Forty five years ago La Joya High junior Noe Hernandez became the first track and field state champion in La Joya Independent School District (LJISD) history when he ran the 880-yard dash in a time of 1:55.9 to finish just milliseconds ahead of the second place finisher. This past Saturday, La Joya Palmview High junior Felipe Valencia became the second member of LJISD’s exclusive state champions club when he threw the shot put 60 feet 5 1/4 inches to take the gold medal at the state track and field meet in Austin.
It was Valencia’s first of six throws that stood up against the stiffest of competition to give the 5 foot 7 inch, 230 lb. district, area and regional champion the edge over the rest of the field and earned him the right to add the title of state champion to his already impressive track and field resume – a resume which includes being a state silver medalist last year as a sophomore.
“My best throw was in the preliminaries. It was my first throw of the day and I was just going for a new personal record and while that did not happen I’m still happy with the results,” said Valencia.
While Valencia set a personal record of 62 feet at the regional meet two weeks prior to the state meet, his achievement as state champion is his greatest accomplishment.
“I’ve known Felipe for three or four years,” Hernandez said. “Last year when he came in second I knew that he was coming close so I kept giving him advice. I told him what to expect this year and while I was not able to make it to Austin to see him compete in person I spoke to him on the phone and I told him to represent himself and his school as best he could.”
“It’s an honor to be a state champion,” added Hernandez. “I told Felipe that he might not feel it now but it’s something special that I’ve been feeling for 45 years. Everybody here in La Joya that’s about my age knows me as the state champion and now I use my story to let the kids know what that means.”
Valencia is still waiting for it all to sink in.
“It really didn’t hit me when I won the gold medal,” said Valencia. “It hasn’t even hit me now. I’m sure that what this all means is going to hit me someday, but for now it just feels like I won another meet.”
Hernandez has not only remained an avid supporter of the La Joya track and field program over the past 45 years but he has taken a special interest in Felipe since he was in junior high. Having a gold medal winner as a mentor has helped Valencia realize that anything is possible. Hearing Hernandez share how it’s affected his life has helped him to recognize the fact that he has just accomplished something that he will always be able to take pride in.
“His stories about how he won the state championship have motivated me,” explained Valencia. “Knowing that he is a state champ and now I am a state champ too is something that I will be able to share with others and tell my children someday too.”
Valencia had his own cheering section with him at the state meet Saturday in the form of his parents and his sister Irasema who was a 2004 shot put regional qualifier for the La Joya Lady Coyotes. He also had his two coaches, Lobos head boys track and field coach Margarito Requenez and his throwing coach Sebastian Duque, there for support and to offer him last minute advice.
“My family has been very supportive of me,” said Valencia. “They were very excited and proud when I won. Coach Duque was there with me as I was throwing and after I won he went up to me, hugged me and told me that I had done it.”
As for what the state championship means to a coach, to Palmview High School and to the town of La Joya, Coach Requenez helped put it all into perspective.
“To me personally it means a lot to have coached a state champion in my first year as the head coach,” Requenez said. “I know coaches who have coached for 20 to 30 years and they have never been there. This was very exciting for me. I’m very proud of Felipe and hopefully, he’ll be able to go back-to-back next year.”
“As for what it means to our school and to La Joya, it means a lot,” added Requenez. “I knew somebody else had won, but I had no idea that it had been 45 years. The school is very proud of him as is the entire community.”
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.