Two electric lifts move alongside a freshly painted mural on 7th street in downtown Sanger.
Painters are doing touch-ups on the piece created by Valley artist Omar “Super” Huerta.
In the center of the mural is Tom Flores. On either side of him, two football players in Raider colors.
“I think it’s because of him I became a Raider fan. Because I knew from my family telling me, ‘hey that guy is from Sanger.’ And it’s like ‘OK, I’m a Raider fan now,’” says former Sanger Mayor, Frank Gonzalez.
He was still in office last year when he and other city officials planned the mural. And he says it’s become a part of his family’s tradition to honor their hometown hero.
“When they dedicated Tom Flores stadium to him, my dad was the mayor at the time. And then he started a Tom Flores Foundation, youth foundation, and my brother is the one that designed his logo,” says Gonzalez.
The stadium is located just a half mile away at Washington Academic Middle School. It’s what used to be Sanger High School where Flores graduated in 1954.
Since then, Flores’ rise through the pro-football ranks has been a barrier-breaking inspiration for this rural, predominantly Latino community.
Sanger business owner, James Pinedo says it was an inspiring moment to see him inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this week.
“You know, first Latino quarterback in the NFL, first Latino head coach in the NFL, it’s a no brainer. He should have been in years ago but I’m glad they finally recognized him and put him in,” says Pinedo.
The Tom Flores mural sits on the wall of his building at Definitive Staffing Solutions on the corner of 7th and N streets. And Pinedo says the city is planning another dedication to the Hall of Famer.
“The street here, they’re going to change it to Tom Flores Boulevard. Another honor to have my building here,” he says.
Flores is best known as the former head coach for the Raiders. He led the team to two Super Bowl championships in 1980, and again in 1983. News of his induction came on Saturday and fans celebrated the announcement.
“It was really a community engagement here. Honking horns and cheering our native favorite son from Sanger, Tom Flores,” says Tom Nicholson, Chairman of the Sanger Downtown Revitalization Committee.
The Hall of Fame announcement has helped to energize the city’s efforts to revive its downtown core starting with the city’s first ever mural.
“We want this for future generations that haven’t really seen or followed his career,” he says.
Nicholson adds, honoring Tom Flores helped build momentum in Sanger. Now the city has a goal of rolling out 8 to 12 murals over the next 18 months.
Nicholson has a close connection to Tom Flores. His dad, Dean Nicholson, coached him in high school football and basketball.
“Personally, I’ve seen him come back to always meet and greet my dad when he was living. Dad passed four years ago. But Tom, anytime he would come into town, would always catch up with who he would call ‘Coach,’” he says.
In fact, Tom Flores’ achievements even before his pro-football career are well documented in Sanger.
“This is the hall of fame for Sanger athletes,” says Ken Marcantonio. He’s president of the Sanger High School Athletic Hall of Fame. It’s housed in a historic building in downtown Sanger. Photos and plaques display the accomplishments of generations of student athletes including Flores.
“There’s his yearbook here,” he says pointing to it.
Marcantonio is a retired teacher from Sanger High School and he used to serve as a member of the Sanger Unified School Board.
“I taught for 35 years. I saw how important athletics were for kids,” he says.
Just across from the Hall of Fame, Marcantonio also manages the Sanger Depot Museum. It features more of Tom Flores’ history growing up in Sanger.
The museum typically hosts elementary school kids, who learn about Flores from a young age. The Tom Flores Youth Foundation has raised thousands of dollars for Sanger Elementary Schools. And he still comes to Sanger for the annual Raider Nation Blood Drive.
“And he’s so proud to be a part of Sanger’s history too. So, we know that he’s gone on to achieve great things and great heights. But always to call Sanger your hometown and treasure that,” says Tom Nicholson.
And Flores continues to make his mark in Sanger. Still to be added to his downtown mural, a quote and his signature.