CLASS OF 2023: West’s Titan of the Year is a social butterfly around campus

This article is part of a series of profiles of graduating seniors in Salem high schools. Read the full series here.

If you ask Alex Ochoa what stands out from his time at West Salem High School, he’ll start with getting cut from the basketball team.

Ochoa, 18, had played junior varsity basketball since his freshman year, but as a senior he didn’t make it onto the varsity squad.

“In the moment, yeah, I was kind of frustrated, I was annoyed,” he said. But, “I didn’t like to hold a grudge, I don’t like to hold grudges.”

He asked the coach instead if he could help with the team, serving as an assistant coach, traveling to away games and cheering his teammates on. 

“It brought me lessons of knowing that God has a plan for me,” he said. “Even though I couldn’t do it in the way I wanted to, I was still able to participate in one way or another.”

Ochoa’s easygoing attitude, confidence and care for others earned him West’s 2023 Titan of the Year award, given to the student who best exemplifies the school’s values of curiosity, inclusivity, pride, diversity and communication.

He’s a self-described social butterfly who fist bumps teachers in the hallway and has earned the nickname Bro Choa. Besides basketball, he’s active in the school’s leadership program and has worked in the Maps Credit Union branch at West, earning a scholarship from their charitable foundation to help pay for college.

“He’s a gift,” teacher Drew Moneke said of Ochoa. “He’s seeing others, their wants, their needs, their desires, their challenges, and is just self-aware of his impact on them.”

The two met earlier this school year in Moneke’s Youth and Law class. Ochoa originally had no class scheduled for first period because he didn’t need more courses to graduate, but his mother told him he had to take something instead of sleeping in an extra hour and a half.

The class culminated in a mock trial of the 1990 Supreme Court case Illinois v. Perkins, which centered on whether police could use statements a suspected murderer made in jail to an undercover officer as evidence in his trial.

Ochoa was absent the day students were assigned sides in the case and was tasked with representing the state of Illinois.

“You know what, I don’t even know what this case is about but I’m gonna go here and I’m giving my all, so I did that,” he said. His side won the case.

“He just absolutely killed it,” Moneke said. “That’s Alex, he’ll take whatever space he’s in and just create an environment to support” himself and others.

Ochoa is still deciding between attending Oregon State University and Western Oregon University in the fall, but plans to study business and hopes to have a career in business administration or marketing, drawing on his natural love of building connections. In a video submitted for the Maps scholarship he won, Ochoa talked about creating a scholarship program to help kids have the opportunity to play sports from a young age.

“A program like (this) would help students stay busy with competitive, pro-social extracurricular activities to reduce the risk of making poor judgment decisions and focus on building their strengths, motivating them to work to their best potential and accomplish their goals,” he said.

Ochoa was raised Catholic and said his parents never pressured him to be religious, but his faith has recently become deeper. His family typically goes to church together, but if they’re busy at a sibling’s basketball or tennis match, he’ll go alone.

He finds comfort “knowing that even if something goes wrong, that it’s part of my plan, it’ll be okay and it’s kind of what I’m meant to go through,” he said.

Ochoa gets his easygoing nature from his father and said he’s never really carried anxiety with him, even when classes moved online during Covid and many students struggled.

“If I ever feel stressed or anything, I go play basketball,”he said. “My mind when I play basketball: stress free.”

After spending his senior season on the bench with the varsity team, Ochoa’s teammates pushed him to ask the coach if he could play on senior night in February. His coach told him he could warm up, but said there were no promises.

In the locker room before the game, the team gathered to look at the starting lineup and discuss strategy.

“I wasn’t really paying attention because obviously I’m never on the board,” he said. His friend told him to look and he saw Ochoa listed as a starter. The Titans went on to win the game against North by about 40 points.

“All of what I did throughout the season for the teams, help them out, whatever I could, kind of paid off in a way because I got one moment with the team and with my senior friends,” he said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.