Local Limelight: Emporia
“I was like that like a month ago, just getting ready,” he said.
Isaiah isn’t the only member of the Esquivel family who is ready to unwrap some presents this week: His dad, Lupe, is taking a weeklong stay-cation from his job as a processing technician at Hills Science Diet. He’ll play three C-Tiers before the main event begins on Thursday, and he’s letting Isaiah take most of the week off from his studies – except for a day of state testing – to join in the fun.
“There’s no way I’m working on GBO week,” Lupe said. “…One of the deals I made with Isaiah is, ‘Hey man, you bring me some really good grades, I’ll let you take the week off.’ And he did.”
Disc golf is the tie that binds the father and son duo, but it’s not just about them: Lupe has been instrumental in spreading the gospel of disc golf in Emporia since he started playing in 2009. A nearly lifelong resident of the central Kansas town, Lupe’s outreach includes league play, where he helped bring upwards of 15 new people to the sport in 2017. While that may not sound like a huge number, consider that Emporia is a town of 24,000 and change, and those new converts contribute to the continued growth of the local scene. “I see newcomers, I’m not afraid to ask, ‘Hey man, how long you been playing?’ and give them a disc to try out,” Lupe said.
His approach with Isaiah, meanwhile, was a little more organic. Lupe would head to the course with friends, and Isaiah started to tag along more regularly when he was seven. “At first he thought I was going to play on the playground,” Lupe said with a reflective laugh. “You know how kids are.”
Soon, the course was their playground. Isaiah shortly had his own bag and discs, and then a PDGA number. Thirty-foot throws grew into 150-footers, and before long the kid was out-driving his old man. Isaiah’s meteoric improvement – his 918 rating ranks 28th for juniors under 15 in the nation – caught the eye of Dynamic Discs, and after his 10th place showing in Intermediate at the 2016 Trilogy Öppna, Lupe said the company offered Isaiah a sponsorship.
“Every time I tell that story I get goosebumps to this day,” Lupe said. “It’s really awesome.”
Now, according to Isaiah, Lupe aims his time toward helping his son grow and improve – even at the expense of his own game. “Whenever he started teaching me, he started going downhill – he didn’t practice enough,” Isaiah said. “…Whenever I started getting sponsored he was trying to focus on me, helping me get better. He’s trying to build himself up right now.”
Indeed, as Isaiah’s game continues to grow, Lupe is focused less on teaching him form and more on how to carry himself on the course. There have been times where Isaiah has emulated certain top-tier pros and their negative reactions to adversity, Lupe said, and it’s something they continue to work on.
“When he got sponsored I kinda gave him the talk about, ‘Hey, it’s not [all about] you anymore,’” Lupe said. “’You’re representing the company, you’re representing the team, so you need to show a lot more professionalism, especially on the course.’ And that’s pretty hard, giving that talk to a little kid…He sees the way some people get upset…that ain’t the thing to be doing on the course. Sure, you’re frustrated it was a bad shot, but you have to be able to keep it inside.”
These lessons will be priceless if Isaiah is to meet his goals. He may have homework to get to and some math equations to handle – it’s his favorite subject, so no worries there – but he’s already thinking big picture: He wants to win a Junior World Championship, earn a signature disc, and head out on tour once he is finished with high school. And are mom and dad OK with that?
“They’re on board on the 'get going on tour and winning a world championship [plan],'” Isaiah said. “I’d come visit them once in a while, making sure they’re OK…sometimes my mom misses me a lot.”
Luckily, he won’t have to go far this week. Instead, he and Lupe will welcome an extra couple thousand new friends and their favorite pro players – Simon Lizotte and Eagle McMahon for Isaiah; Ron Convers Jr. for Lupe) – to town this week, where they are happy to open their doors to more people who share their love for the game.
“Some of the locals, we talk about it,” Lupe said. “It is cool they’re coming to our town, all these people playing the courses we get the opportunity to play every day. It’s amazing.”
In a couple years, they might be welcoming Isaiah into their hometowns, too.
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