Sanger boy, 12, dies on soccer field

FRESNO, Calif.

Sanger Unified Superintendent Matt Navo told Action News the seventh grade student at Washington Academic Middle School suddenly collapsed and died around 2:30 p.m. Monday afternoon - just moments after arriving late to practice.

The parents of Pedro Ivan Espinoza said their son had the day off from school for the Martin Luther King holiday, when he learned late that afternoon his school's soccer team was meeting for practice. They said as soon as he got the call, he grabbed his cleats and rushed out the door, running the entire way from his home to campus.

When he arrived, they said, practice was just ending and only handful of people were still there, including the coach, when Espinoza fell face-first to the ground.

On Tuesday, pictures, trophies and jerseys belonging to Espinoza were on display in several rooms at his family's home, as dozens of friends and family gathered in support of his parents.

"He was a really great kid with a really big heart," said his father Pedro Espinoza Sr. through a Spanish interpreter. "All the teachers loved him at school and everyone is really in shock this happened."

Many said they were surprised because Espinoza was an athletic child who played as many sports as he could. Pictures of him in football and baseball uniforms lined the walls of his home, as well as medals and other awards from various sports. His father said soccer was his passion and his older brother Israel said the two would often play together outside of school, practicing on their own to improve their skills.

"I'd always go to the park with him one-on-one and teach him some of my skills so I can make him better than me," he said.

Pedro played midfield and defender on the WAMs Junior Varsity soccer team. He also played year-round for the Sanger Youth Soccer Leagues Under 13 team known as the Monarcas, a team he had played with for the last four years.

His club coach, Sarah Murillo, would often check on Espinoza when his parents' were away at work.

She said Espinoza was unaware he had practice with his Middle School team Monday afternoon and as soon as he received word from a teammate, he rushed out the door, running about five blocks from his home to campus. She said he was there less than five minutes when his coach, older brother and teammates noticed something was wrong.

"His brother Israel said he fell to the floor face first. He said Ivan, that's what he called him, get up! Stop playing around! When he turned him over he could see he was gasping for air," she said.

School officials said his coach performed CPR while another person called 911. When helped arrived, Espinoza appeared to be breathing on his own so family and friends said they were in shock when doctors later pronounced him dead at the hospital.

"He was really healthy. We didn't see any signs of him being sick at all. We're just really surprised," said his father.

"He was just a really good kid. I'm going to miss him. My heart aches for him. I'm just heartbroken over this," said his mother Maria Isabel Espinoza-Blanco.

His club coach, Sarah Murillo, said the Monarcas were gearing up to play their first game this Saturday. She said many of his teammates, who range in age from 10-13, are now scared to play because they're worried what happened to Espinoza could happen to them.

She said when they return to the field, they'll be missing not only a player, but a family member and they plan to honor him the best they can.

"A lot of the boys I talked with had his jersey yesterday and they said number seven will always be his. No one will ever carry number seven," she said.

District officials said Espinoza is the fourth Sanger Unified student to die in a freak accident in less than a year and students and staff are taking it hard.

On Tuesday, school counselors and psychologists were on hand at four different sites to help students and faculty deal with the loss.

The district also set up a fund to raise money for funeral expenses. To donate, visit this website:

In the meantime, doctors are looking into whether cardiac arrest played a role in Espinoza's death, but are waiting on the results of an autopsy to determine the official cause. The results are expected to be released in the next few days.

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