Football helps Eagle cope with tragedy — (The Pueblo Chieftain)

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The Pueblo Chieftain

East’s Thomas Sanchez

By TOM PURFIELD, The Pueblo Chieftain

Tragedy touched the life of Thomas Sanchez in a way few ever experience.

The East High School junior is approaching the two-year anniversary of an unspeakable horror that claimed the lives of both his parents.

On Oct. 9, 2003, Renee “Gina” Sanchez, then 43, was killed by her husband, Thomas Sanchez, dying from gunshot wounds to the chest fired at close range. Sanchez then turned the gun on himself and died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

The murder-suicide was premeditated, the end result of a long history of medical problems and marital trouble. Thomas Sanchez prepared writings and an audio tape that explained his intent to kill his wife and himself.

The younger Thomas Sanchez was 15 years old at the time and, thankfully, not home at the time of the shootings. Unfortunately for his then-19-year old sister, she was practicing the cello in the home when she heard the shots ring out.

Just two days shy of losing both his parents two years ago, Sanchez is now 17. He will always carry the trauma of such a catastrophe touching his family, but one would never know it. Behind thoughtful eyes and a captivating smile, Sanchez is admirably moving on in life.

A multi-tasking, diverse young man, Sanchez has many interests. A big one is competing on the Eagles’ football team, something that helps him fulfill an idea that he keeps in his mother’s memory.

“I do miss (my parents), but I’ve been doing pretty good,” Sanchez said. “What makes me go on is I think of it that my mom always wanted me to be happy, so why should I be sad? That’s what she would have wanted.”

Sanchez now lives with his aunt and uncle, Annette and Greg Sanchez, and has found another type of family in the East locker room. “He’s showed a lot of courage staying involved in football and school. That’s really his focus. He’s used the team and the coaches as his family and we love him very much,” East coach Rick Upchurch said. “I think it’s helped him stay focused on what Thomas has accomplished in life.”

In addition to taking care of his classes and playing ball, Sanchez also holds down a job and sings bass in the elite East vocal group Les Jon Gleurs. The latter displays a versatility that few football players can claim.

“Football is more hard and you get to hit people. It helps me take out my anger,” Sanchez said. “Choir gets out your emotions better with feelings like love and sadness.”

Sanchez has learned information that medication may have played a large role in his father’s actions nearly two years ago. He believes his 45-year old father was altered by depression, his meds and the fear that his wife was going to leave him.

His father always encouraged Sanchez in football, a sport he picked up in elementary school.

“My dad always wanted me to be in football, always motivated me to be in shape,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez started varsity on special teams last year, but a motorcycle accident just before this season held him out about three weeks. Sanchez said he “was a little behind, but I’m catching up.”

While playing on the field is important to Sanchez, it may not be the biggest benefit he receives from the sport. The camaraderie, the singular purpose, the feeling of being a part of something bigger than himself – those are the things that are of upmost importance to him.

“Both football and my job have helped me get along with people. You have to have teamwork with football and with work,” Sanchez said. “On the team, we talk about everything. We get along and can joke around with each other. They’re there to support me and are always there for me.”

As much as being a part of the team does for Sanchez, he may do just as much for the team.

“I’m very impressed that he’s taken the opportunity to hang in there and stay focused and be an uplifting part of the team. It encourages the team that he is a part of us despite what he’s been through,” Upchurch said. “You can do nothing but appreciate a young man like him.”

Sanchez says playing for Upchurch has been inspirational, not only for the approach his coach takes but because his mom was “a real Bronco fan.” Upchurch is a former Pro Bowl receiver and kick returner for the Broncos.

“He’s been a really good coach. If I do something wrong, he makes really good points of why it was wrong and helps me understand the right way to do it,” Sanchez said. “He’s real down to earth and I’m excited he’s our coach.”

Sanchez will again follow Upchurch on the field at 7 o’clock tonight when the Eagles host Widefield at Dutch Clark Stadium. East is searching for its first win, standing at 0-2 in the Pikes Peak League, 0-5 overall, at the midway point of the season. The Gladiators have caught fire the last two weeks and are 2-1 and 2-3.

While that elusive win has yet to happen, Sanchez believes his coach has the Eagles on the right track.

“It’s going to take time. We might not win, but our games are a lot closer. This year is more teaching and learning (Upchurch’s) plays and techniques,” Sanchez said. “We’re already doing good.”