Sylvia Cardenas laughs now when she recalls feeling some trepidation after getting promoted to head volleyball coach at Harlandale High School in the summer of 1989.
I was getting married that October, Cardenas said Wednesday. When I got the job, I remember thinking, Now what I am going to do? I don t have time for planning a wedding. I was too busy getting ready for my first season. I used to joke with my aunt and sister. I d tell them, You all plan everything and just tell me when to show up. I was more concerned with my season.
Former Edison volleyball coach Denise Cardenas, no relation to Cardenas, chuckled when she heard the anecdote.
That sounds just like Sylvia, Cardenas said. She s always been real dedicated to her job and her players.
Everything worked out fine for Cardenas in the end. Her wedding went off without a hitch and she is now in her 25th season as volleyball coach at Harlandale, her alma mater.
The Indians are 529-286 under Cardenas and have made the playoffs 19 times, including each of the past 13 seasons, during her tenure.
Harlandale, 13-6 this season, hosts Brackenridge at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
Cardenas, 52, became synonymous with Harlandale long before she recorded her 500th career victory last year. She never has coached at any other high school since starting her stint at Harlandale in 1984 as head girls basketball coach and assistant volleyball coach.
I always wanted to come back and coach Harlandale, Cardenas said.
Cardenas honored by Billie Jean King Sports Center
Cardenas also has touched the lives of volleyball players outside the Harlandale district through a summer league she helped establish in 1992.
Called Can You Dig It, the league is an affordable alternative to the more expensive club teams that have changed the landscape of interscholastic volleyball in Texas. The league is open to middle school and high school players.
Volleyball starts so early that you ve got to do everything you can do get the girls in the gym as much as possible in the summer, Cardenas said.
Can You Dig It has been so successful that Cardenas was honored by the Billie Jean King International Women s Sports Center in New York five years ago.
The King Center, which has a wing in the Sports Museum of America, was created by the Women's Sports Foundation and is the only museum exhibit in the world dedicated exclusively to women's sports. It is also the home of the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame.
Cardenas was recognized in an exhibit at the King Center for a year Cardenas made the trip to New York in 2008 with her husband, Richard, a former basketball coach who is now an assistant principal at Zamora Middle School in the South San Antonio ISD.
Cardenas began her career in 1983 at Terrell Wells Middle School, also in the Harlandale ISD, before moving up to Harlandale the next year.
Cardenas succeeded Ninfa Garcia, Denise Cardenas mother, as head volleyball coach.
My whole family graduated from Harlandale, Cardenas said. Harlandale is like a family and an awesome place to coach at. The kids are very respectful and they ll play hard for you.
High school coach was big influence on Cardenas
A 1979 Harlandale graduate, Cardenas was a volleyball, basketball and track athlete who was noted for her competitive ferocity.
She played with a lot of emotion, said Grace Deverick, who coached Cardenas in volleyball during her junior and senior seasons. I was very, very hard on the girls, but Sylvia never questioned anything. She was a beautiful young lady off the court, but she was very, very tough when she went on the floor.
She bleeds Harlandale. She has not changed one bit. Even today, you can see the passion that
she has for coaching. I m so proud of her that I get emotional just talking about her.
Deverick left coaching in 1982, and retired from teaching in 2002. Now 72, she works as a substitute teacher at Harlandale and remains close to Cardenas.
We do talk regularly, Deverick said. She ll ask me, Just come over to our practice and try to motivate the girls like you motivated us when I was playing. I really enjoy being around her.
Not surprisingly, Cardenas credits Deverick for influencing her decision to pursue a coaching career.
She was a motivator and a very intense coach, Cardenas said. I got a lot of my coaching technique from her. I like to motivate and I m very intense. I m very gung-ho and passionate. Coach Deverick inspired us when I played here. I wanted to coach and do the same for girls at Harlandale when I got out of college.
Cardenas attended St. Mary s on a volleyball scholarship and played four seasons for the Rattlers before earning her degree in 1983. She also has a master s degree in mid-management from Texas A&I, now Texas A&M-Kingsville.
I never thought I was going to coach this long, but I still have that passion for the game and working with these kids, Cardenas said. I don t feel like it s a job because it s something I love to do. When I get up every morning, I look forward to getting to school and just working with the girls.
Cardenas is also Harlandale's girls athletic coordinator
Cardenas does more than coach volleyball at Harlandale. She is the school s girls athletic coordinator and works with handicapped kids in a life-skills class.
She s always for the kids, and she s always working, Deverick said. I don t know how she does it. She is a fireball.
Cardenas influence on her players transcends athletics. Like all outstanding coaches, she is an exemplary mentor who never misses an opportunity to teach her athletes lessons that extend far beyond the game.
I just want them to believe in themselves and know that they can make something out of themselves, Cardenas said. I don t want them to shortchange themselves just because they re from the South Side. It s great when the kids come back and visit with you, or when I run into them at a store or at the mall.
Harlandale assistant coach Maricela Madrigal, who graduated from Harlandale in 2007 and played volleyball for Cardenas, has a unique perspective on her former coach.
Harlandale is her home, Madrigal said. She is not only passionate about volleyball, but she understands the community and the kids we work with because that s where she s from. She gets to know these kids and their families.
I think the biggest thing that I ve realized as a player and working under Coach Cardenas is that when you re a leader, you have to have balance. She is nurturing when she needs to be, but she can a light a fire under them and encourage them and motivate them.
Cardenas and her husband have two sons, Aaron and Jake. Aaron is a student at Palo Alto College and Jake attends the University of the Incarnate Word, where he plays football.
I always wanted to have a daughter, but I work with girls every day, Cardenas said, chuckling. Why would I want another one?