He started out playing baseball and basketball for La Joya High School before earning scholarships to pay his way through Texas Southmost College and the Pan American University.
Now the athletic director of La Joya Independent School District, Garza said he leads a different type of team, but a team nonetheless.
“Above all, our team has a big impact on the greater team of the district, which is working for overall academic success,” Garza said. “Athletics, fine arts and UIL academics— we’re the No. 1 dropout prevention programs.”
Garza will be honored during the Texas High School Athletic Directors Association state conference, March 1-5, as Athletic Administrator of the Year for Region VII. This is only the second year for the awards, which honor one athletic director from each of the association’s eight regions. Region VII stretches from west of the Laredo area down through the Rio Grande Valley and north past Corpus Christi.
Each athletic director in the region’s association gets a vote. Sharyland ISD Athletic Director Richard Thompson was selected as last year’s honoree. Garza said the honor isn’t about wins and losses, it’s about activity within the association and leadership skills.
Randy Cretors, Harlingen CISD athletic director and regional director for the association, said Garza has done a lot for the association and is as deserving as any other Valley athletic director.
“He’s one of those guys who goes above and beyond the call of duty,” Cretors said. “It’s about the kids as far as he’s concerned. He’s very well deserving of the honor. It’s awesome.”
It took three weeks for Garza to tell his wife he’d been selected for the award.
LJISD athletic director’s office staff didn’t even know.
“I’m not going to pat myself on my back, but do we feel good when things like this happen? Yes,” Garza said. “I definitely appreciate it.”
Athletics have always been important to Garza, the youngest of seven children. He first got involved in La Joya sports in third grade when he served as manager and ball boy on the teams for which his older brothers played.
He played Little League in La Joya while he could and when that ended, he played in Mission, often hitching a ride with a teacher, loading up his bicycle to take with him, so he could ride back to his home in Peñitas after practice.
As a freshman at La Joya High School, Garza played varsity baseball under Coach Leonel Casas, winning a district title.
Garza graduated from La Joya High School in 1985 and went to Texas Southmost College on an athletic scholarship. He was named an all-star his first year. Then, he went to Pan American University as a walk-on for the baseball team with the understanding that if he made the team, he’d get a scholarship. He did.
“People tell me, ‘Oh, you were a good baseball player,’” Garza said. “I was an average baseball player. I had luck, and like I tell people, to win, you need luck.”
Garza earned a degree in kinesiology with a health minor and started his coaching career in Mercedes for four years before Casas brought him home to La Joya as an assistant coach. Two years later he was promoted to head coach. That’s when his wife asked Garza what he wanted to be.
“Do you just want to be a head coach? Are you happy?” she asked.
“She pushed me,” Garza said, “and I ended up getting my graduate work. I was a head coach the first year taking night courses, a brand-new daddy and trying to get a program going in the right direction.”
And in 1999 Garza and his team brought home La Joya High School’s first 5A district title. It also was the first district title in 20 years, since Garza’s freshmen year playing baseball. They were a 3A school at that time.
Garza tells his students to expect to win. Even if they don’t, they’ll come close, he said, and they’ll get better.
Garza said his role as an administrator means organized chaos as he prepared to oversee two track meets on the same weekend.
“I don’t miss the rehearsals, the practices, the dirt and all that,” he said. “I miss the playoffs. I miss the preparations. I miss the games. I miss the intensity. I miss the decision-making at the spur of the moment, the difference of winning and losing. I miss the kids, but I love what I do.”
He still relishes being part of a team, though now the members include adults, not student athletes. Together they work with the rest of the school district to prepare students for life after high school.
“When kids leave here, I want them to know how to handle adversity,” Garza said. “I want them to be able to cope with crucial situations or decision-making. I want athletics to have taught them how to handle the tough times.
“We always keep in mind that students are first. I think that as long as we keep that motto in mind, we can’t go wrong.”