McFarland movie cross country champs

From West Hills College
McFarland cross country champions Thomas Valles (left) and Johnny Samaniego (right) will be at West Hills College Coallinga on Oct. 6.
McFarland cross country champions Thomas Valles (left) and Johnny Samaniego (right) will be at West Hills College Coallinga on Oct. 6.
Photo Courtesy West Hills College District

Two of the 1987 state champion cross country runners who inspired the popular Disney film McFarland, USA – Johnny Samaniego and Thomas Valles – will be speaking at West Hills College Coalinga on Thursday, Oct. 6, as part of the Associated Student Body’s National Hispanic Heritage Month celebration.

The free on-campus special presentation will start at 6:00 p.m. in the theater, followed by a Q & A session to begin at 8:15 p.m., and is open to the public in addition to WHCC students and staff.

“The opportunity to meet and listen to these two Central Valley heroes will be as memorable as the movie,” said Eric Mendoza, Associate Dean of Athletics at West Hills College Coalinga. “I have been fortunate to hear them speak in this format and they are very engaging with the audience. Johnny and Thomas share great insights behind the movie and the fact that they represent the Central Valley with such pride makes it more special for us.”

Johnny Samaniego is currently a middle school teacher, coach, and athletic director at McFarland Middle School.

He was the successor to coach Jim White’s position at the McFarland Unified School District, teaching physical education at the middle school and coaching various sports at the his high school alma mater.

During his career, Samaniego was part of four league and Valley championship teams; he was a four-time league and area champion; and later became a four-time East Sequoia League Coach of the Year for basketball. In 1992, he was voted COS Runner of the Year; and Teacher of the Year at McFarland in 2000.

Thomas Valles Sr. is a United States Coast Guard veteran, and currently works for the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation.

After leading McFarland High School to prominence, both were members of the College of the Sequoias cross country team – and were recently inducted into the COS Giants Athletic Hall of Fame.

Valles was McFarland’s top runner during the historic season. He enjoyed more success at COS, where he earned All-State status. He accepted an athletic scholarship to Cal State Bakersfield.

From 1992-1996, Valles served in the Coast Guard and was stationed at Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco. He conducted maritime law enforcement, search and rescue. After joining the California Department of Corrections Training Academy in 1996, he started a long career in corrections and rehabilitation.

Valles coached alongside Jim White at McFarland High School, and has enjoyed coaching for McFarland Parks & Recreation for many years. In 2003, he took over the McFarland Track Club – first established by White in 1973.

Samaniego, Valles and their fellow 1987 teammates have enjoyed appearing as motivational speakers across the country, since the film – starring Kevin Costner – debuted with rave reviews in 2015. Both continue to inspire fans from all walks of life with their personal triumphs.

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