For the past three seasons, Notre Dame High School’s Abi San Gil had made leis and gifts for the Royals soccer team’s upperclassmen and watched from the sidelines as parents and loved ones showered them at Senior Night with presents and praise.
For Abi San Gil, the time-honored tradition of recognizing the soon-to-be graduates was as much about recognizing her parents for their selfless devotion to her than it was for herself.
“When I couldn’t drive, they would drop me all the way down to ND, pick me up from ND and go all the way back to Dededo, almost every single day,” Abi San Gil said. “I know it was a lot for them because they both work full time, and they have their own things going on in their lives and I am so grateful for them to do that for me.”
Even if Abi San Gil had had a teenage moment and her mind raced elsewhere and she left equipment in her bedroom, her parents, Amber and Dominick San Gil, would drop her off at the pitch and drive back to their home in Mangilao.
“If I forgot my shinguards, they would not complain,” she said. “They would do everything, drop everything for me to make sure I succeed.”
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, nothing has been normal for the class of 2020, but Abi San Gil still feels fortunate and is thankful.
Making the best out of a bad situation
Even though fourth quarter sports was canceled and the Royals’ opportunity to win a fifth straight championship taken away from them, much work went into celebrating the seniors as they embark upon their lives’ endeavors.
In early June, after three months of the coronavirus-inspired public health emergency lockdown, Notre Dame’s administration painstakingly and methodically organized a drive-by graduation. It wasn’t the send-off Abi San Gil had always hoped for, a day she thought about ever since she was a little girl. But in many ways it was better.
“It was very memorable, and everyone did their best,” Abi San Gil said. “I got to realize how much our teachers and administration just love us because they really tried to make it so special, just as special as it would be a normal graduation.
“And, I think it’s even more special than a normal graduation because it’s so personal, yet we had to social distance, which made me feel real good.
“I just love their efforts in not giving up on us with the graduation ceremony, even though there was a spike in cases at the time. Their motivation to even make us a ceremony made me smile, and made me thankful for them.”
On graduation day, a short time before the ceremony began, the San Gil family pulled up to ND in a 15-passenger van and Abi San Gil was overcome with emotion.
“When I pulled up to my school, my heart dropped because I was so happy and I never realized how much I missed ND and all my classmates,” she said. “I hadn’t seen all of them in a long time.”
With tearful, socially distanced hellos and hugs, Abi San Gil squeezed back into the van and the family made its way through the Talofofo precessional. Among a sea of blue-and-white streamer-wrapped and balloon-covered vehicles, the San Gils inched ever closer to the goal.
After what seemed like days in the queue, it was finally Abi San Gil’s turn to receive her diploma, not just a piece of paper, but a document that reflected all the hours she put into studying and becoming a member of the National Honor Society.
“It put a huge smile on my face,” said Abi San Gil, as her name was called out and she walked up to receive her diploma. “When it was time for me to go and turn my tassel, in front of all the cameras and stuff, my family members who were stuffed in the back of a little truck made sure I knew they supported me because they were super loud.”
Ice cream, Dave, and a British accent
More than the opportunity to lift a fourth championship trophy above her head and celebrate with her teammates, Abi San Gil has looked forward to one final season of having fun with her girls. With many national-team players on the Royals, much of the senior-laden squad having played with each other since their U12 days at the academy, 2020 was supposed to be one last chance to conquer opponents, and, well, be a little goofy.
In Abi San Gil’s freshman year, for no other reason than for fun, the confidence-booming Royals adopted a temporary British accent for the entire season. On the practice field and in games, top o’ the morning to ya, govnah, and pip-pip cheerios were passed around the field.
“Everyone started talking, and it just became a thing,” Abi San Gil said. “It lasted my freshman year. We would do it in practices and games. The ref was like, ‘what is happening? What is going on?’”
In one game, with the British accent in full effect, Abi San Gil and her teammates started calling everyone Dave. With a different inflection for each of the other team’s players, they were all Dave. The goalkeeper, with a hard, drawn-out A, was Dave. The striker, with a short A and modified V, was Dave. Fullbacks, midfielders, and forwards - all Dave.
Get Dave, stop Dave, shoot past Dave filled the field.
The referee, whose actual name was Dave, was confused.
“We had this thing where we would call each person on the field Dave, but in, like, different tones to confuse everyone,” Abi San Gil said. “There was a referee named Dave, and he did not know what was going on. …
“We don’t know, it just happened.”
With all her heart, Abi San Gil loved being a Royal. With a healthy mix of frivolity and excellence, ND achieved greatness and established traditions. Before each game, the girls hopped in their cars and sped away for a quick, sweet carbo-boost.
“Practices were fun, but nothing beat game days because we had this tradition where we would go and grab an ice cream from Ipan Mobil, then jam out in the car, and still secure the win,” Abi San Gil said.
The Royals were unbeatable.
Disbelief and a broken heart
With the memories of past seasons still fresh and the cancellation of the season burning brightly, Abi San Gil still wrestles with disappointment. When she had first learned that Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero had issued an executive order and schools were to be closed, she had just finished playing a soccer game for the Strykers at the Guam Football Association National Training Center.
The following day, she had Advanced Placement psychology and literature exams scheduled and was relieved that she did not have to go to school.
“I had just received the news that we would not be going to school after my Strykers D1 game, and I was really happy because I had tests,” she said. “As time moved on, I realized it’s more serious than just no school, it’s going to be no social interaction, no anything.”
As days of quarantine piled up and academics and athletics were replaced by anxiety, her biggest fear became a reality. With a stroke of a pen, the soccer season was canceled.
“I was heartbroken,” she said.
“I even designed my uniform, and we turned it in that weekend of the quarantine and we didn’t get to wear it, and I was so sad.”
Abi San Gil, a graphic designer, had included artwork in the uniform to honor a teacher who died, and produce low-cost threads that had meaning.
“I love art, and I figured it would save money if I designed the uniforms for the team.
“Morgan Crisostomo’s initials, my teacher that had passed away, would be on the sleeve, and 'Uphold the glory’ would be on the uniform as well,” Abi San Gil said.
“I am still dealing with it,” she said. “My cousins really helped me through it because they saw that I was sad and they said, ‘get my little, sad butt up and go on adventures.’"
Sam San Gil reunites with the Royals
In Abi San Gil’s sophomore year, before the start of start of the season, she had learned that Sam San Gil had accepted the Royals head coaching position.
As a 10-year-old, getting her first taste of youth soccer, Sam San Gil invited her to join his team.
“He threw me into grassroots tournament - just for fun - and I scored my first goal,” she said.
“He was like, ‘See? You like it, right?’” she recalled.
“I loved it,” she said.
Two years later, Sam San Gil recruited her to become a member of the U12 national team.
“He is - hands down - the best coach I have ever had," she said ... "He inspired me to move up levels in order to compete … internationally.
“I owe all of my accomplishments to him.”
Abi is “self-driven with an insatiable appetite for knowledge,” Sam San Gil said.
“These attributes she helped instill in other teammates and it created an intrasquad competition for a starting position,” he said.
"Abi brings speed-of-thought to the Royals," he said, adding that she is easily able to transition from attacker to defender.
“She can fill any position, which allows our team to interchange positions while maintaining shape,” he said.
Much of what Sam San Gil had taught Abi San Gil resonates today more loudly than ever.
“He always told me to be humble, and the game’s not over, and keep going when things get tough,” she recalled.
Tackling tough times
Things are tough and, with the pandemic stretching into a fourth month, getting tougher. With double-digit unemployment rocking the island and the world, Abi San Gil counts her blessings and realizes that things could be much worse.
“This pandemic really opened my eyes up to the many things that can drastically change someone’s life, she said. I am really lucky to have everything I have: working parents, a roof over my head, and food in my mouth.
“A lot of people don’t have these things,” she said.
“I’ve grown to have so much more respect for essential workers, teachers, medical workers, everyone that has helped during this pandemic.”
With so many negatives that could have consumed her, Abi San Gil has retained her positive outlook and relishes the positives that have come about due to the pandemic.
In the past, with her nose to the grindstone, she lost time to smell the precious flowers.
“With my previously busy schedule, I sometimes only got to see my family members for 10 minutes a day, even though we live together,” she said. “This quarantine really allowed me to get closer to them and regain the lost time.”
As her love for her family grows each day, Abi San Gil is also reminded of how much her friends have meant to her. Through the years, she made lasting friendships and cherishes them as if they were family.
Trust in a teammate
When she was 12, Abi San Gil had played soccer for only two years and did not know all of the requirements. Sometime in the middle of a hard practice for the U12 national team, the team took a water break. In the less-challenging leagues, she had been used to coolers filled with snacks and drinks. At the national level, the game had become more serious, and she was dry.
Celine Doronila saw that the newbie needed fluids and gave Abi San Gil her bottle.
“The day I met her, it was in the U12 national academy and she was the first person that said hi,” Abi San Gil recalled. “I didn’t know that we were supposed to bring water, and she shared her water with me.
“It just happened. After that, she has been one of my really best friends, and she’s been there with me throughout my whole high school experience.”
“She is the best defender I know and I trust her with my back line," she said.
'Shy' and San Gil: best friends
Along with Doronila and the rest of the Royals, Abi San Gil said that she is going to miss playing with Shyann Roberto most of all.
After a national team trip to Thailand, the two had become best friends.
She basically spent all day in my room and I just got to love her, Abi San Gil said.
“She’s kind of like me,” she said. “Her brain is just like me and it’s kind of crazy because I never thought anyone would understand me the way that she does.
“She’s been with me through all my struggles, and most of my soccer-ship.”
Along with a passion for soccer, the pair share a desire for the church, and academics.
“We made (National Honor Society) together. We made the Shieh scholarship together,” Abi San Gil said. “It’s just, we have this bond that no one else has, and I’m so thankful for it.”
Choosing love over money
Abi San Gil, who sacrificed so much on her way to becoming ND’s 12th-ranked student, is looking forward to starting her collegiate journey as she eyes a career in special education. Originally, she contemplated a career in business, but, after a year at the University of Guam, she plans on transferring to the University of Hawaii at Manoa to follow her heart.
“One person told me to chose a major I love because I will do it for the rest of my life,” she said. “I thought I would just do business and establish myself there, but I thought about it and I was like, ‘I’m not really going to enjoy it.’”
“Ever since I was little, I loved the thought of being a teacher,” she said.
“So, I tutored at ND for NHS and I helped my friends at ND when they didn’t get something,” she said.
“I really get the satisfaction of watching them learn something new. It makes me feel good, you know? I also love talking and interacting with children, and it will really help my patience with special education, and I want to make a big difference in this world,” she said.
“Choosing the major special education, I really hope, will do that,” she said.