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Dynamo El Centro girls’ 2008 soccer team member Leila Yerena urged the El Centro City Council on Oct. 6 to rename Sunflower Park to Efren Coronel Park, in honor of the late coach and El Centro police officer. | SCREEN GRAB OF EL CENTRO CITY COUNCIL MEETING LIVESTREAM

El Centro Park to Be Renamed in Fallen Cop’s Honor

EL CENTRO – A proposal by the Dynamo El Centro girls’ 2008 soccer team to have a local park renamed Efren Coronel Park in honor of their late beloved coach who died from coronavirus was approved by the City Council here during its Oct. 6 regular meeting.

El Centro police Office Efren Coronel died from COVID-19 in June. | COURTESY PHOTO

The council unanimously approved the proposal and commended a trio of the team’s members for appearing before the council to further advocate to have Wildflower Park renamed in honor of Coronel.

Coronel was a 24-year veteran of the El Centro Police Department who died June 3 due to complications related to COVID-19 and who dedicated much of his free time to coaching and mentoring youths through sports.

Gianni Gomez described Coronel as someone who was caring and supportive, and who was always able to put a smile on their faces and make everyone feel welcome.  

“He gave good advice about soccer and life,” Gianni said.

Middlefielder Alexa Ruiz told the council that she owes much of her new skills and technique to Coronel, whose level of positivity and motivation would make it difficult for anyone else to replace him.

“He always cared about our growth and how we were doing,” Alexa said.

Last, Leila Yerena referred to Coronel as a hero and a friend, someone who was quick to make her laugh as well as want to practice, and who provided guidance for life beyond the soccer field.

“He taught me that family and school was more important, and soccer was just a game,” Leila said.

As part of their successful initiative, the Dynamo girls’ 2008 team will now start fundraising to purchase signage and a plaque to install at the park where they spent much of their time being coached and mentored by Coronel.

The plaque will provide the public with information about Coronel’s life and passing so that his legacy can be better appreciated, said Art Yerena, team treasurer.

The Dynamo girls’ 2008 team had initially proposed the renaming of the park in Coronel’s honor in June, by applying to the city’s Library and Community Services Board.

“They have changed a little history for the city of El Centro,” Yerena stated in an email Oct. 7.

The team’s proposal had also attracted the support of various local law enforcement agencies, including the county Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department, Border Patrol, and the local state prisons, to name just a few.

Prior to the council’s vote, El Centro City Council member Cheryl Viegas-Walker thanked the three Dynamo players for their efforts on behalf of Coronel and the community that he dedicated his life to serving both on and off the job.

“It means a lot that you would step up and be heard tonight in support of someone who had such a positive impact on your life,” Viegas-Walker said.

Similarly, Mayor Efrain Silva commended the young players during the meeting for their initiative and for their remarks before the council, an act of public speaking that many individuals often find intimidating.

Wildflower Park is shown in El Centro at 950 S. Lotus Ave. The park will be renamed after fallen El Centro police Officer Efren Coronel, who died in June from COVID-19. | COURTESY IMAGE

Silva also remarked that although attending Coronel’s recent memorial service proved to be one of the more emotionally difficult days of his tenure with the council, it further highlighted the profound impact Coronel had on the lives of those around him.

“The lives that he’s changed, they didn’t just change for one year, they’re going to change for the rest of their lives and perhaps generations to come,” Silva said.

Although he ultimately supported the proposal to rename Wildflower Park to Efren Coronel Park, council member Tomas Oliva also expressed some reservations prior to the resolution’s approval.

His reservations stemmed from recently having to deny a family’s similar request to have a local park renamed in honor of their deceased son, a firefighter.

“How do I say yes and then look at that family and say, ‘I’m sorry we couldn’t name a park after your son,’” Oliva said.

Oliva also asked his colleagues on the dais whether they would potentially support having Coronel honored instead with a plaque at First Responders Park, and renaming Wildflower Park to Angels Park, in recognition of the more than 100 El Centro residents who have died as a result of the pandemic.

Though Oliva’s fellow council members failed to back his suggestion, they did indicate support for finding alternative ways to memorialize those whose have lost their lives to COVID-19.

“The level of grief and trauma suffered by those families deserves our recognition,” Viegas-Walker said.

Coronel, who was 51 at the time of his death, contracted COVID while in the line of duty. He reportedly detained a suspect who ended up testing positive for the coronavirus, and subsequently, Coronel tested positive several days later.

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