Loyalty is a word that Mr. Hector Madrigal former long time principal at Sharyland High School spoke about often. Mr. Madrigal would tell incoming staff that he expected loyalty. Loyalty to the school, the district, and the community. In turn for their loyalty employees would gain his respect. What does loyalty look like now at Sharyland High School and more specifically Sharyland ISD?
It looks like the reassigning of a well-respected softball coach during a pandemic.
Mr. Cruz has taught and coached for Sharyland ISD for the past 28 years. He started his tenure at Sharyland High School in the fall of 1992 after teaching and coaching for Brownsville CISD for two years. Mr. Cruz was one of the teachers in the science department who immediately connected with students in particular he was given the wonderful responsibility of working with ESL students who primarily spoke Spanish. At the time he was hired he was the only Hispanic teacher in the department so he received this ESL assignment. He taught biology and helped more than 4,500 students by simple math calculations come to love science and not only enjoy the content but pass the yearly standardized tests. He was regularly given the special populations like LEP, Special Education, At Risk, and low socioeconomic because of his ability to adapt and modify and inspire these kids that many other teachers did not want to work with. Mr. Cruz began coaching freshmen girls basketball and JV softball. Within two years of working at Sharyland High School, he was quickly promoted by Mr. Madrigal, principal and Mr. de la Fuente, athletic coordinator to head softball coach.
At the time he took over the fledgling softball program, the team did not even have a regulation softball field to practice on or play home games on. The team instead played their games at Los Ebanos park in Mission. His first year as head coach his team was undefeated and had a 21-0 perfect season prior to entering play-offs. With the zest and passion that he showed, community members like the Sparks family, Baker family, Filut family, and school board members rallied around this coach to get a field built. In fact, no other head coach has taught or practiced on that field to this day.
Who has practiced and played on the field? Former athletes of Coach Paul M. Cruz have entered and served in the Marines, serve currently as respected law enforcement officers, Border Patrol Officers, Engineers, Public Relations Specialists, Baptist Ministry youth leaders, physical therapy interns, lawyers, doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners, sports management professionals, business women, college softball players, softball officials and oh-yes many of his former athletes are now they themselves teachers and softball coaches. What a legacy of success has Coach Paul Cruz paved. Yet how has he been repaid by a district he has served loyally for 28 years?
He has been repaid by being reassigned after a losing season. But what-what type of season did he have right before COVID-19 hit? Oh yes, he had a season where he crossed a milestone that very few Rio Grande Valley softball coaches ever reach. In fact if you research it, you will find that he is in the company of fewer than 8 coaches valley wide. He reached his over 400th win prior to COVID 19 shutting down the season in 2020. He has been repaid after placing his life on the line to coach a team during a pandemic. He has been repaid by actually becoming COVID positive once he coached his first scrimmage where the team he played was quarantined due to positive COVID cases within two days of playing his team.
He has been repaid by an athletic coordinator who did not reach out to see if he was okay, but rather harassed him to make sure he told his staff about his personal medical situation even though Coach Cruz had followed district protocol to the t and all coaches and players received a phone call from the campus nurse informing them that they needed to quarantine because of potential contact with a lab confirmed COVID positive person. He has been repaid with reassignment in a year when his loving younger brother John passed away and on the same day he learned that his brother was dying, what did Coach Paul Cruz do? He got on a bus to go coach a softball game. Even in the midst of his own grief, this dedicated and loyal coach put his own needs on the back burner to focus on his students/ athletes. And for this how is Coach Paul M. Cruz being repaid? He is being repaid by being called into the athletic coordinator’s office along with the campus principal during a school day and being told he was being reassigned.
Does Coach Paul Cruz only teach his teams about softball? No, he had more than 6 guest speakers address the team during the 2020 season when school was in person. Those guest speakers talked about success after high school, work ethic, family dedication, and how to be a good citizen. Coach Paul Cruz and his softball team have participated in ALS Walks to raise awareness of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Cystic Fibrosis Fundraisers, and volunteer at Special Olympics Events. He encourages community service and academic scholars. Many of his students have graduated with honors and been elected to the National Honor Society. Every year his students are selected to be part of the Hidalgo County Cotillion.
So the million dollar question, what did this long time respected coach and teacher do to deserve this? According to the athletic coordinator he failed to have good social communication with parents. According to the athletic coordinator this coach had three parents who complained. Who were the parents?
Well, only one parent was named. And that parent claimed he was speaking on behalf of two others. This parent donates a lot of money to sports programs at Sharyland ISD. According to this one parent the girls were not positively motivated, the girls were not praised, and the coaching staff did not have an opportunity to speak or coach. Did the athletic coordinator attend any regular practices to observe this behavior? Did he interview a random sampling of softball players? Did he call other parents? Perhaps, did he talk to the senior parents whose daughters have played for Coach Cruz for 4 years? No, he took the word of one parent who was disgruntled and made the decision to reassign the most successful softball coach in Sharyland ISD’s history.
In regards to social communication, Coach Paul Cruz maintained a WhatsApp group with all his current parents, athletes, and coaches. He also shared good news on the softball Twitter account. He sent weekly practice and game schedules. He shared information about free COVID-19 testing sites. He sent weekly motivational messages. He shared photos of students who were selected to be Player of the Week for the local newspaper. He shared information about food distributions for families who were financially struggling. He posted about a Baby Shower that his team held for one of the coaches. He posted about an End of the Year team barbeque. He posted about the gifts the softball program gave to graduating seniors. He encouraged participation in the Team online fundraiser. He posted about the Special Senior Night.
Would the athletic coordinator know about all this communication? Yes, he was part of the WhatsApp group.
How else did he support his students? Every day Coach Cruz made sure to contact the transportation department and schedule bus pick up for athletes who were remote students and did not have a way to get to practice. Coach Cruz advocated for free testing at Sharyland High School for the in season sports programs because with conversations from coaches of neighboring districts he learned that those athletes in La Joya, Pharr, and Edinburg had the opportunity to test weekly on campus to keep safe. When he asked about this during a coaching meeting, he was told the district did not have funds to do this. Coach Cruz supported families by personally calling parents whose students were not passing classes. He offered information about waivers to keep eligibility and helped students get in touch with the campus librarian to ensure they had the proper technology like Chromebooks or Hotspots to attend classes online.
Is Coach Paul Cruz esteemed by parents, players, and colleagues who only work in Sharyland ISD? The answer is no.
Since the word of his reassignment was made public on social media, coaches from across the Rio Grande Valley have called and shared their support. Former students/ athletes from other districts have reached out.
Why would other athletes from rival schools contact a coach from Sharyland ISD? Oh yes, beyond coaching for Sharyland ISD for 28 years, Coach Paul Cruz has been the only West All Star Softball Coach for more than 15 years. He has coached athletes in this prestigious game for that long. He has held camps that parents from other districts bring their daughters to yearly.
Loyalty looks mighty strange in Sharyland ISD.