Credit: David Flores / Kens5.com
Former Del Rio San Felipe High School golfers Felipe Romero, left to right, Gene Vasquez and Joe Trevino pose for a photo with San Antonio attorney Humberto Garcia, who wrote the book "Mustang Miracle," at a book-signing reception in late February at the San Antonio Central Library.
Friday, Apr 8 at 6:54 AM
They are grandfathers in their 70s now, enjoying their golden years in retirement.
But for a few hours two weeks ago, it was as though Lupe Felan, Mario Lomas, Felipe Romero, Joe Trevino and Gene Vasquez were teammates on the Del Rio San Felipe High School golf team again.
Together in Austin for the first time since winning the 1957 Class A state championship, the Mustangs were recognized by legislators at the state capitol with a resolution hailing the team’s remarkable feat.
“It felt very good to be there together,” Vasquez, who still lives in Del Rio, said Wednesday. “We played under very difficult conditions. The 1950s were very, very hard for Mexican Americans.
“There was very brutal discrimination back then. Our parents were migrants and the poverty was very severe. Golf was not a game that Latinos and African Americans played back then.”
The Texas House resolution March 24 also honored San Antonio attorney Humberto Garcia, who has written a book chronicling San Felipe’s championship season 54 years ago. Published last December, “Mustang Miracle” turned out to be a labor of love for Garcia, a 1972 San Felipe High School graduate.
Garcia, 55, grew up in Del Rio but didn’t become aware of San Felipe’s improbable run to the title until three years ago at a reunion tournament.
“I knew it was a story that needed to get out,” Garcia said.
There were two high schools in Del Rio from 1929 until San Felipe High, which had a predominantly Mexican American enrollment, was consolidated with Del Rio High after the 1971-72 school year. Del Rio’s student body was predominantly white before the merger.
Sons of Mexican immigrants
Felan, Lomas, Romero, Trevino and Vasquez, all sons of Mexican immigrants, learned to play golf by caddying on weekends at segregated San Felipe Country Club.
“For us, it was not a sport at the beginning,” said Romero, who lives in Houston. “It was a way to make a little money.”
Before they were allowed to play at the San Felipe Country Club on Saturday mornings, Felan, Lomas, Romero, Trevino and Vasquez practiced at a caliche pasture they dubbed “El Llanito Country Club.” They played with used clubs or made their own.
“We used lead pipes or broom sticks,” said Romero, a sophomore when the Mustangs won the state title.
Romero, Vasquez and Trevino, who lives in Del Rio, attended a book-signing reception at the San Antonio Central Library in late February with Garcia. Lomas, who lives in Abilene, and Felan, who lives in Palm Springs, Calif., were not able to attend the event.
Trevino, a junior in 1957, took medalist honors at the state tournament with a 150. Romero and Lomas, a junior, finished second and third, respectively.
Vasquez, a freshman, beat Felan, a senior, for the fourth and final spot on the team that competed in the state tournament.
The Mustangs finished with a score of 643, beating Shamrock by 35 strokes and defending state champion Ranger by 48.
'We knew what we were up against'
The state crown also represented a victory of the spirit for San Felipe’s players, who endured the indignities of ethnic taunting from kids and adults alike out on the golf course.
“We heard stuff almost everywhere we went,” said Trevino, 73. “We just tried to help each other.”
Romero credits San Felipe coaches J.B. Pena and Hiram Valdes for giving the Mustangs the father-like guidance that got them past the rough spots.
Pena, superintendent of the San Felipe Independent School District, and Valdes, who worked at Laughlin AFB, started the golf program in the mid-1950s.
“The coaches gave us a lot of advice and told us not to listen to the verbal abuse,” Romero said.
If anything, the tough odds San Felipe faced had a galvanizing effect on the team.
“We knew what we were up against,” Vasquez said. “We knew our parents were illiterate. We knew our parents were poor. We accepted that. We were called things, but we learned that two wrongs don’t make a right.
“We learned that everything changes in life and we had hope. We knew the key was going to be education. The game of golf was good for all five of us on that team.”
The sum total of those experiences and the memories they evoke made that ceremony at the state capitol a poignant one for Vasquez and his teammates.
“Being there in Austin and getting recognized 54 years after we won the title was unbelievable,” Vasquez said. “We only hope this serves as an example to the younger generation that no matter what the obstacles may be, they can be overcome.”
Well said, sir, well said.