Edging closer to making a wish come true; Southwest Athletic Complex likely to be named after beloved groundskeeper Nino Cantu
When her friend Nino Cantu passed away suddenly on Oct. 12, 2018, Doree Fazio-Young was left with a huge hole in her life. Cantu was the head groundskeeper at the Seattle Publlc Schools Southwest Athletic Complex on SW Thistle Street but he was much more than that.
To everyone who met him and knew him he represented dedication, care, genuine interest, and a positive attitude. Doree is the Lunchroom Manager at Denny International Middle School and would see Nino daily, often having lunch with him.
After he passed, the words of both loss and praise flowed from every part of the community, culminating in a special memorial night during a Chief Sealth football game a week after his death.
For Doree though it seemed like something more permanent was necessary. She came up with the idea to re-name the Athletic Complex (comprising the pool, tennis courts, baseball fields, and stadium with football field and track) after her friend. At first she was rebuffed by the District. A change like that is not without cost. Everything from printed materials, to websites, to signage and more would need to be changed.
But she persisted even writing an open letter to the community on Westside Seattle to help garner support. That may have helped her cause.
While the effort is not yet complete, the formal presentation to the School Board took place on March 24, Doree was joined by Denny Principal Jeff Clark and Aida Fraser-Hammer, Chief Sealth Principal (set to retire at the end of the year). The level of support from the various parts of the community and school board thus far indicates the proposal will be approved at the next meeting on April 7.
The SPS Operations Committee previously recommended approval on March 11.
District VI Board Member Leslie Harris (representing West Seattle and South Park) said, "I'm thrilled. we are celebrating someone who doesn't have a lot of initials after their name who showed up every day to love our students.... From my heart to all of you, this is the right thing to do and the right time to do it.:
The stadium itself was already informally named for Cantu but must be approved.
Here's the presentation made to the board:
This Board Action Report proposes the name of the Southwest Athletic Complex (SWAC) be changed to the Nino Cantu Southwest Athletic Complex.
Nino Cantu skillfully served our community as a groundskeeper at the Southwest Athletic Complex (SWAC) and the campuses of Denny and Sealth for 18 years. From 2000-2018,
Mr. Cantu made many amazing things possible at SWAC as the head groundskeeper and lead staff member for events at the stadium. Community events supported by Cantu were a wide array of highly popular activities, including:
• Countless Seattle Public Schools and Parks athletic events
• The Special Olympics
• High school graduation ceremonies for Chief Sealth and West Seattle
• The All-City Band Summer Band Jam
• East African community-run soccer games
• The Firefighters Games
In addition to being head groundskeeper, Cantu joyfully described himself as an artist, with the grounds at SWAC, Denny, and Sealth as his canvas. It seemed as if he knew everyone by name and story. It was his positive attitude that made him a mentor to many students and gardeners from around the city, a friend to all people, and a leader within the community. Tragically, Cantu passed away on Oct. 12, 2018.
Denny Lunchroom Manager Doree Fazio-Young eloquently described Cantu in this way, “He treated the staff, teachers, principals, and students of Seattle Public Schools and every community group he partnered with as if it was their personal stadium, like it belonged to them.”
This proposal has received incredibly strong and enthusiastic support every time discussed throughout our community!
Support from the Denny International Middle School community:
• The proposal was shared at the Denny International Middle School PTSA Board meeting on Oct. 21, 2020. All PTSA officers were supportive.
• The proposal shared and discussed in English, Spanish, and Somali at the Denny International Middle School PTSA meeting on Oct. 27, 2020. More than 50 families and staff attended the meeting. Many enthusiastically supportive comments were shared. Everyone in attendance supported the idea.
• The proposal was shared at the Denny International Middle School all-staff meeting on Nov. 18, 2020. Once again, it received very strong support. To further seek staff feedback and support, an anonymous staff survey was sent asking staff if they supported the proposal. Eighty-seven staff members have indicated their support .
Support from the Chief Sealth International High School community:
• The proposal to rename the athletic complex to the Nino Cantu Southwest Athletic Complex was raised during the 2019-2020 school year and was later discussed at a staff meeting on Sept. 28, 2020. On both occasions, the idea received full support. The formal proposal was shared with staff via email on Nov. 14, 2020, in which they were invited to share feedback, comments, and/or concerns. The following are some of the comments received from staff about the proposal:
o “I think this is such a nice gesture.”
o “Nino deserves this and should be memorialized. My support as a staff member of the Denny/Sealth pathway since 1992 is behind renaming SWAC after Nino. I can’t imagine anyone who knew him not supporting it.”
o “Nino was also the dad of one of our amazing special education students, who I worked with in my early years here at Sealth. This is a great idea.”
o “That would be so amazing, and I support it 100%!!!!”
• The written proposal was shared with the Chief Sealth families via School Messenger on Nov. 15, 2020. Parents also were invited to comment on it at the Principal’s Virtual Café on Nov. 19, 2020. The following is comment from a parent and community volunteer: “I heartily support honoring Nino by naming the SWAC after him. I was lucky to have worked with Nino for a few years while working. I was helping run the snack stand. Nino was always great to work with. Cheerful, enthusiastic and always willing to help. He remains greatly missed.”
This proposal is aligned with Board Policy 0030, Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity (parts E and H):
“E. Welcoming School Environments — The district shall ensure that each school creates a welcoming culture and inclusive environment that reflects and supports the diversity of the School District’s student population, their families, and communities.
H. Recognizing Diversity — Consistent with state regulations and District policy and within budgetary considerations, the district shall provide materials and assessments that reflect the diversity of students and staff, and which are geared towards the understanding and appreciation of culture, class, language, ethnicity and other differences that contribute to the uniqueness of each student and staff member.”
School Policy 0030 was reviewed in the context of this proposal, and it is believed that renaming the SWAC The Nino Cantu Southwest Athletic Complex is consistent with the racial equity goals of SPS. By honoring Cantu, a local African American/Latinx person, who advocated for students, families, and communities of color, the district will promote educational and racial equality in the school and the community.
The scholars of Denny, Chief Sealth, and all schools in the Southwest region will see how the district celebrates and honors the great contributions of individuals within our community who constantly strive to make the lives of others more equitable and society more just.
Upon approval of this motion, the name of the Southwest Athletic Complex (SWAC) will change to the Nino Cantu Southwest Athletic Complex.
April 2021: Community meetings will be held to co-design the roll-out process. Multilingual announcements will be shared throughout our community.
May – June 2021: The new sign will be created and installed.
Fall of 2021: A community celebration of the new name will be held at halftime of a Chief Sealth home football game.