Champion whose high school story inspired Disney movie visits USI

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EVANSVILLE, In. (WEHT) — A cross-country champion who had his high school story transformed into a big motion picture spoke at USI Wednesday.

Thomas Valles’ story inspired the Disney move “Mcfarland USA” in 2015.

Valles was this year’s keynote speaker for Hispanic Heritage Month. He spoke about his experiences growing up in Mcfarland, and why he chose to stay there.

A night filled with good food, good company, and cultural celebration.

Guests watched traditional Latin and Panamanian dances and then listened to a big-screen sports hero speak about his story.

“I’m first generation on my dad’s side to be born here. First generation to go on out of high school and get a higher education,” he told the audience. “Mr. White had us up in the wee hours of the morning to see something. And it was to watch the Olympic torch run through Eugene, Oregon.”

The movie focuses on the inspiring relationship between a down-on-his-luck coach, and a group of Latino teens.

“What are we going to do today, Mr White? We’re doing 10 miles. We’re doing 8 miles. And they’d do it. They were dedicated.”

These days he gives back doing what he loves as a coach.

“I won’t tell them anything different than their own personal coach or their high school coach. What I tell them — to be thankful.”

Valles keeps in touch with his former teammates and still lives in Mcfarland.

“We’re proud to represent a team that is predominantly Hispanic. But that doesn’t mean we are any different than any other team out there.”

National Hispanic Heritage month runs from september 15th to october 15th.

Join Amanda Mueller this Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on ABC 25 for a half-hour special: “Hidden History: Hispanic Heritage” for a look inside the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

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