Community leader spreads message of character to students

Tony Asaro isn’t a teacher by trade, but in San Juan Unified, he’s as recognizable on campus as school staff.

Entering his 14th year overseeing community relations for the Sacramento River Cats minor league baseball club, Asaro spends the bulk of his time working to improve the lives of children and families throughout the region.

That work began in San Juan Unified schools, from which Asaro, his wife and four children all graduated and where he began his career.

Today, he’s an enthusiastic and constant figure in schools, preaching the importance of strong character, attendance and academic success to scores of students.

“To be able to take what my passion is, which is baseball, and use that as the teaching element, that’s so powerful,” he said. “I believe that we teach our children through the games we play. And I love the game of baseball because if you’re the greatest player that ever played the game, you’re a .300 hitter, you fail seven out of 10 times. There’s no game that we teach our children or play that you fail that often and yet, you’re the best. It’s through those failures that you learn.”

He believes that message translates easily to a message about attendance, attitude and academics. “You’ve got be there every day for your teammates and bring what you have to bring. You have to have a positive attitude no matter how many times you get knocked down, no matter how many times you fail, you’ve got to get up one more time than that. Those are the kind of things we talk to kids about.”

Asaro’s visits to the schools are not just for the students. When he goes to a school at 8:30 in the morning to put on an assembly, he’s pretty sure he’s “jazzed them up.” Asaro’s assemblies excite the students, but they also excite him.

“I am so pumped, when I do one at noon and [one at] 2, and then go and give a speaking engagement that night to a Rotary club, that excitement just builds and builds and builds,” he said.

The fire started with the passion of one teacher. Asaro was very shy and could not speak in front of people. His sixth grade teacher brought that skill out in Asaro. He insisted that Asaro be the emcee at the school talent show because he had watched Asaro doing impressions of Ed Sullivan and John Wayne for his friends. He then entered Asaro in a Rotary speaking contest and helped him with the speech.

“It’s one of the two trophies I own in life. … It changed who I was.”