November 27, 2018 —
Students walking into the school’s weight room see the words “Ray Goñi Fitness Center” hanging on the red walls, serving to remember Ray Goñi, the longtime teacher and coach at Saratoga High as well as a well-loved Saratoga community member who passed away from cardiac arrest due to a lung tumor in 1999.
Since the football field was already named after Benny Pierce and the school also wanted to recognize Goñi, school leaders at the time decided to name the weight room after him.
“He was a strong community guy,” athletic director Tim Lugo said. “When he passed, he left a big hole in the school and they wanted a way to memorialize him.”
The weight room was formally named “Ray Goñi Fitness Center” after moving from the current wrestling room to where it is now.
When the weight room was further renovated in 2014, Lugo and a member of the school’s maintenance staff, Brian Moran, wanted bigger letters on the room’s wall to honor Goñi.
“It was very touching for Goñi’s family to see Ray Goñi’s name up on the weight room wall, as prominent as it is now,” Lugo said.
Goñi’s many achievements at Saratoga High have left a lasting legacy. He came to the school in 1968 as a PE and history teacher and quickly became the coach for girls’ soccer, football, baseball and wrestling. As an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator of the football team for 31 years, Goñi helped lead the team to five CCS championships.
Goñi’s passion for the sport and his desire to help his players reach their maximum potential established the football program’s tradition of excellence that persisted through his time at Saratoga High. For him, it was always more than just winning.
“Winning all the championships couldn’t compare to seeing all the kids again,” Goñi said in a 1998 interview in The Falcon. “A couple of years later we played an alumni game against Los Gatos. You just can’t replace those things. You can’t put a value on those things.”
In August 1998, however, Goñi started to experience medical issues. He first had two blocked arteries, then a kidney stone and then tumors in his brain and lung. For months, he endured surgeries and antibiotics, yet still worked with the football team in the early stages, and then welcomed visitors and joked around in the hospital later on. On April 14, 1999, Goñi passed away.
Afterward, Saratoga High honored Goñi with a memorial service, where about 1,100 people from the community came to hear Goñi’s friends and family share stories of what Goñi had done for them and the community.
Goñi’s family still carries on his legacy of giving back to the community. His widow Debbie is a teacher at Foothill Elementary School and his three sons played football at Saratoga High and are graduates of the school. His youngest, Daniel Goñi, is now a linebackers coach for the Falcons.
Every now and then, Lugo said, Daniel will wear one of his father’s old shirts and bring out throwback look jackets as a way to remember his father.
“The players dig on the fact that Daniel’s legacy goes way back,” Lugo said. “In this program, there’s a lot of community members who played football here and knew his dad. I think it’s awesome that the community means so much to him and I love having him on staff because of that tie to his dad’s past.”