In Memory of Our Founder, Roly Aguilera

Reprinted with the permission of Soccer America. This article originally appeared online on December 5, 2002, at:

Roly Aguilera's Work Touched U.S. Game

By Mike Woitalla

Bolivia's Tahuichi Academy, whose founder Roly Aguilera died last week of Lou Gehrig's disease, has close ties with American soccer.

MLS stars Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno and Joselito Vaca were products of the Santa Cruz soccer school that Aguilera founded in 1978. Six other Tahuichis played in MLS, including Mauricio Ramos (1998-2000), who with Moreno and Etcheverry was one of seven Tahuichis on Bolivia's 1994 World Cup team.

Tahuichi has also sent scores of players to U.S. college soccer programs and has had an 11-year exchange program with St. Benedict's Academy in New Jersey.

Tahuichi products Roberto Vargas and Cesar Cuellar graduated from St. Benedict's -- the school famous for alumni such as Tab Ramos, Claudio Reyna and Gregg Berhalter -- and went on to play for the University of Connecticut's 2000 NCAA Division I national championship team. Cuellar is a member of this year's UConn team, which has reached the NCAA quarterfinals.

Maurizio Rocha, the 1998 Hermann Trophy runner-up, also went from St. Benedict's to UConn. Ruben Tufino, who stars for Bolivar, was Soccer America Magazine's Freshman of the Year in 1989 while with the University of South Carolina.

Since 1991, roughly 1,500 U.S. youngsters have trained at the Academy through The Tahuichi Way program. Former U.S. U-17 captain Francisco Gomez and Mark Lisi, who went for extended stays, play in MLS for Kansas City and the MetroStars, respectively.

Aguilera, a civil engineer who was involved in Bolivian politics, spent seven years in exile in the United States during the 1970s. Upon his return he hired a soccer coach for his sons, whom he felt needed to be re-introduced to the sport after having been immersed in baseball and football. Soon neighborhood children, mostly very poor, joined in. Aguilera decided to create a club. The Academy also provides health care for its players.

The exchange program with St. Benedict's was launched in 1991.

"[Soccer America columnist] Paul Gardner told our headmaster, Father Edwin [Leahy], that there's a guy in Bolivia doing things similar to what we're doing," says St. Benedict's coach Rick Jacobs. "Like getting them away from drugs, alcohol and poverty."

Aguilera's son Rolito has taken over the reins at the academy and has pledged to keep Tahuichi going.

"We certainly plan on continuing our relationship," says Leahy. "They will continue trying to help kids, which is what we're trying to do here. How it goes for them is hard to say, because Bolivia is struggling horribly. Their economy is a disaster."

Aguilera was 64 years old.