One by one they rose to accept the accolade, and each had tales of his or her career as a Bronc. Some stories were humorous, others revealing, and still others touching and heartwarming. It was a priceless walk down Memory Lane for the six individuals honored by The University of Texas-Pan American at its fourth annual Hall of Fame banquet on campus Saturday.
New president Robert Nelsen started things off for master of ceremonies Tony Farina, while legendary Coach Al Ogletree was on hand to welcome three of his greatest baseball players into the Hall, established in 2007.
“I was talking to Coach Al last night at the reception,” Nelsen noted. “And he recalled that when he started at Pan Am in the 1960s the tuition was 50 dollars a semester.”
The eighth president in university history applauded the athletic department for the high aggregate grade-point average of its student-athletes and encouraged everyone to attend the basketball doubleheader scheduled for later that afternoon in the Field House.
“We need yawl there to yell at the refs,” cracked the president. “I can’t do that anymore.”
The theme of the event was people, people who have helped the Hall of Famers succeed in athletics and life. Along with the three diamond kings, basketball great Fred Taylor and track and field pacesetter Nancy Mireles-Silva joined the select group of all-time heroes. Local physician “Dr. Ben” Garza was inducted into the Hall of Honor, a group lauded every year alongside the Hall of Fame members.
Hickey, who won 16 games for the record-setting 1983 Bronc outfit, has gone to a pair of World Series as a pitching coach and he thanked Ogletree for bringing him down to the Valley from Chicago. He said that his greatest reward during his career at Pan American University was making lifelong friends that he still sees on a regular basis, coast to coast.
Leal (1963-65) was unable to attend the ceremony in the campus Ball Room, but Ogletree told the crowd what a tremendous fastball pitcher he was. The All-American hurler went on to pitch in the high minors in the Angels organization, throwing a no-hitter with El Paso in 1967 and later starring in the Mexican League.
His coach still remembers the 15-inning game Leal tossed against his Dallas Baptist team, before Ogletree came to the Valley, where he would win over 1,000 games in his tenure.
Next up was Salinas, who pitched for the university from 1970-73 before a terrific run in the Mexican League. The Edinburg High grad is remembered for the shutout he spun against UT to send the 1971 Broncs to the College World Series; like Leal he was named an All-American and won 38 games in college with a progam-best 1.16 ERA.
His most prized memory among many was starting a 67-inning scoreless streak for the Broncs, but Salinas laughed when noting that he started the streak but also ended it when he was the one who eventually gave up a run.
Perhaps the most intense moments of the banquet came when Mireles-Silva (1985-89) revealed that during a state championship career at Ingleside High and then as a record-setting distance runner for the Lady Broncs, her motivation was never the girl in front of her on the track.
“I lost a brother when I was in high school,” she told the crowd in an emotional and deep speech. “And he was always what motivated me to compete. I was always thinking of him when I ran, I had made a promesa to break records every time I ran.”
The holder of five records even after the passage of over 20 years since she finished at PAU, Mireles-Silva had fine words of praise for her coach and mentor, Doug Erickson, now the head track coach at Economedes High.
“He makes me sound pretty good,” she said upon beginning her moving address. “Now I get to talk about him some.”
Coming from a small town to Edinburg, Mireles-Silva remembered that she wasn’t scared because Erickson was with her every step of the way, teaching and encouraging her to achieve great things. She was a tremendous athlete who has gone on to even more success as an educator and elementary school counselor in town.
“The phrase is ‘lift people up as we go up,’ and Doug did that for me,” she testified. “I am a counselor because of a counselor.”
Mireles-Silva suggested that everyone who enters your life does so for a reason, and illustrated this mantra with a story about a high school counselor who discouraged her from trying to attend college. Many years later, the running star was able to meet up with that educator and surprise her by insisting that she thanked God the woman had entered her life.
In closing, the durable record-setter referenced the Christian movie, “Facing the Giants” in stressing that when you have good people behind you pushing you onto the right path, anyone can make it if they work hard enough. Her meaningful words visibly stirred the attendees as she wept openly several times.
Finally, Fred Taylor, one of the finest basketball players ever to lace them up for the Broncs, was introduced by long-time sports information director Jim McKone, whose offbeat reminiscences squared perfectly with his reputation as a raconteur of the first variety.
Taylor, who played pro basketball in the NBA and Europe after his career with the Broncs ended in 1970, followed the lead of Mireles-Silva by telling about his grandmother’s influence when he was coming up through Houston Wheatley High. The backbone of his family convinced Taylor to go to college with the promise of a new car if he could complete two years in good standing at the Edinburg campus.
“She knew my weakness, I guess,” he laughed, adding that in the 1960s, one could still secure a good job without going to college.
“Do you believe in destiny, because I do,” continued the versatile star in a soft and almost lyrical tone. “I didn’t know if I was going to stay when I first came down here, but I met so many good people, coaches, teammates, and administrators, that it ended up being the best decision I ever made. Sometimes the man upstairs has better plans for you than you’ve got, and you’d best get on that path and stay on it.”
Garza, who has been on the sidelines of Bronc and local high school events for nearly 40 years, capped the afternoon after an intro from Coach Richard Flores, a 25-year winner with the Edinburg Bobcats as coach and AD. At one point during his long career, Garza and two of his brothers were all team physicians for Valley high schools.
“This is sort of anti-climactic in a way, after all the great things that these people have said to you today,” smiled Garza, who earlier had taken a ribbing from the coach he served for 25 years, courtesy of a recent hamstring injury that still has him hobbling around a bit. The two have known each other for 65 years, having grown up in the same Edinburg neighborhood. “But I go way back with the Broncs, back to the 1958 baseball team with Richie Flores and Chipper Zamora, some others. I also want to mention Jim Lancaster, the best thing to ever happen to the athletic department: he’s forgotten more about sports medicine than I will ever know.”
After praising Lancaster, the venerable assistant AD and sports doctor, Garza spoke of growing up 12 blocks away from campus, and later reminded the crowd that the best thing a person can do is “to give of yourself,” something he has indeed been known for during a 40-year run.
It was a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon, with a galaxy of Bronc stars telling their tales, getting caught up with old friends, and making new ones. The honorees were recognized at halftime of the men’s hoops game later that evening.