Considering the compelling narrative of his life, it's easy to see why Sylvester Syl Perez moves so easily among people from different walks of life.
Hired as superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District in mid-June, Perez was a teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal and principal before earning his doctorate degree in educational administration at Texas A&M in 1995.
That's not a bad resume for someone who flunked out of junior college after graduating from Harlandale High School in 1967.
Syl can speak with the same passion to a custodian as he can another superintendent, said Harlandale ISD athletic director Rudy De Los Santos, who hired as head coach at Harlandale by Perez when he was HISD athletic director. Syl is a tremendous speaker and he can motivate anybody from the ground up.
Perez and former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros are among four people who will be inducted into the Hispanic Sports Foundation for Education Heritage Hall of Honor on Saturday night at the Omni Hotel.
The 1956 Laredo Martin High School boys basketball team, which won the Class 4A state championship under coach Bill Batey, also will be enshrined.
Perez is being honored as an educator and Cisneros, who served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton Administration, for his public service.
Other members of the Hall of Honor's Class of 2013 are Clarence Kahlig II, business; and Lubbock city attorney Sam Medina, public service.
JoAnn Boone, president and CEO of Rio San Antonio Cruises, will receive special recognition.
Perez's career in education one of 'firsts'
Being on the same program with Henry Cisneros is a real honor, Perez said. He's always been a visionary, whether it's the Alamodome or downtown development.He's a major, major role model. Henry Cisneros commands such a presence to this very day. He is gifted, talented and extremely intelligent. His DNA is all over San Antonio.
I am honored and humbled to be going into the Hispanic Heritage Hall of Honor. It's going to be real special. My dad (Silvestre) is 95 and my mom (Nancy) is 86, and they're going to be there. It's almost an oxymoron that someone who flunked out of college is being honored in the field of education. It kind of makes you scratch your head a little bit, but life is a marathon, not a sprint, and you don't ever, every quit.
Perez, 64, came out of retirement to serve as SAISD interim superintendent after Robert Duron resigned in February 2012.
The first Hispanic superintendent of the Midland, Mathis and Clint school districts, Perez has been a trailblazer during his 41-year career in public education.
Perez also could have been inducted into the Hall of Honor for his accomplishments in athletics. He coached for 14 years, from 1972-85, before becoming an administrator.
Perez was the first Hispanic head coach at Holmes High School and the first Hispanic head coach in the North East and Judson school districts. He also made history when he was hired as the first Hispanic athletic director of the Harlandale ISD.
A standout baseball player at Harlandale and New Mexico Highlands University, Perez was head baseball coach at Harlandale, MacArthur, Madison and Judson.
MacArthur (1979), Madison (1981) and Judson (1983, 1985) won district championships under Perez, who is believed to the first San Antonio high school baseball coach to lead three different schools to district titles. He compiled a 183-95 record in 10 seasons.
My experience as an athlete and coach has helped me tremendously as an administrator, Perez said. I apply lessons I learned in athletics every day. I wouldn't be where I am today without athletics. Athletics not only instilled discipline in me, they opened the doors of opportunity for me.
Perez attended St. Philip's after flunking out
Perez sat out the fall semester that year while he recovered from wrist surgery. He played outfield at Wharton Junior College in the spring of 1968, but flunked out of school after only one semester.
Determined to improve his grades and earn a scholarship, Perez enrolled at St. Philip s in the fall of 1968 and got back on track.
I had not done a good job of preparing myself for college academically when I was in high school, Perez said. Going to St. Philip's after I flunked out was one of the best things I ever did. I owe a lot to my professors at St. Philip's.
Perez got his big break when he signed a baseball scholarship with New Mexico Highlands in 1969. He played three years as an outfielder with the Cowboys before earning his bachelor's degree in 1972.
Syl is probably the most driven person I've ever been around, De Los Santos said. He always had professional goals and he never lost sight of them. He always knew what he wanted to do. Whatever job he had, he jumped into it with everything he had.
Perez started his career in 1972 as a junior high school in Lubbock. A year later, he was hired as head baseball coach at Taos (N.M.) High School. He returned to San Antonio in 1974 to take the same job at Harlandale.
It's been a long and winding road for Perez, but the journey has been gratifying personally and professionally.
Success is not what you've accomplished or achieved, but what you've overcome in life, Perez said. That's the message I try to convey to our students every day.
The leadership of the San Antonio Independent School District is in good hands, indeed.