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The Veterans Memorial Patriots boys basketball team traveled to Valley View High School last Friday evening to play the Tigers in what was expected to be a hard fought battle for first place in District 32-4A. Entering the game with identical 5-1 records and in a three-way tie with the Roma Gladiators atop the district standings, there was a lot at stake for both teams as each of their starters took to the hardwood for the tip off.
While the significance of Friday night’s game in regards to the standings was common knowledge among those in attendance, the fact that Veterans Memorial Head Coach Romeo de la Garza Jr. was on the verge of winning the 300th game of his career was apparently on a need-to-know basis. And that’s exactly how De la Garza Jr. wanted it.
“My players didn’t even know,” said de la Garza. “I’ve just been blessed to have great kids throughout the years that have always done what I’ve asked them to do. The good Lord has blessed me with some great kids that buy into what we want and I can’t ask for anything more.”
Veterans Memorial took command of Friday night’s game early and went on to a surprisingly easy 71-41 victory. As a result, the only head boys basketball coach in Patriots’ history improved his career record to 300-145.
A 1989 graduate of Mission High School, De la Garza walked his way onto the roster at Pan American University where he played college ball for two years. Upon earning his degree in 1994 the aspiring coach took a teaching position at Mission’s Ninth Grade Center for one year.
After spending one year as the Mercedes Tigers’ receivers coach and five years at Edinburg North, the final three as the Cougars’ head basketball coach, De la Garza jumped at the chance to return to his hometown of Mission and become the Patriots’ first head basketball coach.
“When the opportunity was there for me to come back home and build a program from the ground up, it was not only a challenge I was looking forward to, but it was also an opportunity for me to give back to the community that’s always been great to me,” said de la Garza.
Now in his 11th year at VMHS, de la Garza has established a winning tradition, which has resulted in the Patriots qualifying for the state playoffs seven of the past eight seasons. As Veterans Memorial’s athletic coordinator and head football coach, David Gilpin recognizes De la Garza is the face of Patriots basketball.
“There’s no doubt that he has run a very successful basketball program here at VMHS,” said Gilpin. “They’ve been one of the top teams in our district year in and year out. He’s averaged over 20 wins a season and that’s kind of a benchmark for a good season. He’s basically been our basketball program for 11 years and I think that the stability of him being here for so many years has helped build a tradition.”
As a coach himself, Gilpin knows first-hand how difficult it is to build a program that wins as consistently as de la Garza’s teams have won over the years.
“The consistency I think is the key to being a good coach,” explained Gilpin. “The consistency that our basketball program has shown is certainly a tribute to Coach De la Garza and the job that he does.”
Caleb Villarreal, a 2010 graduate of Veterans Memorial and a four year Patriots varsity basketball player, is just one of de la Garza’s former players that has remained in contact with him over the years. As a sports science major at Texas Tech University, Villarreal is planning on following in De la Garza’s footsteps upon graduation.
“In my opinion there’s no greater coach, person or family man than Coach De la Garza,” said Villarreal. “He’s the kind of man that gives his players credit for each and every win while taking all the blame for losses. I am planning on emulating him and running his system as a head coach someday.”
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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.