Player after player can recall times they drew the ire of famed Mission High basketball coach Roy Garcia.
“Dang it!” he’d yell from the sidelines, white towel in hand, before sitting down in a huff.
That’s when they knew they had to step it up, and they did. In Garcia’s 28-year reign as the Eagles’ coach, the team went to the playoffs 15 times, winning three bi-district titles and one area title. The Eagles won 10 district titles. Now coaching PSJA Southwest’s boys team, Garcia’s overall record is 712-516, a 58.0 winning percentage.
For all his accomplishments, Garcia was named to the Texas High School Coaches Association’s Hall of Honor last week, and the Mission City Council issued a proclamation in his honor on Monday.
The recent accolades prompted Garcia’s son, Rosman, to gather letters of congratulations from family, friends and former players of the coach, and though the letters mention plenty of “Dang it!” exclamations, it’s clear Garcia’s influence stretched far beyond the basketball court.
A father figure
Garcia was there for the birth of the daughter of Gabby Garza, class of ’76.
Fred Clark, class of ’86, was a starter for Garcia who was benched when he got a 66 in English. Clark said Garcia was well-known for his emphasis on education. And when Garcia found out Clark was staying home alone while his mother went to help his sister in North Dakota, the coach made Clark stay with his family until she returned.
“Those were the best ‘tortilla de arina’ breakfasts ever,’” Clark wrote in a letter, later adding Garcia kept a lot of children out of trouble.
Many of Garcia’s players from the ’70s remembered spending time at Garcia’s house, talking basketball, watching movies and eating Garcia’s late wife Angie’s grilled cheese sandwiches. And several credited Garcia with helping them continue their basketball career in college.
Joe Cavazos, class of ’75, said he was a terrible player when he met Garcia, but Cavazos went on to play professional basketball in Mexico, telling many that Garcia molded him into the player he became.
In those days, the program had little money, and Cavazos remembered the entire team stayed the night at Garcia’s parents’ home when they traveled to Brownsville for a tournament. The district also couldn’t afford meals, so they barbecued chicken.
Garcia gave members of the team free haircuts, lining up the boys along his screened porch, and Cavazos said his junior year Garcia had the team sell barbecue dinners to raise money to attend out-of-district tournaments where it would play tougher competition.
“One game, he actually went and sat in the stands (because) we were playing so badly,” Cavazos wrote. “But once district started, we lost only a couple. We learned to play tough by playing the tough teams. He taught us that we can all rise to the level of our competition and to never ever quit – no matter what!”
Juan Reyna, class of ’75, remembered Garcia driving him to a basketball tryout at Laredo Junior College. Garcia later served as best man at Reyna’s wedding, gave his young protégé his first coaching job out of college and even helped prepare him for his first head coaching job in Donna. When Garcia’s wife, Angie, died in 2003, Garcia named Reyna as an honorary pallbearer.
Former player Eddie Zamora is now an assistant principal at Reagan High School in Houston. Garcia, Zamora wrote, set the standard for his players to use when they make choices in life.
Zamora also highlighted Garcia’s “unique” way of communicating. In a drill to move the ball up the court, Garcia called Zamora over after he dribbled it up on the right-hand side. Garcia told Zamora to run to the other baseline, and the young player took off running.
“Then, a basketball goes whistling besides me and hits the wall on the other side. You explained to us that passing the ball is quicker than dribbling the ball,” Zamora wrote. “I still wonder if you were trying to hit me and missed, or trying to miss me, but came really close to hitting me.”
Zamora later wrote, “I would just like to formally thank you for being you and helping a young skinny kid be part of a program that helped me be successful not only in high school but in life.”
The first face Isaac Valadez, class of ’92, saw when he woke up from knee surgery was Garcia. And again, years after graduation, Garcia was the first person Valadez saw after his third knee surgery.
“Those things mean more than you can fathom,” Valadez wrote. “Favorite memories while I was playing for him? Eating tacos after games at home, with Angie his wife and Cruz treating us like one of their children. Crying in his arms after learning Angie had passed. Sitting in his home one random afternoon weeks after Angie’s death talking with him about life, love and all the musings of this world.”
Yes, Garcia was tough, wrote Justin Grubbs, class of ’89. He yelled, he cursed; he’d call you names. He’d call you out on your every mistake.
“When the practice was over, when the game was over, when the season was over, you would find him with a twinkle in his eye and a warm smile on his face,” Grubbs wrote. “He wanted to make sure you were doing okay – in school, at home, in life. He genuinely cared for his players, and I think that has always been reflected in how many former players would come back.”
Garcia made sure not to show bias in the years his boys played basketball and football. Garcia was noticeably absent at football practices when his son served as quarterback because he wanted his son to show he earned his spot.
Roy II, class of ’89, served as an example to all when the bus left him behind before a road trip to Rio Grande City. More than one player said after that happened, they knew if Garcia would leave his own son behind, he’d surely leave them behind.
And Rosman Garcia, class of ’93, was benched when he missed two opportunities to shoot 3-pointers. Walking off the court, Rosman heard his dad yell, “You are scared. Shoot the dang ball!”
Rosman also remembered Garcia calling him out after missing a free-throw attempt.
“OH MY LIFE! You would have thought it was a championship game or something but when I missed that shot, all you can hear was “DANG IT!!” Rosman wrote. “The gym was silent for about 10 seconds it felt like.”
Rosman wrote he admired his father as a disciplinarian and coach.
Garcia’s daughter Rosette Callie Keith believed she got her “fighter” instinct from her father, who had to overcome a series of obstacles to become the man recognized in the Hall of Honor.
The youngest of five brothers, Garcia always wanted to be like them. They worked on a farm, where his dad organized basketball games with other workers, but Garcia and his brothers weren’t allowed to play until they turned 15.
Garcia’s brother, Toni, said the younger Roy Garcia always aimed for the best player on the team.
“He didn’t care how tall they were. He worked hard to be a better player,” Toni Garcia wrote. “He always wanted to win so bad that he would get mad at his team members for making mistakes. And, that meant getting mad at his own brothers too. It’s like the way you see him get mad at his high school players.”
Even so, Garcia remembers the assistant principal at his high school telling him to forget his dream of playing college basketball. Instead, Garcia was told he should join the Army. That summer, Garcia had graduated and was picking cotton when he got the scholarship notification to play at Texas Southmost College, where he earned an association degree in 1963.
“I didn’t have any clue how I was going to go to school,” Garcia said. “We were really poor. We didn’t have running water. We didn’t have electricity. We were getting water from the canal to drink.
“Thank God that I was able to get a scholarship.”
Garcia was drafted and served two years in Germany before he returned to Texas and continued his education at East Texas State University, where he worked in the maintenance department, earning $150 a month to get through school. He earned his bachelor’s degree and continued on to get a master’s degree.
The athletic director in Los Fresnos, Garcia’s hometown, kept a baseball coaching job open for Garcia during his last year in school. He served a year at Los Fresnos before he took a position in 1972 with Mission CISD as a football coach and head basketball coach. Eventually, MCISD Superintendent named Garcia athletic director and head basketball coach, an unusual feat in football-dominated Texas.
Leaving Mission after 30 years was hard, Garcia said. It was at the same time Angie, his wife of more than 30 years died.
“When I left Mission, trust me, I was lost,” he said. “It was the lowest point of my life.”
Retirement didn’t last long, and Garcia was asked to coach a youth team while he put out applications to surrounding school districts. For a few months, he wasn’t hearing back from anyone, but the head basketball coach spot came open at San Benito and the superintendent told him the job was his if he wanted it.
Garcia took San Benito to the playoffs for the first time in 46 years. He stayed six years before moving to PSJA Southwest when it opened.
Many have emphasized the impact Garcia has made in their lives, but he believes his success is all because of the family that has supported him, students who have played with him and assistant coaches who have worked under him. And at 73 and still under contract with PSJA ISD, he’s showing no signs of stopping.
Garcia said he might be biased, but he’s sure he had the most supporters in attendance of the five inductees at the Hall of Honor ceremony.
“I didn’t know I had affected that many people on the positive side,” Garcia said. “You never know until it’s all over.”