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Staff Spotlight: César Rioja Álvarez

11/04/2019

While many Saint Louis University staff members might take to the court for a pick-up game on their lunch hours or may shoot hoops with their kids in their driveways, César Rioja Álvarez of SLU-Madrid can really drive the net. 

César Rioja Álvarez (second from left) clowns around with teammates on Spain's national basketball team. Rioja is now sports director at SLU-Madrid.César Rioja Álvarez (second from left) clowns around with teammates on Spain's national basketball team. Rioja is now sports director at SLU-Madrid.

Putting the skills and lessons he learned as a professional basketball player in Spain's version of the NBA to work, Rioja lives out SLU's Jesuit mission by guiding student athletes, and through service in the wider Madrid community through sports.

Cesar Rioja
SLU-Madrid sports director César Rioja (front) boxes out an opponent during a 2019 charity basketball game. Submitted photo

Rioja began playing basketball at 14 for Estudiantes Madrid, one of the most recognized clubs in Spain. Honing his skills through years on the court, he eventually worked his way up to the club's first team, which competes in the Euroleague and Spain's equivalent to the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Switching teams at age 23, Rioja went on to play for other first-tier Spanish ball clubs before taking over SLU-Madrid's top athletics job.

Now a SLU staff member with 20 years experience, Rioja puts his passion for play to work to serve others. In addition to taking to the court in charity basketball games with alumni from his pro days, Rioja also organizes service opportunities for student-athletes at SLU's campus in Spain.

Most recently, Rioja helmed the campus's second Paddle Tennis Tournament to benefit Casa Ronald MacDonald, raising more than $2,200 euros to help families stay close to their children as they receive treatment at local children's hospitals. He has also organized the SLU-Madrid seminannual5K run in Madrid's Retiro park. Last year's run raised funds for  La Luz de las Niñas, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that works for girls' rights worldwide in an effort to make childhood a time free form fear, threats and aggression.

Get to Know César

We understand that you played sports professionally before joining SLU. Can you tell us about your career?

I played at Estudiantes Madrid since I was 14 in the youth system all the way up to the first team, which competes in the ACB (The Spanish First Division of basketball, like the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the U.S.) as well as the Euroleague, Europe’s highest club competition.

I played there until I was 23, when I switched teams to Fuenlabrada and later Granada for my last year.

I was also fortunate enough to play for the Spanish National Team between the ages of 14 to 19.

What lessons from your playing days do you apply to work with our SLU-Madrid students?

The number one piece of advice that I give to our students is that they work hard in pursuit of their dreams.

In addition, having to balance competitive athletics with studying at university teaches you to be extremely disciplined and organized, so I emphasize that to our students as well as a great benefit of sports for their everyday lives.

What have been some of your favorite moments in SLU-Madrid sports history?

I would say that seeing our students reach their potential and become professionals in their sports has been the biggest highlights for me over the years. 

Organizing events that combine sports and service, like our 5K runs and paddle tennis tournaments here at SLU-Madrid, mean a great deal to me.

How have you continued to pursue your passion for sports in your life, on and off-campus?

I consider myself very lucky to have kept sport in many aspects of my life, whether it be working as the sports director here at SLU-Madrid and getting to know all our young athletes, or in my every day life through playing paddle tennis for example, or keeping in touch with old teammates from my playing days and organizing charity events and games through NGOs with them as often as possible.

We understand that you’ve put your playing skills to use helping good causes. Can you tell us about playing for charity?

I consider it a great privilege to be able to play basketball with many of my friends while also helping and doing our part to contribute to great causes through the NGOs that we support.

The NGOs will usually get in touch with our former players’ associations through Estudiantes and/or Real Madrid, the two most important basketball teams in Madrid, and ask us to organize a charity match that people can buy tickets for, with the proceeds going to the NGO.

How do you see supporting our student-athletes as living our Jesuit values and mission?

I think that we try to emulate the Jesuit mission of being “men and women for others” as best as we can through helping each other become better athletes and also through events such as a recent bake sale, in which SLU-Madrid athletes volunteered to help out.

Our athletes also help through volunteering in various NGOs that SLU Madrid works with, and it is very rewarding to help them see the Jesuit values shine through in them.

What does being part of a Jesuit university in Spain mean to you?

I love working at a Jesuit university in Spain because of the wonderful values that we transmit to all our students, be they from Spain or anywhere else in the world, as they will be equally important to all of their future lives.

What brings you joy?

The thing that brings me the most joy is spending time with my wife and my two children, getting to experience how they grow up physically and mentally. It is also very joyous for me to see the rest of my family, parents, nephews, brothers, all of them, be in good health.

My SLU family is something I also love very much, and coming to work every day and experiencing this wonderful community is something I cherish a lot.

I also very much enjoy taking on volunteering opportunities with NGOs, and being able to help other people and try to make their lives a little bit better.

What else should our campus community on both sides of the Atlantic know about you?

Well, in my free time I really enjoy playing all types of sports and reading a good book.

Another passion of mine is coaching our students on the basketball court, as well as spending time with them and getting to know them, as I believe that we can all learn a great deal from each other. I would also like everyone in the SLU community to know that I love my job very much because I get the opportunity to help students, faculty and staff to enjoy physical activity and hopefully make their lives a little better through sports.

Cesar Rioja

A SLU staff member since 1999, César Rioja pushes SLU-Madrid student athletes to pursue their dreams, on and off the court. SLU-Madrid photo

Staff Spotlight is an occasional series dedicated to revealing the stories behind the name badges of SLU's staff members. To suggest a staff member to shine a light on, contact Newslink or call 314-977-2519.