Marcos Moran sits next to his wife Adelaida, his hand in hers, as they listen to friends, former students and colleagues talk about his 40-year tenure with Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
When it’s Moran’s turn to speak, the 200-plus guests at his retirement party give him a standing ovation.
“I will not lose this last teachable moment that I may have,” Moran tells the crowd. “I’ll simply leave you with this thought and this request: Every single person in this room has a gift, everyone of you has a gift, use that gift to make somebody else’s life just a little bit better.”
Throughout his career, Moran, 62, used his gifts to make an impact on all who were lucky enough to be his students or soccer players.
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“After 40 years of fantastic, dedicated work, it’s hard to see him go, but we have to celebrate the gifts he gave us,” Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said at the party.
In four decades with the Miami-Dade Schools, Moran has been a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent for district and school operations.
But the title Moran is best known for is beloved soccer coach. He coached hundreds of students at Shenandoah Middle School, then called Shenandoah Junior High, and Miami Senior High School, his alma mater. He even moonlighted as a coach at Miami Dade College.
“We never cut a player. If they wanted to play, and were willing to do the work, they could come on the team,” said Moran. “Everyone got treated the same way, and they knew it.”
His players often were new immigrants to Miami; many did not speak English. Moran became coach, counselor and the go-to person when life got tough for them.
“The common language was soccer,” said Moran, who lives in Pinecrest. “They came from all parts of society. Some were very poor; some had parents who could not afford a decent pair of shoes. I had some students who were homeless, but they all went to school and managed to succeed.”
As a coach, Moran described himself as methodical, expecting the best out of his players and requiring them to keep up their grades to play.
His players would use another word: magic.
“Marcos is a magician,” said Osiel Morales, 56, of Coral Gables, now the head coach of the girls’ soccer team at MAST Academy and who played for Moran when he was at Shenandoah and at Miami High. “He made great players of us that were not great players. He got the best of us.”
For Elio Falcon, mow the principal at Jorge Mas Canosa Middle School, Moran was his hero.
“His greatest asset was not his knowledge of the game, but it was his relationship with his players,” said Falcon, 53, of Kendall, who played for him at Shenandoah, Miami High and Miami Dade College North. “We didn’t want to let him down, he was just that important to all of us. He was a mentor, a father, a coach, a teacher, everything you could possibly mean to a kid growing up.’’
Both Falcon and Morales are Cuban-born and arrived in the United States as teens via Spain. Neither knew English, but they did have a passion for the sport.
“I think for the ones who came from other areas, and couldn’t speak the language, the fact that they could play a sport that they loved had a positive impact on them,” Moran said.
Moran used soccer as a platform to teach life lessons in discipline and hard work. Soccer also provided an avenue to open up new worlds to the players.
Every year he’d plan matches in Orlando, and then take the team to Disney World. To save for the trip, the players would sell soda and snacks at school.
“They were a handful, but nobody ever got in trouble,” Moran said. “They were good kids; they listened. All you had to do was tell them once: This is what we’re doing, this is where we’re meeting, and this is what is expected from you.”
Moran’s ability to connect to his students may stem from his own history as a Cuban immigrant, coming to Miami when he was 9.
“We were Cuban refugees,” said Moran. “The United States government gave us surplus commodities, which was powered milk, Spam, cheese and peanut butter.”
To pick up the food, Moran and his mom, Liban, walked from their home near Southwest Eighth Street and 34th Avenue, near Woodlawn Park Cemetery North, to a location by the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami.
“My mom didn’t have 10 cents for the bus,” he said. “So we would have to walk there. She didn’t mind and neither did I.”
Prior to coming to Miami, Moran lived in Santiago de Cuba, where he learned soccer from the Spanish priests at the Jesuit school he attended. Moran’s love for soccer led to him receiving the first athletic scholarship awarded by Florida International University.
Moran retired as a teacher in 1994, and as an administrator in September. While he was working, he balanced work life and home life by essentially combining the two.
“Soccer was our life for many years,” said Adelaida, Moran’s wife. “We’d take our children to the games, when he was working.”
In retirement, Moran starts every morning at 6 a.m. and heads out to Mass at St. Louis Catholic Church before starting his day. From there a typical day involves doing work around the house, and coaching children in travel youth soccer league.
“I am always busy,” he says, adding he wants to spend more time with his family and travel with Adelaida.
Recently Moran headed to Moran Refinishing, his father’s old shop, to visit his former student Marvin Hernandez, who now owns the business.
When he walked in, Moran’s eyes went straight to a wooden sign: Moran Furniture Refinishing.
“Hey, you kept the old sign,” Moran said to Hernandez.
Hernandez first met Moran in 1985 when he was 16. He had just moved to the United States from Honduras. At the time he didn’t speak English. On the first day of school, he found himself sitting in the front row of Moran’s fourth-period health and life management class at Miami Senior High.
“The next morning he came up to me and asked me where I was from, and I told him from Honduras,” said Hernandez, who now lives in Kendall. Moran asked him if he played soccer.
“To me [soccer] was everything. Little did I know the next morning he changed my schedule. I had soccer for three years.”
Moran and Hernandez became friends and over time he began working at Moran’s father’s refinishing shop after school. Twenty years ago, he took over the business.
“He literally changed my life,” Hernandez said. “I owe it all to him.”
“No, Marvin,” Moran interrupted. “I am the lucky one.”