Sunday, May 20, 2012

On Junior Seau and Playing Football . . .Would I let my grandson play football?

The death of NFL and San Diego Chargers' football legend Junior Seau this May has brought many questions to those who follow football - from the juniors, to high school, to college and pros - with a fever pitch. A strong, talented intelligent young man (he was 40) reportedly put an end to his life by shooting himself in the chest.


Why? What could have caused this gentle giant to think there was no more hope?

While we may never know the inner feelings of his life, those close to him (Read Sports Illustrated, May 14,2012) had no inclination that Junior Seau was in a depressed or desperate state that would lead to such an action. True, all super-star athletes suffer from "leaving the game," but Junior Seau was home in his beloved San Diego, Calif., just miles away from the surf that he used to conquer on his kayak-sized surf board. He could literally hear the calming influence of the ocean rushing to shore from his backyard and neighborhood, where he was a hero of unfathomable proportions not only for his football heroics but for his charity work and for never forgetting his humble beginning.

Now, Seau, is gone and only memories remain.

His death makes me question all that is good about the truly American sport of football. My own experiences with football are limited. At best, I was a junior varsity player on the Hebbronville Shorthorns team.

My "career" was cut short when I busted my left hand in a million pieces. It swelled up like a blown up latex glove as it was crushed under my chest when three of my bigger teammates fell on me during a scrimmage. All of them were 6-foot-2 or more and weighed at least 250-pounds. They were all under 15 years old. Yes, we had a good high school football team in Hebbronville.

From that day on, I was relegated to be a spotter in the press box and that experience eventually led to me becoming a sports writer. Yes, I was more comfortable in the press box, I must admit. My mom, was also more comfortable with me "spotting" players who made key plays than battling in the trenches with the big boys.

I still remember my mom refused to let me play my freshman year. It was as if she thought I was going off to war or something. "Manuelito, you could get hurt or worse," she told me. "No, absolutely not. No vas a jugar (You're not going to play)." And, I didn't.

My sophomore year, I just asked my step-dad and he signed some paper allow me to "finally play football." I was ready. I worked harvesting watermelons all summer long. On Sundays, during the summer, I would do sprints in the baseball field next to my house, working on my speed and agility. I even had the courage to go run and workout with the big boys - the returning letterman for the varsity - one time. They were impressed by my size (5-foot-11, 150-pounds) and said I had "potential" even though I had never played football (except in the barrio or backyards) before. I was proud. Lifting all those watermelons in the summer would pay off. I would be a star, a legend on old Gruy Field for the Hebbronville Longhorns. I would be a star and like so many other Longhorn greats (Rene Ramirez, Rodemiro Gonzalez, Oscar Gonzalez, Rene Medellin, etc., etc.) earn a college football scholarship and just run for glory.

But, I wasn't fast. They noticed that right away. "Manuel, you will be a lineman on the JV this year. Keep working," Bobby Felton, a scooter in the Longhorns backfield told me. I was proud. If I was going to be a lineman, I would be the best lineman ever for the Longhorns football team. Oh, they weren't always the Longhorns. Back during the depression days, they were Bulldogs. But, they couldn't win. So, the school board changed the name and told them to forget the old days and start anew. Since then, Hebbronville has had a reputation of having a good, solid, competitive and winning football team - almost every year. I never played football again. I became a sports writer and still enjoy the game, very much.

My next experience with football was seeing my two boys - Mario and Marcos - play at the junior high and high school level. They were good athletes. Mario was big. 6-foot by the time he was in 8th grade. Marcos did not grow 'til his junior year in high school, but was a mean and pesky as Javelina cub. He was the blocking back (all 4-foot-10 of him) for his 7th and 8th grade teams. He led the ol' student body left and student body right for boys who went on to star at the high school and college level. Mario was a lineman. He played both ways - offense and defense. He was strong as bull but did not want to hurt anyone. He never really tackled any one, he would grab them and put them gently on the turf. I would yell him, like a father should (right?), "Hey, be aggressive. Hit them hard. Show them you're better than they are."

As a 12-year-old 8th grader, Mario would simply answer, "Dad, I don't want to hurt anyone." I should have known that he was not cut out for that sport. But, he was so good, talented and big and he wound up seeing limited action for the varsity at Miller his freshman year and started as a sophomore. He was good. He had a future, but his heart was not in it. I would yell at him, "You better start playing hard and hitting people hard or else you're going to get hurt out there." He didn't change. He was still the most gentle football player on the team. And, then, it happened. He got chopped blocked by two Carroll Tigers' players in an important game and, just like that, his football career was over. I know to this day those other young men did it on purpose and may have even been told to hurt Mario by their coaches. Mario was causing havoc in the Carroll backfield and he was making a big difference in the game. He limped out, looking for me in the stands. I ran down the Buc Stadium steps and looked at him from the edge of the bleachers. I caught his eyes. I knew it was over. But, I said the wrong thing (like almost every other dad in Texas who has a son playing football). "You'll be fine in a while, get back in there, son." He never played again. I will never be able to get that last look he gave me from the sidelines as he was placed down on the turf so that trainers could work on his left knee out of my mind. It was as if he was saying, "I'm sorry I let you down, dad." He was so sad. His anterior cruciate ligament was torn apart. He would never play football again and I wondered how this would affect him in the future. My stomach sank. Tears rolled down my face. I was so sorry I had insisted he played football. I know there are much worse injuries, the spinal type, for example. But, the disappointment I had was that I had insisted Mario play football, not because he loved the sport, but because I wanted to show him off. I knew, at that point, he was doing it just for me. I felt so bad. I had let my son down with MY false expectations. Maybe I wanted him to do what I had never done - play varsity football and get a college scholarship and be a hometown hero? Maybe?
Marcos never got hurt seriously, I think. He wound up playing two years of varsity as a defensive back and was good enough to earn some honors and even an invited to play football for Abilene Christian University. He was a dynamo on the field. He loved the game. He was like a flying dervish, making hard tackles and even, at times, drawing personal foul penalties. At times, he would seem to "fly" into the ball carrier with the ferocity of an action figure like Captain America or The Hulk. But, now I question, "Was he doing this for me?"

But Marcos wasn't an indestructible action figure. He was a teen-aged boy who was growing. He went from 5-foot-1 his freshman year to 5-foot-10 as a junior and kept growing in college. He was strong, athletic and fast enough to get the job done (the Flores speed or lack thereof is legendary). Marcos, however, suffered three concussions during his high school career. One in particular was noteworthy. Playing against Mission and stellar quarterback Ty Detmer (who went on to NFL fame), Marcos made a startling tackle on the first series of downs. The hit was heard throughout the packed Javelina Stadium (more than 17,000 fans packed for the playoff game). Listening on the radio in the stands, I heard the announcer say "That sent a message to Mission. You could hear that hit all the way down to the Rio Grande Valley and back to Corpus Christi 40 miles away from here." I was so proud. I cheered my lungs out. On the sidelines, on the change of possession, Marcos crumbled to the Javelina Stadium ground, rolling to the artificial track field. The trainers came over. Stood him up. Snapped their fingers. He came to. He was okay. I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Good job, Marcos. Get back in there."
He did. I wonder now, was it the right thing?

Now, the Junior Seau death has brought these feelings full circle. Junior Seau, like Marcos, would go back in to play time after time after time after a concussion. It didn't matter that he would deliver some of the hardest hits seen at the level. It didn't matter that he was "woozy" from the hits or that his head hurt after the game. He wanted to play, and the trainers said, "Go Junior. Go Play."

Now, those words ring hollow in my mind. I did the same thing. In the words of those who urged Junior Seau to continue playing, I hear myself urging my sons to keep on playing.

There is a certain pride that comes to a man for having a son or two who play football. It is hard to describe. It is, as my mother indicated with her hesitation of letting me playing back in the years when the helmets had one lone crossbar to protect you, like sending your sons out to battle. War, if you will. No wonder my mother and others are hesitant to let their sons play football.

Under the Friday night lights, a father is able to see a son's character, courage, strength and resolve tested for two hours or more. It is such a rite of passage, especially in Texas, that it can be a life-changing experience.

For Junior Seau, that life change may have come from the repeated blows to his head that he endured. Now, they're giving his brain to science, to see if the multiple concussions he suffered impacted his life and ultimate decision to take it with a gunshot to his chest. My son Mario still is impacted by his knee injury and it may have stopped him from more success in the sport he loved - baseball. Marcos still suffers headaches and other maladies from his "high school" concussions.

Football is a violent sport. I believe that's why men like me and my sons are drawn to it. There is a sense of danger on every play and on every play someone gets hurt, just a little bit. It's not that I've grown old (I have) but I wonder now if I would let my sons play football.

I have a 4-year-old grandson now and I have to wonder if I would agree to let him play football. Would I? Or, would I be like my mom? Would I tell him, "You're going to get hurt out there son. You don't need to play."

Of course, it's not my decision. It's my son Mario and my four-year-old grandson's mom decision to make. At least Mario - like me - has the experience of having played some high school football to help him make that decision.

Would Mario let my grandson play football? It's a violent sport. I hope not. And, if he does, I hope that it's my grandson's decision to play the sport and that he make that decision to please himself and not his father.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Long live Hector P. Garcia

I heard with interest that a new statue of Mexican-American civil rights leader Dr. Hector P. Garcia was to be unveiled Jan. 26, 2012, in front of the Mercedes Public Library in the Rio Grande Valley. The library will be renamed in honor of Garcia who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley town and went on to greatness after founding the civil rights organization The American G.I. Forum.

Today (Dec. 29, 2011), I also read that former Corpus Christi Caller-Times reporter Armando Ibanez was filming a documentary about Dr. Garcia.

It's welcomed news to this college professor who has noticed how the name and legacy of this South Texas and American civil rights giant has slowly disappeared both from the faces of history pages and the minds of thousands (millions) of young people, especially young Mexican Americans. It saddens me to see that this hero is being forgotten, and that's why the news of the new statue honoring Garcia and the filming of this documentary are so welcomed. Perhaps these humble offerings to the memory of Dr. Hector P. Garcia will inspire others to do the same - remember his legacy.

But, I doubt it. Politics being what it is in Texas, chances are the name of a Mexican American hero will continue to be absent from our history books. Chances are, politics and racism being what it is in Texas and parts of the nation, the work of Dr. Hector P. Garcia will be scoffed at and not remembered. Chances are, Mexican American teachers, ashamed of their roots and culture, will decide to talk about other American heroes and abstain from talking about Garcia for fear they will be called radical or, even worse, un-American. Chances are children who will be asked about Dr. Garcia's legacy will ask, "Whose legacy? Who was he?" Some will even say, "Oh, that was a long time ago. We don't have those problems now. We don't need to bring back the past." But, the same teachers and children will relish their instruction and information on Martin Luther King, Anne Frank and her diary during the Holocaust and talk about slavery as if it was yesterday, and not a long time ago.

Chances are these same Mexican American children will go to college where few professors will talk about the contributions of Mexican Americans to the success of our region, state, nation and the world. Chances are many of these Mexican American children will be ashamed to talk about their heritage and say, "I can't speak Spanish" and listen more to "Rhiana" and "Kanye"or some "Li'L Wayne" then hear a classical mariachi tune or a Tejano song.

Chances are these same children will forget who Dr. Hector P. Garcia and his struggle to ensure equal rights for Mexican Americans and all people of our great country. Chances are few people will show up for the dedication of this memorial and even fewer will say, "It's a good thing."

Well, it is a good thing.

Love live Dr. Hector P. Garcia.

Que viva el Dr. Hector Garcia


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

At the time of death . . .

"No one wants to die, and yet death is the destination we all share."

Steve Jobs, 2005

"En nombre sea de dios."

Manuel Flores, Sr.

circa 1957

Watching "End of Year" TV programs can be depressing.

Most every network, including ESPN and Fox Sports, seems to have a list of those "great" and "important" people who passed away during the past year. USA Today has a special edition it calls "Passages" to review the deaths of the year. This year there has been much ado about the death of Apple founder and genius Steve Jobs. Reportedly, on his death bed, his last words were, "Wow! Oh Wow!" It was Jobs who said at a commencement address at Stanford University in 2005, "No one wants to die, and yet death is the destination we all share."

But, "Oh Wow!" What did he see?

It must have been amazing, soothing and calm. It must have been something that verified his life as a great contributor to human progress and a vision that validated his life on Earth. Was he making his way toward heaven?

"Wow! Oh Wow!"

His vision must have been ecstatic. After all, he did change the world. President Obama summarized it all by saying Jobs was "brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world and talented enough to do it."

"Wow! Oh Wow!"

Perhaps, Jobs had seen "the light" which those who have come back from near-death experiences claim. For we Christians, "The Light" is symbolic of our religion and is like a stairway, or the very least, a big lit-up funnel toward heaven. Its religious significance is full of saint or sinner implications and salvation from damnation. But, do we all see the light?

My personal experiences with death have been, to say the least, sobering. I have witnessed many deaths - mainly of close ones and relatives - in my life. I don't believe anyone had as near a pleasant an experience as Steve Jobs did. Death, even that of Jesus Christ's, is generally not a pleasant experience. As the Kenny Rogers' song says, "The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep."

Life is, indeed, a gamble.

My first "death" experience was that of my great uncle Jose Angel Flores. I used to call him 'buelo (grandpa) 'cause that's what I was told to call him. I was 5 0r 6. For some reason, we needed firewood. We went to the ranch where Tío Juan Ramos worked, about 10 miles south of my hometown of Hebbronville. Jose Angel always wore khaki pants and shirts. It was a hot South Texas day, too hot to be walking in the Chaparral looking for pieces of firewood while wearing heavy cotton clothing. But, that's what he did. Jose Angel was a strong man, big and solid. He really had never been sick and now, approaching his 80s, was the face of good health. He didn't smoke and drink and had led a very healthy life, with maybe the exception of a very Mexicano diet that included chicharrones (pork rinds), tripas (tripe) and cow head and pork barbacoa. We had been out on the ranch brush country for about 10 minutes, not too far away from a ranch road. Suddenly, Jose Angel grabbed his chest. His face was that of disbelief. He slowly sunk into the ground, saliva pouring out of one side of his mouth as he hit the dirt in front of us. His eyes were dilated as if asking "Why?" He truly was not ready to go and had planned, I believe, some sort of family feast that night. He had been fattening up a hog near the homestead close to town. Tío Juan Ramos looked at me and said, "Go for help (in Spanish)". But where? I ran to the dirt road and it just happened that the family was making its way back to the rancho in a older model car. We rushed Jose Angel into the car and rushed to town. We took him home and, on the way, had stopped to let Dr. Zack know of our dilemma. Jose Angel was alive in the car. When at the house, we lay him on his bed. His breath was measured and he had peed on his pants, something a proud man would not have done, even in his old age. He looked perplexed. Then, he looked at the family one more time....he never spoke...and closed his eyes. By the time Dr. Zack arrived, he was gone. He was an old man, but I'm sure he thought it was too soon. He had much to live for and much yet to teach us. We would miss him dearly for years, and still do. There were no "Oh wows" when he left us, but as we Christians believe, it was his time.

I remember my father's death as if it were yesterday. He died in a car accident. I remember his last facial expression - it was one both of horror and determination. Manuel Flores Sr. died trying to save his wife, my mom Maria, from dying. We were in Oilton, Texas, when a car hit us from behind on U.S. 359 right around downtown. His last words, less than a few seconds before, had been "En nombre sea de dios (roughly, in God's name we go)." As the crash from behind us drowned the silence of the brush country surrounding the quaint oil hamlet between Hebbronville and Laredo, the car doors (we did not wear seat belts in those days) swung open and my mom, seating on the passenger side, almost flew out the windows. My dad flew through the air, grabbing her arm and pulling her back in as the car made three turns in the air. He was flung out the passenger side door, his body passing me in a blur. Still, the car door crushed my mom's leg as my dad fell out into the nearby gravel on the side of the road. The car fell on his upper torso, crushing him and killing him instantly. Miraculously, I was fine. Seating in the middle of the back seat with some baseball cards in my hand, what I witnessed seemed surreal. I knew dad had been thrown out of the car. As the car came to rest, I ran out of back window yelling " 'apa, 'apa (Dad, Dad)." I saw his legs up in the air and figured the rest of his body was trapped inside the car. I touched the legs and they fell down with a thud I can still hear. He was crushed. There was no room between his body and the car. None. In shock for a while, I knew he was gone. I had seen death before. I was 9. I then ran around to help my mom and the other two passengers in the car. I don't believe my father saw any lights. There was no time for it. But, later, my other abuleo, Pedro Chapa, told me my dad's soul was taking care of me now. So, perhaps, his soul did see the light. I know one thing, his last second on Earth was not pretty. And, for the record, every now and then when I'm sleeping at night I look around my bedroom and in the corner of the room, I see him standing there. I look older than he does now. He just stands there, hands crossed in front of him, smiling, as if saying, "You're going to be okay. It's not your time yet." Why are there violent deaths? It makes no sense.

I lost my grandmother, Nana (Julia Flores, my dad's Manuel Flores' mother) during the height of a hurricane on the Texas Gulf coast. She had been having cholesterol problems and her body was worn down due to the hard work as a young woman. She was frail, but very strong of mind and heart. Finally, her heart gave out. Nearing 80, she was hospitalized at Spohn Hospital on Corpus Christi Bay. Almost immediately, in the hospital, they told us she was dying and was only a matter of days. She had been in a nursing home for her last five years, except for weekends when I took her to my house. Her dying wish was that she could die at my home. Oh, wow. There, in the hospital, we all knew that she would not get that wish. The doctors told us she would not make it. As her veins constricted she would cringe in pain. I hated to see her suffer. I asked the doctors and nurses to give her something for the pain. They said it didn't matter 'cause she was dying any way. It's one of the few times I lost my temper. "At least let her die in peace and not pain," I yelled at them loud enough that my voice echoed down the near empty hallways and startled a skeleton staff due to many evacuations because of the approaching storm. They felt they didn't need to move Nana, she was going to die any way. I still remember her eyes, the last time she looked at me. They were the epitome of sadness. Perhaps it was my imagination, but there was a sense of disappointment in her stare at me. It was as if she was saying, "Take me home. Take me home now. I don't have long for this earth. I want to die in a house your home." I thought I heard her whisper "Junior" - her name for me as I got older. I said, "Si Nana. Mande (Yes, what do you need, basically)." But she turned away from me without saying a word. I looked for a priest, but they too had evacuated. Sadness and darkness filled her room. Close family members could not come to see her 'cause of the approaching storm. The light from the hallway and the dark clouds we could see from the window certainly had a deathly fluorescent, greenish glow. Sadness engulfed the room. My Nana was dying and she did not get her dying wish. She died peacefully in her sleep, but she was drugged out of her mind thanks to my screaming command at the understaffed nursing center. Did Nana see lights? Did she say, "Oh wow," or the equivalent. I think her last thoughts were that of disappointment in me and of not having her wish fulfilled. I also still see her in my dreams. At least she's happy, now. At least she's in heaven. I wonder if she is still disappointed. I can't tell. I can't tell.

My mom's death was expected. Cancer and other maladies had eaten away at this once bubbly and vivacious woman. In the end, she was drugged and not at all cognizant of her surroundings. It was devastating for my sisters, my uncle Pete (her brother) and my step-dad Amando. We all knew Mom had a rough life, losing her mom at childbirth and then going from home-to-home as a young girl and teen-ager. Still, she was a fighter, a survivor. She had fought a good fight and now it was her last round at life. We watched her slip away from us in a hospital room, too. Deeply religious, perhaps she saw the light. Perhaps. Death took her away before she would see her great-grand kids grow up - the one last thing she longed for. So now, all we have is photos of her to show. Oh wow, if they only had met her. They would be impressed at this feisty lady with the quick-witted mind and somewhat athletic tendency. We remember the good times. We remember she was a Notre Dame fan and believed in "Touchdown Jesus" even when they were playing a Texas team. We laugh now, but I wonder. Perhaps her death vision was that of Jesus with his hands up in the air signalling touchdown and welcoming her to heaven. Perhaps. I don't see her as much in my dreams or visions. Perhaps it's because she suffered too much in this Earth and is busy enjoy the fruits of heaven now. Perhaps.

Oh Wow. Steve Jobs had the best death ever reported in modern history. Oh wow, I wonder of my own mortality. I'm not ready to go, I know that. But, I will accept death, if I have the time. But, like the Gambler in Kenny Rogers' western ballad said, "The best that we can hope for is to die in your sleep."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The day JFK died - Nov. 22, 1963

Nov. 22, 1963 . . . was a day that changed my life and that of millions of other Americans and citizens around the world.

That was the day a young, vibrant and energetic young president – John Fitzgerald Kennedy – was shot and killed, allegedly by bullets from a lone assassin in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas.
Within minutes, the shots allegedly fired by Lee Harvey Oswald, a disgruntled little man with communist party ties and a penchant for the dramatic were heard round the world.

I was at home that Thursday afternoon, having lunch prepared by my abuela (grandma) Nana. I didn’t bother to check the news. The sopa de fideo (vermicelli soup), refried beans and warm tortillas I was eating while Nana listened to Mexican music in the kitchen belied that anything had changed. I ate at home for lunch to visit Nana, mostly. My house was six blocks away from the high school. Most of my friends had their lunch at the school cafeteria at Hebbronville High School. Walking back to the high school, I felt as if something strange had happened. It was a cloudy and dreary November day with just a slight chill in the air to let us in Texas knows that your high school football team was in the state playoffs and had a big game that Friday. My walk was brisk. I seemed to have taken only five minutes for the regular 10-minute walk. I looked across the street toward the band hall and I saw several of my friends milling around on the lawn in front of the South Wing of the high school. There was an eerie silence to the scene. The usual exuberance of youth was missing. No one was clowning around. Muted whispers seemed to fill the air. Every now and then, a whisper would be picked up by the wind and travel freely and openly for all to hear.

“He’s dead,” I heard one of my friends tell another student.

“Who?” came the obvious question.

“Kennedy!, “he answered. “The president is dead!”

I thought it was a devious prank someone was trying to pull. I smiled as I walked toward the group just outside the band hall. I slowed my pace and could not quite decide whom to greet. My friend Rene Ovidio Garcia solved that problem. He walked hurriedly toward me with anxious eyes, his chest pounding. He was breathing heavily when he blurted out, “They killed JFK!”
I stopped in my tracks. The overgrown grass on the school lawn tickled my ankles and I felt the sudden buzz of a wasp flying by. I was in shock. I was in a daze a dream, half-awake and half-cognizant of only my immediate surroundings.

“You hadn’t heard?” Rene asked.

“Who did it?” I asked.

“It’s on TV now. Walter Cronkite just announced he had died in a hospital in Dallas. It’s for reals, Manuel,” he said.

I uttered a few choice cuss words in Spanish and grabbed my forehead with my right hand as if trying to rub away the words I had just heard.

The bell rang. On cue, we shuffled into the hallways of the school and made our way toward our classes. We were like zombies walking, no shuffling, to our rooms. Some of us stopped at our lockers to pick up textbooks. Most students just walked to their classrooms. We all knew there would be no lessons today from the teachers for reality had just given us the biggest lesson of all – life can change in an instant.

Inside the classrooms, there was a unusual silence. Teachers greeted us and asked us to sit down and be quiet in honor of the president. Some of the history teachers wanted to have a discussion, but the students just wanted to stay in their seats and, I believe, mourn silently. Many were crying. I could see from my classroom to the other wing where one of our male teachers, a coach whom we all admired, was at his desk just rubbing his eyes and crying. Finally, one of our star athletes went to him and consoled him, putting his arm around him. Suddenly, the 17-year-old was consoling his mentor, a coach who was about the age of the young president, 43.
In my classroom, one of the girls seemed unaffected by the tragedy. While most of us had sullen faces and were even praying silently, she was smiling from ear-to-ear, her eyes beaming with a sense of accomplishment. She was reading a book and would look up every now and then almost scoff or condemn those of us who were mourning.
“I am glad he’s dead,” she blurted out.

No one said a thing.

“He was no good for our country,” she said. “He got what he deserved.

Most of the boys just smiled and said nothing. I could not hold back and asked her, respectfully, to stay quiet and show respect for the president of the United States and our feelings that afternoon.

“I don’t know why you all are upset?” she asked. “He was not a good man, and he certainly was not a good president. He wasn’t my president.”

I remembered how close the election between JFK and Richard Nixon was – too close. Some said he stole the election. Others said that the popular vote was for Nixon and he should have been president. Then, we had all those inexplicable events – the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the rumors of JFK and Marilyn Monroe. They seemed to weaken the perception of whom some of us as saw as a brilliant young man who was going to lead us, finally, into prosperity and honor in the 20th century. The words, “He wasn’t my president” stung like a wet whip with thorns crawling of my skin. As a Mexicano, I knew what it was like to be dismissed simply by someone saying, “He’s not one of us.” I knew the sting of not been accepted. Kennedy was a Catholic. I thought, perhaps this why this girl did not like him.

I started to get up to talk to the girl when I got the look of disapproval from my teacher, urging me to stay seated. Out of respect for her, I did. The girl continued her verbal onslaught.
“Like I said, I’m glad he’s dead. . .” she said and seemed to smile even more brightly.
One of the girls in my class, Florinda Davila, could not stay quiet. Strongly and confidently, she challenged the statements by her classmates.

“You shouldn’t be saying that,” she told her. “This is a national tragedy. A man has died, a very import man has died, and we have to show respect.”

A verbal argument ensued. Florinda essentially told her she was not a good person because of her feelings.

“This is America,” she answered. “I can feel any way I want.”

Florinda said, “Feel it, but keep it to yourself. We’re embarrassed by you and what you have said.”

The boys in the class just sat and watched now. Florinda and other girls were showing much courage to speak up. Ironically, the teacher, also a woman, let the discussion progress. Later, she would say it was one of the best classes she had taught.

The questioning had now turned to glares toward the offending student. The other girls had moved their torso forward as if challenging the offending student to say more derogatory statements about our dead president, a hero to many. Most of us were Catholic and having a Catholic elected president was like a blessing from God. Most of our families had pictures of the young president right up there with the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Virgen de Guadalupe. A photo of President Kennedy, it is safe to say, was in almost 90 percent of the homes of Catholic or Mexicano homes in my hometown. He was in our living rooms and dining rooms. He was part of the family. Now, he was dead. I understood why we, and especially the girls, were offended by the derogatory statements about Kennedy and the vile disrespect for our dead president. It had been about 20 minutes now and the discussion ensued.

Then, there was silence. David Alamaraz, my friend and one of the leaders of the school, breathed a sigh of relief and looked at me. He, too, like me, had wanted to get involved, but decided to say silent. The silence was eerie. The disgruntled student face started to change. She turned red, as red as the fruit at the Poteet Strawberry Festival just north of our town.
Suddenly, she burst out and said. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” and fell to her knees, pleading for forgiveness.

Florinda had her now and answered, “How can we forgive you for what you said. You hurt all of us.”

David and I looked at each other, stunned at the candor of Florinda and the other girls who were agreeing with her.

The disgruntled young woman had one more, “I’m sorry!” in her before getting up and sprinting into the hallway toward the girls’ restroom, letting out sobs reminiscent of those of the legendary “La Llorona (Crying Woman)” of South Texas lore.

Without hesitation, Florinda and all the girls in the class ran after her.

At that point, we (the boys and the teacher) did not know what was going to happen. They never returned. We spent the rest of the afternoon listening to radio broadcast updates on the assassination. We learned a Texan, vice president Lyndon B. Johnson, was our new president. Some of us had portable black-and-white TVs in the class, and saw First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy sobbing, her dress stained with her husband’s blood.

We went home in a daze, when the final bell rang. A period of mourning had started for us and the nation and we would never be the same again – never. For the next week, there was no music, no parties, no fiestas and if you had a backyard barbecue, it was in the most modest of ways, even in deep South Texas.

As of the girls who fled after the disgruntled one in our classroom, I did not see them until the football game that Friday. The disgruntled girls was in the band, and seemed okay. Florinda was in the band, too, and they were talking. Life went on and, in Texas, so did football….but that’s another story.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

RIP Tío Juan Rocha - 1937/2011

A death in the family is something that is not easy to deal with.

Memories of the lost loved one flow through the memories of the surviving relatives like the water of the Nueces River heading toward the Gulf of Mexico. Like the rapid rush on that water, the memories feel one's consciousness like an overflowing bank at the edge of the bay and resonate into one's being with the fact that there is no stopping the obvious - the water will rush over the bank and into the

Gulf and your relative will not be around any more. But that doesn't negate the feelings one has about that lost relative. No rushing water can erase memories.

Tía Clelia Chapa Rocha (pictured above) certainly has wonderful feelings about the relationship she had with her husband, Juan Rocha, my Tío Juan (a.k.a. Johnny). More than 50 years of marriage and sharing a wonderful memory have solidified those memories into family icons that will last generations.

Juan Rocha passed away Oct. 24, 2011, after a courageous battle with several illnesses. To the end, he was Juan Rocha - brilliant, vibrant and alive. Juan Rocha was and continues to be one of the most important persons of the 20th century in South Texas, Kingsville, Texas A&I, San Antonio, the state and nation. He had a brilliant mind and wrote a book of poetry titled "Sin Nombre...Sin Cara (Without a name or a face) that chronicled his experiences and those of the Mexican American in South Texas. He loved reading books of all kinds - from philosophy to novels - and was as knowledgeable person on the art of South Texas, Texas and national politics as there was in the nation. The friendships he forged during a political and legal career that spanned half a century were lasting and enduring and served as a beacon for his loving and caring character.

Juan Rocha, a.k.a. Johnny, was a legend at Texas A&I (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville). He was involved in everything from student government to helping with the distribution of the South Texan student newspaper as its circulation manager. At A&I, he participated in the Little United Nations summit in Dallas. He was a member of the Alpha Chi national honor society, the Spanish Club, was named to Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities and was an officer in both his freshmen and senior classes.

Yet, all those accomplishments - like the water rushing toward the Gulf - may seem to be gone and, forgotten.

That's the feeling I got when I heard that my Tío Juan Rocha had passed away in the Rio Grande Valley. He was 74. Let me assure you, his legacy at Texas A&I, as a qualified and skilled attorney, as an advocate for civil rights for all and as a friend and family man will never be forgotten.

Tío Juan was an intellectual gentleman, un caballero de primera clase, who always seemed to be there with the wit and knowledge elders always bring to a conversation or a dinner table. Thing is, he had this wit and knowledge even as a young man and his academic and Socratic way of thinking always had a way of making you think twice before you spoke. If there was a riddle or a problem to be solved, no matter what the situation, Tío Juan was there and back with an answer before any one got his or her cognitive motors (thinking caps) going.

Yes, Tío Juan Rocha was unique. He was an honest and God-fearing man who never once had an ill-thought about people and always took the high road. Please, forgive me, but this is fact and not just lip service.

His career as a civil rights advocate and attorney would be as pristine as the fresh water streaming down from the Rocky Mountains and his valor reached heights few could imagine. He was a true advocate for civil liberties throughout his life. He participated in the Missouri civil rights movement, the Chicano Movement in Texas and in multiple marches in support of the rights for migrant workers. He loved politics and held several office in student government both in high school and college. While living in San Antonio in the 1960s, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for Bexar County Commissioner. There is an iconic campaign photo of him standing on top of a Pearl Beer case of beer placed on top of a pool table as he rallied for votes. He might not have won, but the message was not lost. Juan Rocha could communicate with any segment of the community and he was a true representative of the Mexican American people. He was - he always was - ready to lead.

Tío Juan was married to my aunt, Clelia, my mom's sister. I first met him in the 1950s when he was a student at Texas A&I in Kingsville and he was dating my aunt. My grandfather, Pedro G. Chapa, and I went to Kingsville to visit them and also to catch a Javelina football game. On the way from Hebbronville to Kingsville, my grandfather told me to not be surprised at the way I would be treated by the people in Kingsville. He warned me I could experience racism and discrimination from some. And then he told me, "But there are good people in Kingsville." I didn't know quite what to expect and said, "Esta bien (Well, okay), 'buelo."

Growing up in Hebbronville, experiencing discrimination and racism was rare. Hispanics and Anglos got along fine, 'cause we all had to work for a living. I can only remember three instances of true discrimination in my lifetime in Hebbronville and one was against an Anglo kid who felt he didn't make the Little League All-Star team 'cause the coach wanted more Mexicanos.

I asked my grandfather why he was so hesitant about visiting A&I and he revealed an incident that happened to Tío Juan which has now become part of family lore and somewhat of an urban legend. But, it's true and well-documented.

It seems that Tío Juan loved politics. The politics of the time were rife with word of civil rights. Several lawsuits had been filed in nearby Driscoll, Mathis and Bishop and in Del Rio asking for civil rights and equal education and opportunity for Mexican Americans. In Corpus Christi, the headquarters for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a new civil rights organization titled the American G.I. Forum and headed by a dynamic young doctor named Hector P. Garcia was making rumblings of protests demanding equal rights, especially for veterans. Emotions on civil rights and equal opportunities for Mexican Americans were reaching a fever pitch. It was in this atmosphere that a young Juan Rocha decided to run for Student Government president at then Texas A&I. Things went well for a while, but when some of the Anglo students saw he had a chance to win, things got ugly. Name-calling, rude and crude signs demeaning Juan Rocha's ethnicity started to appear on campus. Some of the signs asked that he and his "witch" of a girlfriend drop out of college and go home (perhaps to Mexico?). Most of the signs were taken down by college officials, but the insults persisted as the election drew closer. The ultimate insult came when Tío Juan Rocha was hung in effigy from one of the women's dorms. It had all the makings of a KKK activity. Yet, it was dismissed as a prank by co-eds. Juan lost that election, but he did not lose in life or dignity or his desire to fight for civil and human rights for all Americans.

He graduated from Texas A&I in 1959,did graduate work at the Unversity of Missouri, and went on to get his law degree, graduating Magna Cum Laude from St. Mary's University in 1969. His law career would take him all over the nation. He would hold offices in Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and McAllen in Texas. He would also have offices in Virginia, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Iowa. He would serve in both private practice and as a lobbyist. He would make his mark as a civil rights lawyer and worked for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) for several years.

When MALDEF opened the Washington D.C. office in 1972 to keep abreast of federal policies, programs and grant funds, and be visible to federal policymakers, Juan Rocha was there. He was the organization's first associate counsel in Washington, D.C. Prior to that he had served as a staff attorney for the San Antonio office since 1968. Ironically, it was Tío Juan who defended the protesters in Kignsville in 1969 when A&I students (and some from Gillette Middle School) called for equal housing opportunities and better education for university and public school students in Kleberg County. He would advise the protesters not only on their civil rights, but on how to peaceably conduct their protests within the law. One of the ironices of the protests of that day was that, after he helped the students bond of jail, he was physically assaulted on the parking lot of the Holiday Inn. No one found out who did it, but it was a message to not mess with the politicsof his hometown of Kingsville. He wasn't hurt. He came back stronger than ever and soon helped the student organizations ask for open housing ordinances for the university and the city of Kingsville.

While Juan Rocha took on many cases during his 50-year career as an attorney, it was his early work with MALDEF that he was most proud of, he revealed to me last Christmas. He felt he had a role in developing the philosophy and agenda for MALDEF. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) is a national non-profit civil rights organization formed in 1968 to protect the rights of Latinos in the United States. It was founded in San Antonio with the help of LULAC and funded by the Ford Foundation. It is now headquartered in Los Angeles, California and maintains regional offices in Sacramento, San Antonio, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.

In its first few years, the time when Juan Rocha was a lead attorney in San Antonio, MALDEF handled mostly legal-aid cases. Then MALDEF took part in employment discrimination and school funding cases, including Supreme Court cases through friend-of-the-court briefs. Demetrio Rodriguez et al. v. San Antonio Independent School District was a defeat, with the court ruling against equal financing of education. White, et al. v. Regester, et al. was an important victory. The case created single-member districts for Texas county, city council, and school board districts, ending at-large voting that had weakened minority voting power. In 1989 MALDEF won in Edgewood Independent School District v. State of Texas. The Texas Supreme Court found the state's financing of education unconstitutional and ordered the legislature to change it. This led to the “Robin Hood” funding system, where wealthier school districts had to give to a fund for poorer districts. This did not lead to educational equality, though, since wealthy districts could choose to spend even more on themselves. We are still fighting this issue in public education and, although it is not resolved, it was attorneys like Juan Rocha who brought it to light.

MALDEF also set up an education-litigation project, filed on behalf of undocumented parents’ children barred from public schools. In Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court held these children protected by the due-process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Ironically, that Supreme Court decision is now being challenged by the Alabama anti-Hispanic immigrant laws.

Then, in LULAC et al. v. Richards et al., a 1987 class-action lawsuit charged the State of Texas with discrimination against Mexican Americans in South Texas because of inadequate funding of colleges. In the University of Texas system, the UT campus in Austin (historically the campus attended by more children of the state’s elites) actually received more funding than all other campuses combined, at the time. The jury did not find the state guilty of discrimination, but did find the legislature failed to establish "first-class" colleges and universities elsewhere in the state. Looking to avoid further embarrassing suits, the legislature passed the South Texas Initiative to improve University of Texas System schools in Brownsville, Edinburg, San Antonio and El Paso and Texas A&M University System branches in Corpus Christi, Laredo and Kingsville. The Border Region Higher Education Council helped pass the legislation and monitored the program's progress. Those discussions, Tío Juan told me, had started as early as 1970, but it took courage, organization and foresight to file them at the right time. Of course, we are still waiting for that "first-class" education....

MALDEF's early years were significant, and Juan Rocha was there. He was one of the "militant" young lawyers the Ford Foundation donors did not like. In fact, they disliked the Texas "militants" so much they would move the headquarters from San Antonio to California before the organization's 10th anniversary. As they say, "con dinero baila el chango, (the monkey will dance for money)," but not Tío Juan. His last years with the organization were spent with him fighting for equal opportunity for higher education in South Texas.

One of the highlights of his stay in Washington was getting an invitation and attending the 1977 Inauguration Ball for Jimmy Carter. He and his son, Mark Rocha, attended the ball that also was attended by John Lennon and his wife Yoko.


Yes, imagine the life a young attorney from South Texas traveling the country in search of the truth and fighting for civil rights for all people of this great country. Imagine Tío Juan in the shadows of all the wonderful monuments in Washington, D.C., looking up at the capitol or Lincoln's Memorial and saying "I too can make a difference."

Imagine Tío Juan coming back to his South Texas roots and settling into a law career in the Rio Grande Valley where he could again serve his people with dignity and respect and continue to serve as an example of a life well-lived and a role model for all.

Imagine an elderly gentleman - 74, but with a wise and brilliant mind - reviewing the memories of a long and distinguished career and saying simply, "Es tiempo (It's time)." In the end, his illnesses may have betrayed his brilliant mind, but not his brilliant heart and soul. I still believe that, even at the end, he could have outwitted us all. That sly smile he had would make you think twice about his life and yours as if to ask, "So you think this is the end?"

Imagine a life without Juan Rocha.

I can't.

He was always there for our family, an iconic figure that would attend family gatherings with the wit and charm of a Greek philosopher and the wisdom of a true older Mexicano - proud, orgulloso y con mucha dignidad (proud and with a lot of dignity). That's why the memories of his impact on me, our family, South Texas, the state and nation will continue to flow through my mind, and those of other family members, like a thunderous wall of water heading toward the Gulf of Mexico - energized, powerful and full of life. And, no drought can put an end to that flow....the memories are unique, lasting and powerful. Like Tío Juan, they are full of life.

Descansa en paz (Rest in peace), Tío Juan.

And, just imagine the difference you made in our lives.

Imagine. . . .


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Javelina Football Memory Lane

Note: Some of the Javelina football greats include Gene Upshaw, Sid Blanks, Randy Johnson, Johnny Bailey, Dwayne Nix, Heath Sherman and Karl Douglas. They are pictured here.

For the South Texas football fan, a visit to Javelina Stadium on the campus of Texas A&M University-Kingsville during a football Saturday is not one that will soon be forgotten.

Every year and every game there seems to be some hero or standout player who rises above the green gridiron turf and sparkles with greatness that transcends generations and eras.

For me, those memories started in 1957 when my aunt Clelia Chapa was attending college at then Texas A&I. My grandfather, Pedro G. Chapa, would bring me to football games. It was here where I first heard the Javelina Marching Band trumpets blaring the Jalisco fight song inspiring the team to greatness on the field.

I still, sometimes, get goose bumps when I hear Jalisco echoing off the stands in Javelina Stadium.

My first visit to Javelina Stadiium was in 1957 and I saw Joe Holcomb, a prep star from nearby Freer, rip apart opponent defenses while soaring for yardage up and down the field on punt returns. He was unstoppable as he blew past the yard markers with the ease of South Texas bred mustang rolling down the prickly pear studded terrain. Holcomb, in the three years he played for the Javelinas, would become the all-time leader in punt return average for a career, averaging more than 19 yards per punt return and scoring numerous touchdowns. He still holds that mark. Remarkable.

That visit got me hooked. From that point on I would ask my grandfather if he was going to Kingsville to the game. We continued the tradition long after my aunt graduated. It was during that time I decided I would come to Texas A&I and, ironically, because I read the headlines and stories on the Sunday Corpus Christi Caller-Times the day after the game, to become a sports writer and follow the Javelinas. I was lucky I realized that dream and much more here on what I will always call my home campus - now Texas A&M-Kingsville. I have had wonderful times on campus, but the football memories are the ones that linger because they border on legend and greatness. Yes, Javelina football and Javelina Stadium will always be equated with greatness.

Simply put, the memories are wonderful and the players great. I can’t begin to name all of the players, but I will give a chronological listing of the players whom I fell stood out and whom made an impact that lasted – as I said earlier – beyond generations and eras.

Sid Blanks, an African-American running back from Del Rio, had to be one of the best to ever don the blue-and-gold of A&I. He was a first-class scatback that revolutionized offensive play in the Lone Star Conference. He was the first black football player in the LSC. He was All-American twice and made the all-conference four times. He set numerous records while with the Javelinas, both conference and school marks, and led the team in rushing in 1960, 1961 and 1963; in scoring in 1960, 1961 and 1963, led the team in receiving in 1961 and 1963. 
He led the LSC in rushing in 1960 and 1961 and was the top scorer in 1960. Blanks was an unbelievable player, one with character and courage who overcame many cases of discrimination just so he could help the Javelinas win. Under Coach Gil Steinke, the Javelinas won the LSC title in 1960 and 1962, During Blanks tenure with the Hogs, A&I was 29-7-2. Blanks went to a stellar career for several pro football teams.

There were others just as valiant and exciting to watch.

One was Randy Johnson, from San Antonio, the first great quarterback I saw at Javelina Stadium. He had a sling shot for an arm. The football would come out of his hand like a whip and zing across the field in a blur. It was hard for the receivers to hold on to the ball. Often it went right through their hands and hit them on the shoulder pads or helmet. When Johnson was off target, the ball would hit the Javelina Stadium turf and leave a divot on the ground. I still remember the managers going back at halftime to replace the grass that had popped out after an errant Johnson pass. Johnson died a horribly in 2009, alone and broke, but his legacy as a Javelina standout will live on forever. In a run-oriented era (1962-1965), he passed for 4,350 yards and 34 touchdowns and ranks in the top 10 in both categories for the Javelinas. He was the first quarterback for the then expansion Atlanta Falcons and helped that franchise gain stability in the NFL.

The 1960s were full of standout Javelina football players. One that definitely stood out was Eugene Upshaw, from nearby Robstown. Upshaw was a giant of a man destined for greatness in the college and pro ranks. He was immovable as an offensive lineman and the Javelina running backs would gladly tuck in behind him and ramble for yardage during those mid-1960s when Javelina football was king in South Texas. Upshaw was an All-America and All-Conference and went to become All-Pro and served as executive director of the National Football League Players Association. He had a couple of nickname at the time “Thud" and "Tut." Few remember them, but "thud" was the sound that was made when he led the Javelinas on a power sweep and he took out the opponent defensive end or linebacker. “Thud” would be heard and the stands would go "ooooh" as “Big Gene” motored around Javelina Stadium. "Tut" was more of a reference to King Tut, and Gene certainly was the King of Javelina Stadium during his tenure here.

The mid-1960s also produced one of the all-time great receivers in Javelina football history – Dwayne Nix. Nix, from nearby Ricardo, was neiher big nor quick. All he did was catch the football. He was the ultimate “possession receiver,” snaring 127 passes for 1,676 yards during his four years as a Javelina. He was a three-time Associated Press Little All-America and twice All-Lone Star Conference player. He concluded his career as the record holder of most of the school's receiving marks. He was elected to the All-Lone Star Conference team of the 1960s, was named a member of the Texas A&I 50th Anniversary team, and was elected to the Javelina Hall of Fame. After he left Texas A&I, he began a military career in the Marine Corps.

Around that same era came two great quarterbacks.

One was Karl Douglas, the first African-American quarterback for the Javelinas. Simply put, there were no other Black quarterbacks round in the South. Between 1967 and 1970, Douglas led the Javelinas to four Lone Star Conference championships and two national titles while posting a remarkable 41-4-0 record. Douglas is still the all-time career passing and touchdown passing leader for the Javelinas. During his All-America career, he completed 401 of 759 passes for 5,996 yards and 54 touchdowns. Douglas, from Houston, went on to a stellar career in the Canadian Football League.
Then, there was the irrepressible Richard Ritchie, the little engine that could. Between 1973 to 1976, he took the Javelinas on an unbelievable journey. As a quarterback, Ritchie had a record of 39-0. After winning in his only start during his freshman year of 1973, he would lead Texas A&I to three consecutive National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Division I national championships. Between passing and running, he scored 60 touchdowns in his career. He is third all-time in total yards with 6,884 yards.

Then came the running back era for the Javelinas. Whoa! You talk about excitement. These were great.

Larry Collins was the first great running back of the modern era (past 40 years). Between 1974 and 1977, he rushed for 5,300 yards and 54 touchdowns, good for second all-time on the Javelina leader list. He would team with fullback Don Hardeman to terrorize defenses. Collins had 27 games of 100 yards or more rushing while Hardeman had 10. Together, they were “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” and they led the Hogs to a 37-0 record. Both went to pro football careers. Hardeman would crash the defense inside and Collins would ramble outside. Together, they were unstoppable. Both went on to successful pro football careers.

If they were great, the next dynamic duo were simply fabulous – Johnny Bailey and Heath Sherman. Between 1985 and 1988, they were simply the best in the nation. Bailey was a three-time Harlon Hill winner and rushed for 6,900 yards, 72 touchdowns and averaged 164.3 yards per carry. Sherman averaged 114.2 yards per carry and rushed for 5,140 yards and 69 touchdowns. Bailey had 36 100-plus rushing games and Sherman 26. They were simply unstoppable.

Another running back who would follow the footsteps of greatness was Larry Williams between 2001 and 2004. Williams would rush for 4,060 yards and 44 touchdowns.

Great receivers were also plentiful. The most outstanding came between 1966 and 1976 when the likes of Nix, Dwight Harrison, Eldridge Small, David Hill and Glenn Starks rambled up and down Javelina Stadium like a flock of gazelles in the African savannah. Starks and Harrison are still the career touchdown leaders with 30 each. Just this year, Ryan Lincoln, who signed with the New York Giants briefly this season, broke Starks' reception record. Lincoln has 210 catches after Starks held the record for more than 40 years. Starks still holds the single-season touchdown-reception record with 14.

The defense definitely had its stars, too. Who can forget John Randle, who joined Gene Upshaw in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his days as Javelina. Randle was ferocious and still holds the quarterback sack career mark with 36 and in 1988 he had 22. He was great and destined for greatness. This past season, a young man named Matt Romig reminded me of Randle's play. Romig, who fell ill at mid-season and did not return, had 12 sacks in two years. Too bad, he too had greatness written all over him. Other great ones, in my book, include Robert Young (1969), David Palmore (1977), Andy Hawkins (1979), Jimmy Rivera (1982), Chris Hensely (1995), and Deandre Fillmore (2005).

Others who played defensive backs and linebackers cannot be ignored. Perhaps the greatest athlete to play for the Javelinas was Levi Johnson (1969-1972), who went on to star for the Detroit Lions. Johnson still holds the Javelinas interception mark with 22 and he still holds the return yardage record as well. Other greats in this area were Ed Scott (1967-1970), whose spinal cord injury ended perhaps a great pro career as well, Durwood Ruquemore (1978-1981), Leonard Avery (1973-1976), and Maurice Smith (1987-1989)

Then, there were the punt returners. What a crew that was. Some will say, and without argument here, that Darrell Green (1978-1982) , who went on to Pro Football Hall of Fame career with the Washington Redskins, was the best and most exciting. Agreed. Green was sensational. At any time he had the ball he could score and just soar past potential tacklers. However, between 1965 and 1968 a diminutive defensive back named Larry Pullin energized the Javelina fans with his consistent work at punt returns. Pullin leads, confortably, in career punt return yardage. Statistically, and in many ways, Pullin was the best. Now, this season, we have Jonathan Woodson who is threatening to become the best.

More recently, the quarterbacks have taken the sportling.

Abel Gonzalez (1999-2002) became the second all-time leading passer with 5,905 yards and 51 touchdowns. Gonzalez simply was an expert field general and a leader off the spread or pro set formations.
Billy Garza was the last great gunner. In a scant two years, became the third all-time passing leader with 5,498 yards and 40 touchdowns. Seeing Billy fling the ball was reminescent of Randy Johnson.

And, that's as it should be. That’s the beauty of Javelina football. The great players of the past are more than memories, they are idols and figures to be emmulated and aiming for their records is part of the greatness of Javelina football.

Greatness has always been associated with Javelina football.The memories run long and deep. When you see this year’s star, it will rekindle memories of years past. Or, if you’re new to Javelina football, you will start making your own memories.
And, in years to come you will say, Javelina Football is a true South Texas legend and stories of greatness abound.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Battle of Medina - A True Tejano Revolution Celebrated its anniversary Aug. 18

Note: Pictured here are Dan Arrellano in a 19th century Tejano costume with replica of the Emerald Green flag of the Tejano Republican Army of the North who died valiantly in the Battle of Medina, the reenactors from this year's remembrance of the battle and the state historical marker.

How long have Tejanos been fighting for liberty and freedom in this land we call Texas?

Most of us are familiar with the battles at the Alamo and Goliad when thousands of Tejanos joined ranks with Gen. Sam Houston, William Travis, Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett to help oust the treacherous Mexican government of Gen. Santa Anna. That was in 1836. Few of us, however, are familiar with our battle for freedom against Spain, the country that controlled Texas and much of the American Southwest for several centuries. That struggle started in the late 18th century and reached its peak in the early 19th century. Tejanos - the first European settlers of Texas and the first to "mingle" with the indigenous population of the American southwest and what is now Mexico - wanted independence from Spanish tyranny.

Author and Tejano historian Dan Arrellano from San Antonio, has done an admirable job of reminding us that the Tejanos' quest for liberty and justice from oppression predates the Battle of the Alamo and the soverigninty of Mexico in Texas. Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. There were battles for freedom here in this land well before that date.

For a brief shining moment, Texas was a "republica" pre-dating the Republic of Texas of Gen. Sam Houston. In 1812, Tejanos fed up with Spanish (not Mexican) rule rebelled. Arrellano's research reveals that on April 7, 1812 the Republican Army of the North crossed the Sabine River into Spanish Texas. Flying the Emerald Green Flag of Liberty, these Tejanos ensued in a journey across Texas that would see them claim victories over Spain in several key battles. Don José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara and William Augustus Magee, supported by 142 American and 158 Tejano volunteers, invaded Spanish territory with the aim of forming a new government. The rag tag army would be successful in every battle and every skirmish against Spain, beginning with the capture of Nacogdoches, Trinidad, the four-month siege of the presidio in Goliad, the Battle of Rosillio, the capture of San Antonio and the Battle of Alazan. After victory in San Antonio, there was a declaration of independence for the State of Texas under the Republic of Mexico on April 6, 1813.

But Arrellano reminds us that, unfortunately, Spain was still a super power in the early 19th century and it would only be a matter of time before it squahed the upstart rebellion. Spain would send an army of its best to take on the Tejano rebels. Gen. Joaquín de Arredondo, commandant-general of the Provincias Internas (Internal Provices of Spain) of the Spanish government, organized an army of 1,838 men and marched them early in August from Laredo toward San Antonio to quell the rebellion.

On August 18, 1813, the Tejano Republicans Army of the North set out to fight in what would become the biggest and bloodiest battle ever fought on Texas soil - “The Battle of Medina.”

The upstart army, consisting of approximately 300 Americans, one to two hundred Native Americans and eight to nine hundred Tejanos were tired from the continuos skirmishes agaisnt the Spanish, but willing to stand up and fight for freedom. The Tejanos - in particular - were determined.

They would encounter a well-trained and disciplined Spanish Royalist Army. The Tejano Republicans were ambushed and out of the 1,400 only one hundred would survive. The bodies of soldiers killed in battle were left where they fell. It would be nine years before their bones were gathered and buried in a communal grave.

Ninety of the survivors would be Americans, which proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that the ones with the most to lose would fight the hardest for freedom were the Tejanos and their Native American allies. The Tejanos and their indigenous brothers stood and fought to the last man. "This battle raged on for about four hours with our Tejanos, like Leonidas at Thermopylae, determined to achieve victory or die trying," Arrellano writes on the research of the account of the battle. Little did any one realize the sacrifice these men would pay would be the ultimate.

After the battle, the victorious Spanish Army marched into San Antonio where 500 additional Tejanos would be arrested and crammed into a make shift prison. The Spanish were furious and wanted to not only quell the revolt, but send a message to the residents of Texas that Spanish rule was supreme. Spanish military records show that 17 of those jailed, suffocated in the scorching heat of night. The next day several would be released, as a show of leniency from the Spanish crown, but to also spread the word that there would be consequences. Soon, 327 Tejanos who remained in jail would be executed. Three a day would from be taken out and shot, beheaded then their heads were placed on spikes and displayed around the square (what is now Market Square in San Antoino) for all to see as a lesson to those who dared rise up against Spanish rule.

Arrellano writes that no one would be spared the wrath of General Arredondo, not even the women and children. Ironically, one of the Spanish Royalist officers was a young lieutenant named Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Of course, he would return to San Antonio in 1836 with his Mexican Army to quell yet another rebellion by Texans and Tejanos.

Spanish military records show, according to Arrellano, that approximately 300 of the wives, mothers and daughters of the Tejanos would be imprisoned. He reports that many of them would be brutally and repeatedly raped, several dying as a result of the brutality. The women were forced on their knees from 4 in the morning till 10 at night to grind the corn to make the tortillas to feed the despised Spanish Army. And through the windows of their make shift prison the mothers could see their children searching for food and shelter on the street which became Dolorosa St.

The Battle of Medina is historic.

It showed that these new settlers of Texas were people of courage, foresight and discipline. They were a special breed, whose descendants would survive this and other atrocities the world would throw at them in the 19th and 20th centuries. It showed that this new breed of settler - The Tejano - would not stand still and allow to be ruled by despots and cowards who did not value human life or freedom. In short, their sacrifice - both men and women - in the Battle of Medina and in the streets of San Antonio would foreshadow the downfall of Spain in the new world and eventually lead to the formation of Texas. Their courage foreshawdowed the fight for equality that would lead to the the Catarino Garza rebellion in the late 19th century, the Plan de San Diego revolt in the early 20th century, the formation of organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens and the American G.I. Forum in 1917 and 1948, respectivley, and the Chicano Youth Movement and revolution of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. It foreshawdowed the descendants of Tejanos finally been able to seek justice, freedom and educatioin in the state their forefathers helped find and hone and it signalled to all that we can never let our guard down. We must always find for our freedom, dignity and respect.

Arrellano writes, "Short-lived as it may have been, this Republic was a real Republic and this was a real revolution, a revolution of the people, by the people, and for the people and these were our ancestors, and to this day they have remained unknown and unrecognized for their ultimate sacrifice."

In the San Antonio area, several associations celebrate the Battle of Medina. The celbration is usually around what is now the community of Medina Valley, south of San Antonio. Re-enactments of the battle are common. Words are spoking about valor and roots. This is wonderful, but we should do more.

This battle is an important part of Texas history and should be taught to our children. It cannot be found in the history books. It is the "bloodiest battle" ever fought on Texas soil. It represented a struggle for freedom that is still with us today. It's time we recognize this battle and make it part of our every day conversations about the Lone Star State.

Texas history did not start with Davy Crockett (John Wayne) and the Alamo. It started with the indigenous who were here, the Tejanos who helped tame the land and their ancestors who survived atrocity after atrocity to make sure they could stay and live in the land we call Texas.