Culture, Tradition And Legacy: The Hallmarks Of Belen Jesuit

* The Miami Belen Jesuit (FL) Preparatory School boys cross country team in 2020

Photo Credit: Submitted

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"We always remind the kids that this school had very humble beginnings." -- Frankie Ruiz


By Cory Mull - MileSplit

MIAMI, Florida -- Twenty years. That's how long Frankie Ruiz, 42, has been coaching in Miami. That's how long he's been a part of the Belen Jesuit Preparatory School boys cross country program, the last 18 spent as the head varsity coach. 

He's proud of that number; it represents so much over his lifetime. He was part of the program's first state championship in 1995 as a high school student-athlete. And he's been at the helm of the program's 11 added titles since, including four straight at the FHSAA Class 3A level since 2017.

But what is he most proud of today?

It's likely the tradition and culture that Belen Jesuit carries into every practice and competition, a Cuban-American influence which permeates throughout his team.

It's a sentiment that still carries through Ruiz. It's a legacy that inspires future generations, too. 

"We rely a lot on the messaging being about tradition," Ruiz told MileSplit recently for Hispanic Heritage Month. "There's a continuity to it. We've only had two coaches in 60 years. We tell a lot of stories about our past times. I try to bring that into the fray as much as possible." 

History is important to Belen Jesuit for a lot of reasons. The school is an institution that was founded over 170 years ago in Cuba, before crises would ultimately force it to move to the states. In 1961, as 15,000 Cubans fled the country, an identical school was formed in Miami. 

Today, the school's heritage and mission -- as a Jesuit school -- continues to follow that of old-school Cuban influence. The halls are full of third- and fourth- and fifth-generation students, the children of parents who once made those same walks before them. 

But those tradition have also morphed beyond that Cuban lineage, from students with Colombia and Chilean history, to those of American ancestry. A total of 1,340 boys are enrolled inside the school. Countless alumni are huge supporters of the team; the program even counts one famous Cuban-American coach from the Northeast as one of its biggest supporters. 

"It's more diverse than ever," Ruiz said. 

"A lot of kids's parents are immigrants from South American and Cuba at Belen," said Adam Magoulas, a senior runner on the Belen Jesuit program. "And being here, it's a great way for a new beginning in a country like America, where us Latin Americans can come together and assimilate, no matter the heritage or background. We are all latinos and latinas." 

Five decades ago, too, came another legacy: Cross country.

Things had to start somewhere. And that's where Carlos Barquin, 73, came in. He was the school's first head coach -- in fact, he is the current Athletic Director at the school. But building a program wasn't easy back in the 70s.

"It was a challenge for me to get the boys to focus and work hard," he said. "I was the only physical education teacher to last more than year. Mostly, because we all thought we would leave tomorrow (and go back to Cuba)." 

But he continued in that spirit, and in 1995, Ruiz's senior year, Barquin and his team finally won a coveted Florida state championship. A little known story was that Ruiz earned his way to the line just days before the title-race in a time trial. "He won his spot," said Barquin, later joking, "Even though he ran better in the time trial than he ran at state." 

Ruiz's role in Belen Jesuit's history is vastly important, too. From birth, in fact, he was essentially coded into its DNA. His father, Paco, ran for Barquin and the two eventually became friends. 

* A past Belen Jesuit boys team

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Ruiz was never the star runner. But he always had heart, and by college he walked-on to the men's program at Florida International University, where he eventually earned a uniform and ran in a few races. 

All of this is important, because Ruiz's influence touches on far more than just Belen Jesuit. He founded the Life Time Miami Marathon, an annual 26.2 mile race that welcomes in thousands of runners yearly -- that COVID-19 year not withstanding

Over the years, he's become the face of Miami's leisure running community; he even constructed a weekly social run that turns in nearly 1,000 runners weekly around the city streets. 

But coaching Belen Jesuit is also where his passion lies.

A Cuban-American born in Miami, his parents were native Cubans. Ruiz speaks fluent Spanish. His wife is Ecuadoran. He understands what this school and its programs are all about, because he lived it. 

"We always remind the kids that this school had very humble beginnings," he said. 

Let's talk success. Because the Wolverines certainly have it. Over the last decade-plus, Ruiz has found a process that works, and it's led to an array of state titles, a total of eight since the team classified up to 3A in 2009. 

The program scored a four-peat from 2010 to 2013 and captured another this past fall, winning its fourth state title last November with one of its best teams ever.

Since 2007, only one team at Belen Jesuit has scored an overall average faster at the Florida State Championships than this past season's 15:51 -- in 2009 -- and that same team scored lower than 30 points, also a program best. This past November, 2021 graduate Javier Vento won his second title in three years and eventually went off to the University of Florida. 

Winning meets is one thing. Capturing a state championship or two is another. But ultimately preparing your best athletes for the biggest universities in the United States?

That's something Ruiz hopes he can continue to accomplish as the coach of this program. 

"That's a nice mark of success," Ruiz said. 

Currently, Ruiz's top runner, senior Adam Magoulas, will be headed down that same path. He committed to the University of Florida in October. 

Like Vento and others before him, Magoulas respects the tradition Belen Jesuit has created. He identifies as latino, born to a Chilean mother and a father from Puerto Rico. 

But in a lot of ways, he's just like his coach.

"Frankie is up to 11 state championships now. He's been impactful in that sense. He's displayed his coaching excellence. We didn't have a lot of natural talent. We've just brought it up."

His family has known Ruiz for nearly as long as he's been alive. "I was probably six years old when I first met Frankie," Magoulas said. 

Over that span, Magoulas has developed the same passion for running that Ruiz once did. 

"Just being a part of the program that is this old, and not only that, but to see the alumni from the 70s to come on and cheer us on in races," Magoulas said. "It's a really rich tradition. It definitely makes it more motivating to be on the team. To work hard and to know you have that lineage behind you. It's one big family." 

This year alone, Magoulas has had his best season ever, logging a career best 5K time of 14:57.70 at the Spanish River Invitational on September 18. He's one of 33 athletes in the United States who have covered the distance in under 15 minutes this fall. 

* Adam Magoulas back in 2018

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The closest he's ever had to nabbing a state title was his freshman year in 2018, when he finished second overall. Perhaps this year is his best opportunity.

Better yet, he could be the contributing force that helps Belen Jesuit earn its fifth-straight team title in Class 3A -- a feat that hasn't been accomplished ever at the program. 

"I remember the impact of winning that title in 2017," Magoulas said. "How Frankie was extremely happy to bring back that tradition. To prove that it wasn't a fluke a few years earlier. We've kept that same mentality. 

"Frankie is up to 11 state championships now. He's been impactful in that sense. He's displayed his coaching excellence. We didn't have a lot of natural talent. We've just brought it up."

And maybe therein lies the true ideals of Ruiz's Belen Jesuit program. It's never been about the star team or its prodigious runners. That Cuban influence and its people's innovation -- like training on man-made hills near the Miami campus, Ruiz said -- has  been what's pushed this Florida distance power forward. 

A little bit of heart and guts and bravado is what this program has lived by. They are traits any Cuban or South American would be proud of. 

"You don't have to be the star runner to make an impact in your life or passion," Ruiz said. "Running has turned into something I'm passionate about. More than that, I'm inspiring people. It's motivating. That's what I like about cross country. The kids really connect with one another." 

Related Links: 

Hispanic Heritage Month series page

Jose Garcia on his hispanic heritage and his HS season in 2020

Olympic runner Leo Manzano: My first victory