MERCED — Pete Gonzales is asked the same question over and over when he attends Merced High School football games.
Usually somebody will ask if he has a son or grandson playing on the team. His response is always the same:
"They're all my kids."
Gonzales, 73, owns Pete's Auto Body Shop in Merced and has been a big Bears supporter since his sons, P.J. and Marq, played football in high school. Gonzales has missed only three or four games since Marq began playing at the varsity level in 1996.
However, unlike most parents, Gonzales' support didn't stop when his kids left the program.
"For us, the word 'community' means everything for our program, and Pete's a big part of that," said Merced head football coach Rob Scheidt. "We wouldn't have the facilities or the capability to host games without his help."
Gonzales views football and other sports as a way to help keep kids busy and out of trouble. "We may not save them all, but if we can save a few, that's good," he said.
Gonzales does more than his share to make football an attractive option for kids. The list of Gonzales' contributions is long and impressive.
He built and installed the two goal posts at the school. He's refurbished and painted bleachers for the home and visitor sidelines. He helped install the scoreboard. He repaired the tower that the program uses to film practices and games numerous times. He also does small things like painting a John Deere tractor black and orange.
He built offensive and defensive line chutes the team uses at practice that Scheidt estimates saved the program $4,000.
If the scoreboard isn't working at the high school during a youth football game on a Saturday, it's Gonzales who usually gets the call.
"We talk about business sponsors and we need them, we need to fund-raise," Merced Principal John Olson said. "We get a lot of business sponsors, but Pete is much more than that.
"There are so many other layers to what he does," Olson said. "He'll do anything unconditional for you. If we need a unique favor, like moving grandstands around or painting bleachers, he'll find a way to get it done. That's just invaluable."
A lot of the projects are done at his shop after hours or on weekends. If something needs to be done on campus with the bleachers or the tower, he'll bring workers from his shop to complete the projects.
"Our relationship is if we need to do something where if it isn't done it's to the detriment of the program, and I had no other way of doing it, he's a resource I can go to," Scheidt said. "It's nice to have someone say yes instead of no.
"He goes above and beyond what you typically ask of a parent. Usually once a kid leaves, that resource leaves. He's not just committed to Merced High football, but to the youth as well. That drives him to give in the fashion that he does," the coach said.
The reward for Gonzales comes on Friday nights in the fall when he attends the games and watches from the sideline.
He can remember only a handful of games that he has missed in the past 20 years. He didn't make a trip down to Los Angeles when Merced played Crenshaw in 2007. He missed the four-hour drive in 2011 when the Bears played at Paradise. The other game he remembers missing was when he was sick.
"I like football," Gonzales said. "I played football when I went to Le Grand High. Back then we didn't have trainers. We did push-ups and jumping jacks.
"I like being one of the fans. Win or lose, I stick with the team. I try to catch some of the (junior varsity) games every week and then the varsity game. I have to close up the shop, rush home and get ready to go."
Gonzales has never asked anything in return.
"I've asked Pete plenty of times to come by my office anytime, and I'll get him a Merced High shirt or something," Olson said. "He's never taken me up on the offer. He's such an unassuming guy. He always stays positive.
"I remember we lost a tough, emotional game to Buhach Colony. It was really a tough loss," Olson said. "It was tough on all of us.
"I remember watching the kids as they left the field, and Pete was just so encouraging to them as they walked past him. I just remember thinking at that moment, 'Wow, that guy is special.' "
Reporter Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.