Mauricio Diaz has helped two volleyball programs — Southwest Miami and Ransom Everglades — become state champions during his coaching career.
Diaz has always considered helping several of his former players succeed both inside and outside of the sport his greatest achievement.
“To me and the rest of the guys that played for him, he was like a father to us,” former Southwest volleyball star Julio Arnaiz said. “He opened his house to us, and spent time with us and was always a great role model.”
The past two months have been the most trying time of Diaz’s life.
Diaz, 41, was diagnosed with a Stage 2 brain tumor in August and is scheduled to undergo surgery next week.
“I had known something was wrong for a while, I could feel it,” Diaz said. “I was walking one day this summer and the whole side of my body seized up and I almost collapsed. My wife took me to the hospital, and I had a bunch of tests done and they said I had a brain tumor.”
Over the next two weeks, Arnaiz and numerous members of Diaz’s extended volleyball family will be coming to his aid.
Ransom Everglades plays St. Brendan, where Arnaiz is now volleyball coach and athletic director, on Thursday at Ransom.
The game has been dubbed, “Dig for Diaz.”
All proceeds from the gate will go to Diaz and his family to support his battle with cancer. The event will begin with the junior varsity game at 3:30 p.m., and the school will have several extra fund-raising events simultaneously on campus. The Raiders also started a fundraiser last month, which raised an estimated $37,000.
“The girls on our team recognize how many lives he has impacted over the years,” Ransom Everglades coach Roger Peluso said. “It’s time we step up for someone who has been so unselfish for our community.”
Ransom and St. Brendan aren’t the only schools offering their support.
Westminster Christian, a rival of Ransom’s in volleyball, will hold its own charity match Oct. 7 when the Warriors play Coral Reef in a JV/varsity doubleheader, with a middle school match starting the event at 4 p.m. Westminster and Ransom Everglades each won state championships on the same day in 2013, ending Dade County’s 18-year title drought in the sport.
“Everyone has kind of rallied together, and we decided it’s the least we could do for him,” Westminster coach Julie Doan said. “I’ve known him professionally for some time, and we have nothing but respect for him and the kind of person he’s been to so many athletes over the years. For us, it was [an easy decision] to do this for him and his family.”
In Broward County, North Broward Prep and Douglas are following suit.
“Originally, I was going to come down for the Ransom game, but we had the match that day as well,” North Broward Prep coach Austin Clubb said. “I thought it would be good to host one for him up on our end and build a support chain for him.”
North Broward Prep will donate the proceeds from its match Thursday against Boca Raton St. Andrews to Diaz and his family. The same night, Douglas is planning to do the same when it plays Deerfield Beach in a doubleheader starting at 4:30 p.m.
I have great doctors working with me, the whole process has been very good, and I know I’m in good hands.
Diaz and his wife, a teacher at Ferguson High, have two children. Their daughter, 13-year-old Aryanah, is a freshman setter on the varsity team at Ransom, and 8-year-old Juan Marco is playing Optimist football in West Kendall.
“It’s overwhelming for all of us, but it is definitely a humbling experience and it truly shows us that all the hard work he’s put into his coaching, teaching and mentoring has paid off with all the support we are receiving,” said Diaz’s wife, Yadira.
Diaz said early detection prompted by that seizure could have saved his life.
“It’s at Stage 2 so it’s not as bad as it could have been since it was caught early,” Diaz said. “The doctors said it’s not a life-or-death scenario. It’s just a matter of making sure I don’t lose functionality or my speech is not impaired.”
Arnaiz was the starting middle hitter for Southwest during its undefeated run to the 2003 inaugural state boys’ volleyball championship during which he and his teammates, and Diaz, all shaved their heads and were later affectionately dubbed, “the bald Eagles.”
Arnaiz and several Eagles players from that and subsequent seasons went to play college volleyball and coach at the high school level. Diaz also coached the St. Thomas University girls’ volleyball team before being hired at Ransom as an assistant coach in 2011.
“When I heard the news it was tough because Mauricio to me and many people has been a father figure,” Arnaiz said. “He’s the pillar of volleyball in South Florida. Whatever we can do to help, we are glad to be a part of it. It’s a great thing to be part of. It’s great to see everyone go out there and support him.”
Diaz hasn’t stopped coaching despite his illness. An often fiery and very vocal presence ever since he played at Southwest High during the sport’s humble beginnings in the early 1990s, Diaz has had to tone things down a bit during his recovery process.
“I have to catch myself and be more of an observer and try to teach them things I see out there, but not get as animated as I usually do,” Diaz said.
Diaz’s demeanor and outlook hasn’t diminished one bit, however.
When talking about the outpouring of support, Diaz often fights back tears. Numerous old friends and former classmates have reached out to him in recent weeks to offer their support, and even renewed ties after years of not hearing from one another.
“Obviously, anytime you’re dealing with this type of surgery, it’s not to be taken lightly,” Diaz said. “I have great doctors working with me, the whole process has been very good, and I know I’m in good hands. It’s an honor to see all the good you did come back to you like this. I’m just humbled and I feel really blessed and just extremely grateful.”