SELMA — Rachel Irene Garcia, 29, believed to be the first girl to play football at Selma High, died in her sleep on Friday, Sept. 22, at the Selma home where she grew up.

The cause of her death was unknown at press time.

Garcia in 2005 – her senior year – joined the Selma High football team. The team was in the midst of a long losing streak. The losing did not matter to the hopeful teenager, who just yearned to participate and make a contribution.

Toward that end she did wind sprints, lifted weights and endured three-hour practices after school with the rest of the team. She finally got her big chance on Oct. 28, 2005, against Sierra High as the Chieftains moved close to the Bears’ end zone near the end of the game.  

“I remember the guy behind me was all ‘cage, Rachel, cage!’ which means I go out,” Garcia told this newspaper in 2005. “Then I missed the guy, then I got him with my hand. He kind of dragged me with him, and the other guy behind me, Nick, caught him, so we both stopped him.”

The play comprised her one statistic – what she shed sweat and blood for the whole year.

"She did a great job. I wish she was an underclassman," former Selma coach Justin Fowler said at the time. 

A full-page article on Garcia – “Gridiron Girl” – was published in this newspaper during the 2005 season.

"She was a very pleasant girl who enjoyed her high school experience," longtime Selma High athletic director Randy Esraelian said. "There were no issues with her. She flew under the radar and did not attract any unnecessary attention to herself."  

Garcia was raised by her grandmother, Irene Ramirez, after her mother, Rosemary Ramirez, died in a traffic accident on the way to work when Rachel was 6 years old.

She was also surrounded throughout her upbringing by uncle Jorge Centeno, godmother Anna Centeno-Cooper, aunt Belen Vasquez and other close cousins, aunts, uncles and childhood friends.

She attended Eric White Elementary School and Selma High School where she not only earned a varsity letter in football, but was crowned as prom queen.

“It was not only because of her beauty on the outside, but because of her beauty (within),” said Garcia’s cousin Vanessa Hurtado. “She was truly an amazing, talented, humble and gracious soul.”

Garcia pursued athletic training at California State University, Fresno and earned a Bachelor’s degree in kinesiology in 2016. She was an active member of the Fresno State Sports Medicine Club and graduated with her certificate in massage therapy from the Milan Institute in 2009.

Garcia worked with the Fresno State football team and had a goal of becoming an athletic trainer for a National Basketball Association team.

She also volunteered her time working with the Clovis Spartans youth football team, which is now known as the Bullard Knights. This year she also began working with the semi-pro Clovis Stallions.

“Rachel once expressed that she had 'the best of both worlds' because she loved sports and helping people,” Hurtado said. “Her time was spent doing just that; she lived with purpose and left us with quite the legacy that cannot be described in words.”

The family invites those interested for funeral and memorial services on Saturday, Oct. 7, at Page Funeral Chapel in Selma at 9 a.m. and The Selma West Cemetery,  2950 Thompson Ave., at 10 a.m. Immediately following the burial, there will be a gathering at Valley View Village, 2446 Magnolia St. in Selma. 

John Murphy can be reached at 583-2413 or jmurphy@hanfordsentinel.com.

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