- Fort Payne High School
Bryant Jordan 6A State Achievement Winner- Arturo Rodriguez Lopez
BRYANT-JORDAN SPOTLIGHT – Fourth in a Seven-Part Series
Fort Payne’s Arturo Rodriguez Lopez
Hasn’t Let Language Barrier Stop Him
By JOSH BEAN | For the AHSAA
FORT PAYNE – The Rodriguez Lopez family wanted to escape rising street violence in their native Mexico, and a job offer in Fort Payne brought them to America seven years ago.
The move wasn’t easy for Fort Payne senior Arturo Rodriguez Lopez, who spoke almost no English when he arrived as a fifth-grader.
“It was scary,” he said of moving across the globe and leaving behind everything he’d ever known. “Learning the language and trying to fit in and make connections with people when I didn’t know the language, I struggled with that.”
At first, Arturo felt embarrassment at his inability to understand his teachers’ instructions. Once, he said, he walked through a door that locked behind him and stayed outside in the cold for several hours to avoid the embarrassment of admitting he didn’t know where to go to or how to get back inside.
“When I didn’t know where to go, I’d just stay in the hallway,” he said. “I’d walk one way and then the other way so no one would ask what I was doing.”|
Fast forward to today and everything has changed for the better. His family enjoys the safety and tranquility of Fort Payne, and Arturo’s high school resume reads like a perfect college application. He ranks near the top of his class and scored 35 on the ACT college entrance exam, one point shy of the highest possible score, and he’s been named a National Merit Finalist.
His biggest connection academically that bridged the communication gap was his love for math. He exhausted all of the available high school math classes and enrolled as the lone student in a dual enrollment statistics class through Jacksonville State University. He skipped Algebra I after scoring the highest possible score on a standardized math test.
His involvement in sports bridged another important gap and helped him adjust to a new country, new community and new friends. Lopez ran cross country and track and capped his five-year wrestling career by placing fifth in the 152-pound weight class at the 2021 AHSAA Class 6A Wrestling Championships. He qualified for three straight state meets in 2019, 2020 and 2021 compiling a 19-4 record as a senior and 23-4 slate as a junior. He also finished 30th at the 2020 AHSAA Class 6A State Cross Country Championships with a time of 17:24.97 over the 5K course.
“I found sports helped me find a connection,” he said.
He served as cross country team captain, was elected class vice president as a sophomore and has been active at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church.
Arturo’s determination and persistence to overcome language and cultural barriers explain why he was selected as the Class 6A, Region 8 winner in the Bryant-Jordan Scholarship Program’s Achievement category, which honors senior athletes who have overcome personal adversity to excel. He is one of 104 seniors, 52 achievement and 52 scholar student-athlete recipients, being honored April 12 at the 36th annual Bryant-Jordan Foundation Awards Banquet to be held at the Birmingham Sheraton Hotel ballroom beginning at 6 p.m. All regional winners are awarded a $3,000 scholarship, and could receive even more when statewide winners are announced at the statewide banquet.
Former Hoover High School and University of Alabama standout Marlon Humphrey, now an All-Pro NFL cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s banquet. No more tickets are available for this year’s event, but the event is being live-streamed by the Bryant-Jordan Foundation and can be accessed at the following link the night of the banquet.
“What I think it extra special about Arturo is he is so driven,” Fort Payne Principal Brian Jett said. “He’s very driven academically, and he’s very driven athletically. He just keeps charging. He sets a high standard for everyone. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to accomplish in the next five, 10, 20 years. He just does things right.”
Wildcats wrestling coach Austin Panell shared an anecdote to illustrate Arturo’s commitment. He recalled a break during a weekend tournament in Murray County, Ga., when coaches noticed virtually every wrestler taking a nap or staring at a cell phone screen. Except Arturo.
“Arturo is over there reading a huge, thick book – The Count of Monte Cristo,” Panell said. “Everybody is on their phone, and he’s over there working to get better. In everything he does, he’s working to get better. … He’s unlike anyone else I’ve ever met, and he’s one of the favorite kids I’ve ever coached.”
Arturo’s transformation from an immigrant with almost no English skills to one of the state’s top scholar-athletes didn’t happen overnight. He spent years struggling and said he didn’t feel confident enough to talk during classes until high school. There was also the culture shock of moving from a metro area of five million people in Monterrey, Mexico to a small town of 14,000 tucked away in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
He credits Fort Payne’s English as a Second Language program, known as ESL, and the area’s growing Latino community for helping him. The school population is about one-third Latino. “I felt like I wasn’t alone in learning it,” he said.
Arturo also read books, starting with the “Harry Potter Series, which his mother had read to him in Spanish as a young child – to learn English.
He joined the wrestling team as an eighth-grader and also began competing in cross country and track. That gave him a sense of belonging, a family of sorts in America, which was on full display after he and his father contracted COVID-19 and had to quarantine during the winter.
“When I came back in wrestling, my coaches were really supportive,” he said. “They let me take it easy. Wrestling is a sport where anything can happen. I knew I’d lost a lot of conditioning. I knew I’d lost a lot of strength. It was up to my will to win.”
Owing to his blend of academic success and athletic support, Arturo shifted from pupil to teacher. He tutored other students to help them prepare for the ACT and tried to mentor young wrestlers.
“I always like helping people with the ACT and giving them tips,” he said. “I know what it felt like to not to know a subject, like English, at all, and helping others out was really rewarding.”
“I am super excited about what’s to come,” he added. “I’m really grateful for Fort Payne High School for nominating me for this scholarship and for helping me through my athletic journey and as far back as just learning English. They helped me.”
Arturo’s father, also named Arturo, remembers his son asking who discovered the stars and planets after his godfather gifted him a book about stars back in Mexico.
“It’s what captivated me on the subjects of physics and math,” the younger Arturo said. “That’s how you understand the universe – through numbers and the laws of physics.”
He plans to study mathematics and physics at Rice University, an extension his boyhood fascination with the planets and stars.
“He’s about to complete something very special for the family,” his father said. “Rice University is one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and we feel he is ready to fulfill that dream.”
The faculty, staff and students at Fort Payne want to say Congratulations to Arturo on this prestigous achievement!