South Mecklenburg (16-3-1) at 6 p.m. on Thursday in the second round.

Part of the reason for the Titans’ success is how Gonzalez’s personality has seeped into the rest of the team.

“She’s always smiling,” Bilton said. “She’s always, you know, a happy kid. And it’s just fun to watch somebody like that. She has a tradition where she gives both me and Penny a fist bump after every practice and game. And it’s just great to see. I mean, she’s the reason why people coach because of the fact that she plays with joy, and she just plays and has fun.”

And being on a team, a very successful soccer team, no less, hasn’t been lost on Gonzalez.

“I believe in our whole team,” she said. “And I believe that, and I just believe a lot in us. And I know we’ll make it far if we keep working hard and staying positive at all times.”

No matter how the Titans do the remainder of the playoffs, Gonzalez also has another big event in three weeks. She’ll be graduating.

“It’s a very, very huge event,” she said. “I’m like the first one actually graduating in my family. So, like it’s a big thing for my whole family and I can’t wait. I mean, I’ll be sad because people do say that high-school years pass by all fast. Like right now, I can’t believe I’ll be walking across the stage in a few weeks, receiving a high-school diploma. But I’m also excited for my very next stage of playing college soccer.”

Gonzalez will be playing soccer this fall at Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory. But before that, Bilton gets to coach her for a little bit more.

“I think she’s going to leave the impression that everybody is just better after getting to know her,” he said. “Her smile, her laugh, the way in which she is kind of an old-school player, always coming over to say ‘thank you’ and just always being there for her teammates.”

Whether it be in high school or playing in the fall in college, soccer has given to Gonzalez, just like she hopes to give back to the sport of soccer.

“To me, soccer is not like a hobby or something I do to pass the time,” Gonzalez said. “To me, soccer is like part of my life and who I am as a person. When I go places, people will recognize me as the girl who plays soccer.”