LA JOYA—More than 100 football players, cheerleaders and school district staff lined the entrance to Coyote Stadium as a hearse backed through the gate. One football player carried flowers, another a signed helmet and another held a football signed by the team.
They all wore La Joya High red.
The back of the hearse was opened to reveal a casket and the family gathered around. “Que Salgan Los Coyotes” and the La Joya High School fight song played throughout the stadium as sobs filled the pauses. When the music ended, the football team gathered in a huddle, arms stretched out as they chanted in honor of “Betito.” They returned to their line and the hearse pulled away as everyone lifted their hands into the air—pinky and pointer finger held up, thumb touching the middle and ring finger— to form the Coyote hand signal in one final goodbye.
Heriberto “Betito” Flores Jr. received a send-off Tuesday fit for the No. 1 Coyotes fan.
Flores, 45, was struck by a vehicle Friday, Nov. 1, when crossing U.S. Highway 83 on the way home from a game. An employee at La Joya Independent School District for two decades, he may have never missed a home game.
“We took it for granted that you’d show up and there’s Betito underneath the scoreboard, and he had his chair,” said Coach Victor Garza, La Joya ISD athletic director, Monday morning. “The kids today, the athletes for sure, they were saddened by the news because they all knew if they came out he was standing on the edge of the track on the fence with his hand up high, and they had to go by him to give him the high five, and that was his way of saying, ‘Good luck; go get ’em.’”
Monday would have been Flores’ 21st anniversary working for the district as a part-time custodian. Belinda Garcia, spokeswoman for the athletic office, where Flores worked each day said Flores loved to laugh, sing and lift the spirits of those around him.
“He’s just one of those people that literally would change your life. He did have Down syndrome, but that never stopped him from anything,” Garcia said. “He was a normal person just like everyone else.”
Flores graduated from La Joya High School in 1989 and went to work for McDonald’s for three years. It was 1992 when Flores landed a job as a custodian at La Joya High School. He loved being at the school every day, proud to be a Coyote. But Garza said Flores was moved to athletic facility when La Joya High School got too big with a growing student population. His supervisors thought the athletic facility would be a better environment. It was a win-win because there Flores would be able to take care of Coyote Stadium.
“The way we got him to agree was we asked, ‘Do you want to go to the home of the Coyotes?’ That was his pride,” Garza said. “He liked the Huskies; he liked the Lobos, but he was a coyote at heart.”
He said Flores was bright and cared about everyone. Flores was raised to be responsible and to know wrong from right, Garza added, and it showed in his work. He punched in every day at 8 a.m., not a minute before or after, and he punched out at noon on the dot. He loved work and usually was ready to go by 5:30 a.m. each morning, Flores’ sister told Garza.
Weeks ago, Garza was surprised to find out La Joya football players pulled Flores onto the field to run out with them before a game. Garza knew Flores wouldn’t have asked to do it because he knew to stay back and not to get onto the track. Had he been there, Garza might have tried to stop the players from inviting Flores onto the field.
“I always tried to protect him. I didn’t want him to get run over,” Garza said. “That was not him asking, ‘Put me in with you guys.’ That was the kids and how he touched the kids.
“I appreciate the players embracing him as part of the team concept and embracing him as part of them.”
Last Friday night, Flores was on the north side of the stadium, away from the scoreboard because La Joya High was playing Palmview High as the visitors. He left the game early because the game wasn’t going his way—La Joya lost 14-0. Many said they saw him throwing his hat because Flores was so upset his team was losing. His dad was watching for him off Second Street as Flores walked home, as he sometimes did when he didn’t take anyone up on their offers to drive him across the busy highway.
The athletic department scheduled a moment of silence at this week’s home games in Flores’ honor. Players also will wear jerseys with the initials “BF” on them.
According to an obituary, Flores was preceded in death by his mother, Maria Blanca Flores. He is survived by his father, Heriberto Flores; maternal grandmother, Elisa Treviño; brothers and sisters, Javier (Maricela), Rene (Nereida), Aida (Juan) Venegas, Elizabeth (Jose) Hernandez, Martha (Juan) Torres; as well as numerous nephews and nieces.
Those who love Flores have gotten some comfort out of the fact that his organs were donated to people in need.
“It’s good to know that he’ll be alive in some form or fashion,” Garza said. “We’re proud of him no matter what. We’ll miss him, and we’ll always keep him in our memory.”
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.