A kid needs somebody to look up to, so each year the Hispanic Sports Foundation for Education (HSFE) designates a class of heroes for the National Hispanic Heritage Hall of Honor. The 2013 class, consisting of Dr. Sylvester Perez, Henry Cisneros, Judge Sam Medina, Clarence Kahlig, JoAnn Boone and the 1956 Laredo Martin Tigers, were inducted Saturday at the Omni Colonnade.
Formed in 2006, HSFE awards 20 scholarships a year in the amount of $1,000 each to students identified by Project Stay and Our Lady of the Lake University’s athletic program. Scholarship recipients attend the gala, hear the inductees’ stories and pep talks, their stories describe challenges overcome through perseverance and industry.
The heroes that HSFE nominates, from the first Latina university president to ethnomusicologist Juan Tejeda, aren’t astronauts or movie stars – they are people who rose to any challenge to use the educational resources afforded to them, earn a foothold, then used their positions to excel and succeed.
Sylvester Perez’ parents were not overly attuned to education. He grew up without giving college much thought until he began to excel on the baseball diamond at Harlandale High School. With pro scouts and college recruiters showing interests, Perez’ coaches urged him to knuckle down. He attended Wharton County Junior College and struggled, then transferred to St. Philip’s College and met teachers who cared enough to spur him on. He was recruited by New Mexico Highlands University, where he became an NAIA Baseball All-American and earned a Master’s in Education. In his career, Dr. Perez has served as a coach, teacher, athletic director, assistant principal, principal and superintendent of five Texas school districts. In each one, he has implemented programs to help kids recognize their potential and pursue college.
While some kids are overlooked, Henry Cisneros was recognized in elementary school, and skipped ahead two grades. That meant that a few years later, he entered Central Catholic High School as a shy 12-year-old.
“Brother Martin McMurtry shook the shyness out of me by putting me in front of the classroom and making me recite poetry, readings, extemporaneous speeches. He took a shy kid from the Westside and showed him that he had some facility in this regard. I’ve kind of never been the same,” Cisneros said. He uses that facility well. He earned two Master’s degrees and a doctorate as he became the youngest person at that time elected to San Antonio City Council and then Mayor. HSFE Chairman Joe Cortez said that as mayor, Henry Cisneros “brought us from being a town into being a city. He started making this city into what it is today – one of the most successful communities in the nation.” Later, Cisneros served as Secretary of Housing & Urban Development, chaired Univision and continues to work for affordable housing through his company, CityView.
Judge Sam Medina grew up as part of a large migrant worker family. His parents understood that the only way their lineage would escape poverty would be through education. Medina’s early education was sporadic as the family moved – attending one school for only a month.
Surprisingly, he credits the frequent moves for his scholarship.
“I was always the new kid. I kind of hid behind my books,” he said.
When he was ready for high school, his family settled in Crosbyton, near Lubbock. He earned his law degree from nearby Texas Tech, and became the first Hispanic elected to a county-wide office.
A year later, he became a Texas District Judge and currently serves as Lubbock’s City Attorney.
JoAnn Boone’s mother, Tomasa Ezquerra, was widowed at a young age with six children to raise. The only way a family works like that is when everyone in the family works hard, she said.
“My mother persevered to great lengths with a great work ethic that we all learned and benefitted from,” Boone said. She attended San Antonio College and UTSA, taking as much financial aid as she could and working her way through the rest. Her bilingual proficiency is matched with excellent business acumen. After teaching at Berlitz, contributing marketing expertise to Paseo del Rio Association and working as a freelance court translator while raising her kids, Boone is CEO of Rio San Antonio Cruises, our river barge service.
Clarence Kahlig grew up in a large family of modest means. He was taught to work early, “encouraged” to mow lawns and work a paper route when he was a kid. He gave half his earnings to his mom, who taught him that “you can live on half of anything.”
Mrs. Kahlig used the earnings to pay tuition at Central Catholic High School, where Clarence excelled in football, earning a scholarship to Texas A&I University in Kingsville. Then, just before entering his sophomore season as a starter, Kahlig hurt his back. From then on, college had to be earned. He pumped gas at a Stuckey’s for $20 a weekend, managed an apartment complex for free rent for himself and his bride. Finally, he earned a business degree from UT Austin and started working as a tax examiner for IRS. The tax job, however, was a 9-month employment. During his second 90-day break, he tried the car business.
He never went back to IRS – he’s president of North Park Lincoln Mercury and about seven other dealerships in the Kahlig Auto Group. He was so grateful to his high school alma mater, he built a 6.8-acre baseball field for them.
The 1956 Laredo Martin Tigers stunned North Dallas High School and most of the state’s sports prognosticators by winning the State Basketball Championship on March 3, 1956. The University Interscholastic League has recorded the Tigers as the shortest team to ever win the state championship. Bill Batey was the kind of coach that draws plays nearly every waking minute, using any flat surface that would take a mark, from paper plates to fogged windshields. Andy Santos presaged Avery Johnson with deft ball handling, feeding his teammates who followed through. Of the dozen or so members of that team, every one moved on to leadership positions. Two of the players returned as head coaches of the Tigers – one of them for 32 years.
You can read more stories of outstanding Hispanics on HSFE’s website. The organization also holds a golf tournament each year. It is planning a “Mentor’s Reach” program to take the success stories into the schools.
The organization is led by Joe Cortez, a legendary high school coach that led the Central Catholic Buttons for many years. HSFE consists of a group of friends, many of them athletes and coaches, continuing to encourage the next generation to grow up well, study hard, make good choices, succeed, and serve their community.
San Antonio copywriter gary s. whitford is half of Extraordinary Words, providing marketing communications for business, non-profits and agencies.