Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Vol. 4 No. 45 Ricardo Romo , University of Texas



Ricardo Romo,
an Inspiring American Story
One of the wonders of writing this blog with my friend and colleague Roy Mason has been the connecting we've been able to do with heroes of our past and present,  especially the past.   Two weeks ago we spent time together at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene and met some of the greats of today's track world including  Joe Kovacs and Mo Farah and seeing an American 10,000 meter record set by Galen Rupp       , twenty-six sub 4 minute miles run on the same afternoon, including a 3:47 by Ayanleh Souleiman,  and a  19 feet pole vault by the current world record holder Renaud Lavillenie.  At the same time I've been sitting on a story that came to me from Texas about two months ago.   A long time distant 880 runner from the U. of Texas , Chuck Frawley, contacted us wanting to know if we could find his team's splits on a two mile relay race in California in 1964.   Through the good offices of Pete Brown, we found it.  At the same time Chuck gave us the story on James Means, the first African American athlete to participate in a sport in the old Southwest Conference.   When chatting with Chuck, I realized that Richard Romo had been a member of Chuck's two mile relay team, and that brought back memories of seeing Romo running for the U. of Texas back in the mid 1960's.  Not only was Romo smooth and handsome,  he was fast and he eventually ran several sub four's  beating  Jim Ryun.  His picture showed up in a number of photos we have either found and put on the blog or held in our files.   Through Chuck and from an earlier conversation with Jerry Dyes, former javelin thrower par excellence from Abiliene Christian University, I learned that Romo was now the president of the University of Texas San Antonio.   This led to an exchange of emails between myself and Romo, who now is known by the Hispanic spelling of his name,  Ricardo.    Initially our letters were very brief as one would expect coming from a president of a large university with a complete stranger.  But the bond of track and field led to more extended conversations.   Romo who had been one of the top milers in the country from 1965 go 1968 eventually disappeared from the track world, so it was a curiosity to me how this had occurred.  Where did he start to turn from the athletic world to the academic world?  There had to be a good story in this  man's life.  Indeed there was, and I asked him if he would be willing to share it.   Below is the essay he sent us.  It is thirty pages long, so I have divided it into two parts.  The first is covering his track career,  how he became a great miler.  He took the UT record away from another Hispanic runner Joe Villarreal and held it for forty years until Leo Manzano, a third consecutive Hispanic miler succeeded him.   What were his influences growing up? What made him so great? The second part to be published in a follow up posting will be the academic path that let him to becoming president of a 35,000 plus campus in the heart of Texas.      Ricardo has also shared some of his photos with us as well as  covers of Newsweek and  Sports Illustrated.     Here is his story in his words.



Ricardo Romo



Introduction

By every standard, America is a leader in higher education with the country¹s universities having long dominated the lists of best in the world.  In every category, research, endowment, distinguished faculty, fundraising and innovation, American universities lead.  Certainly with more than 7,300 colleges and universities, America has demonstrated a remarkable global reach.  Today more than 750,000 international students attend American universities.  This essay is a study of how I became a university President and the challenges I faced as I led one Texas university in its transition from a local commuter campus with little research activity into an emerging research university with 30,000 students and its own global outreach. 

            In less than 40 years, The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) grew to among the largest 60 universities in the United States.  With almost no marketing budget, UTSA still managed to attract students from across America and 90 different nations.  At a time when universities struggled to enroll minority students, UTSA¹s ethnic and racial enrollment remained steady at 60 percent.  This story begins with my own account of growing up in San Antonio at a time when a public four-year university did not exist. My early story is about growing up in a socially and racially divided city, where decisions of where to best invest in community projects, including schools, parks, and libraries were often influenced by bias, greed and self interest.  Over time, with new progressive leadership, the city invested in education and new jobs, and as a result, we saw the beginnings of a new era, an era positioning San Antonio for the All American City award the city would win in 2012.

Growing Up
My life began in a quiet barrio in the Westside of San Antonio in the 1940’s. Three of my grandparents had emigrated from Mexico during the Mexico Revolution, arriving in the Westside in 1916.  My grandmother on my mom’s side was a seventh generation Texan, having been born on the border in South Texas.  Only one of my four grandparents had attempted primary school.  Prior to moving to San Antonio, both families had worked as migrant agricultural workers.  Both of my parents were born in San Antonio and they met when the two families joined to pick the cotton crops of South Texas.
Few immigrant children growing up in San Antonio during the Great Depression finished high school. Indeed many left early in their school careers.  My mother was no exception, having gone as far as the sixth grade, she dropped out to help the family meet its financial obligations.  In her early teens, she worked alongside her mother shelling pecans, and later she joined her older sisters in the textile business.
Dad left school, at age 16 where upon he opened up a shoe shine stand downtown.  After several years, he moved on to a job working in a wholesale poultry business.  At the age of 19, the owner of the poultry business offered to sell his business for $200.  With the help of his dad and uncle, they bought the business.  At this point, Dad decided to re-enroll once again in school and managed to earn his high school degree in night school when he was 23 years old.  When Dad finished high school, he married my Mom, Alicia.  Their first house was in the housing project in the Westside of San Antonio.  While living there, America went to war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Soon after, Dad enlisted in the Army Air Corp.  Mom and two kids, including me, went to live next to my grandmother’s house. 
My Dad returned from the war after serving in the Philippines where he earned a Purple Heart.  My parents did not have the education they had wished for, but they were determined that their children receive a good education.  Being good Catholics, they believed in Catholic schools as the ideal place for their kids to be educated.  Most Latino children in the Southwest started primary school with limited English language proficiency.  My brother and I were no exception.  Our grandparents, who spoke only Spanish, were very influential in our upbringing.  When my brother Henry enrolled in the first grade at Sacred Heart Catholic School, he was required to repeat the first grade because school officials did not believe he had sufficient English language skills.  I was turned down from that same school, for being monolingual in Spanish.  For this reason, my parents enrolled me in a public school, Davy Crocket Elementary, for one year.  It was a humbling experience for everyone.  However, a caring teacher, Mary Vela, helped me learn enough English to be accepted into Sacred Heart Catholic School in the second grade.  I attended Sacred Heart for five years.  The school was located in a poor neighborhood, and it had limited resources.  One year, one of our teachers fell ill, and we were doubled up into one large classroom:  70 students with one Nun.
The majority of my classmates from the Westside community of San Antonio lived below the poverty line.  A study done in the 1960s confirmed that most families in this community earned less than $2,000 per year, or an average weekly salary of $40.  We lived slightly above the poverty line thanks to my Dad’s earlier involvement with the poultry business.
When my dad returned from the Armed Services in 1945, he decided to sell his share of the family wholesale poultry business.  He took his new investment and purchased a small grocery store that was going out of business.  In our “mom and pop” grocery business, everyone pitched in.  I worked long hours in the family store, but I realized later that that hard work paid off in many ways.




Our small grocery store was in the heart of the Mexican American barrio and for many neighbors, it served as a gathering place for those interested in social and political causes.  I met and interacted with many of our customers.  Indeed, some of these customers became my dad’s closest friends.  The grocery store experience enhanced my math and reading skills.  More importantly, it gave me an opportunity to expand and improve my social skills or what social scientist would call “emotional intelligence.”  My dad stressed a strong work ethic, but from him, I also learned the value of trust, integrity, respect and public service.  It was in our store that I first met some of the important politicians and community leaders of the Westside.
Golden West 


At the store, although I met a lot of people, I got to know only two who had attended college.  Both of them had attended college on the GI Bill, and for years these educated individuals were role models for me.  I later learned that in most southwestern states, less than three percent of Mexican Americans completed college.
My path to becoming a first generation college student took many unusual twists.  Certainly key to my drive of completing high school and attending college, the path started in middle school.  There, I was rewarded with a very good mentor, Coach Bill Davis, who recognized I had potential in running and constantly pushed me to participate in sports.
On the Westside, the “cool dudes” were tough kids, some of whom were already joining the barrio gangs.  At the time, many of the young teens aspired to be rebellious, and machismo was exalted, if not dignified.  As a consequence, many of the young rebels were often kicked out of school for fighting and misbehavior.  Peer pressure to join the gangs was intense.  Those who did not join were often ostracized.  I was lucky that I attended Horace Mann, a middle school where gang problems were minimal.
There were very few Latinos in our middle school.  My parents had wanted me and my brother to attend a school on the Northside because of the gang problems in our Westside neighborhood.  Using the address of a family friend, we enrolled in Horace Mann, a large Anglo school on the Northside of town, which was accessible to us only by city bus.    The school was 98 percent Anglo with only a handful of Latino students enrolled there in the 1950s.
I was fortunate to be mentored by a kind teacher, Mrs. Randolph, who made it her goal to keep me out of trouble.  She became instrumental in keeping me focused, and with her guidance I was assigned to different jobs on campus.  I served as a volunteer library assistant; and for free meals, I worked in the dining hall cafeteria cleaning and washing dishes.  The librarians encouraged me to read, and while working in the library, I became interested in reading biographies.
While Mrs. Randolph was my academic advisor, Coach Bill Davis served as my athletic mentor.   He was an intelligent, caring individual, with an outgoing personality.  These mentors were influential in my early years and convinced me that every successful leader has benefited from good instruction by caring teachers and positive mentorship.  Each mentor was different and each contributed in his or her own way to personal development. 
In that era, the major battles over civil rights emerged.  From the time of statehood in 1846, Texas was identified as part of the American South.  The South had entered the Union as a slave state and joined the Confederate forces in the Civil War.  Jim Crow resided in Texas, and the City of San Antonio had segregated schools until 1954.  Indeed, even into the next decade, many of the schools remained segregated.  There were many instances of prejudice and discrimination in Texas, not only for Blacks, but also for Latinos.
Coach Bill Davis at Horace Mann Middle School personified the New South.  He, more than anyone at our school, understood prejudice and discrimination.  On one occasion, he caught some of the local high school kids taunting Latino students, including me and my brother Henry.  As he moved across the school yard to intervene, the high school boys attacked us screaming ethnic and racial epithets.  He sensed we were in danger and confronted the aggressive students with a baseball bat demanding they leave the area or suffer the consequences – and they left.  His actions were an act of courage and compassion, an act that my family would ever forget.
My dad was also involved in the Mexican-American civil rights struggle.  He had returned from his military service to witness firsthand blatant discrimination and injustice in his home town.  In the Army Air Corp, he became familiar with the inequality toward Black soldiers.  He taught us that we would likely experience discrimination, and we must also never participate in discriminating against anyone.  He taught us to value equality and justice.
As young boys, we witnessed firsthand the struggle for residential integration.  Our first home had been on El Paso Street before we moved behind our grocery store on Guadalupe StreetGuadalupe Street was a small business community which many considered the commercial heart of the Mexican-American barrio.  When I reached the first grade, my family moved eight blocks north to a neighborhood known as Prospect Hill.  My grandmother worked as a midwife, and because business was always good in the Hispanic community, she had done well economically.  With her life savings, she moved into a new residential and diverse ethnic neighborhood across the Durango Street ethnic divide.  South of Durango Street lived mostly Hispanics, while North of Durango Street lived many Anglos.  Soon she was joined by my uncle Benny, and then us, followed by another uncle, Arnunfo.  I was seven years old at the time.  My aunt also lived behind my grandmother’s house.  All total 38 Romos lived within two blocks of each other.
I might add that I had known little about discrimination growing up because I lived in a barrio with only Hispanic kids.  I first witnessed discrimination when we moved to Prospect Hill.  We saw and heard many discussions of white flight as we moved into our first real home.  In less than five years all the Anglo neighbors had moved out of that neighborhood.  Our street became more and more Latino, and in a few years, it was a total Latino community.  Prospect Hill attracted many of the Latino middle class; families with incomes of more than $3,000 a year.  On our street lived the Davilas, a family who sent a son to college.  Other recognizable leaders coming from our street included Henry Cisneros, later Mayor of San Antonio and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary, and the Briseño family.  Alex Briseño became the city’s first Latino City Manager and his brother Rolando, a prominent artist, lived two blocks away.  On the same street lived the outstanding artist Jesse Trevino and his family.  A block south lived Hope Andrade, later the first Hispanic woman Texas Secretary of State; and one block south lived Lionel Sosa, who in the 1980s founded the largest Latino media company in America. 
During the post-Brown decision of 1954, school segregation declined, and students were able to enroll in any of the city’s public schools.  I decided to attend San Antonio Vocational and Technical High School because my dad was a graduate and because it was relatively close to my home.  My new school offered classes in auto repair, specializing in body and fender courses, and classes preparing workers trades such as printing and plumbing.  Most of the girls took courses to prepare them for homemaking and working in beauty salons.  All of these course offerings were designed to help young people find skilled jobs upon graduation.
I entered high school knowing little about career options.  My dad was counting on me to run the grocery store after he retired.  Thus, initially, I knew that business courses would serve me well.  But after I started running track, the option of attending college on a track scholarship quickly changed my mind set.  In the tenth grade, I won every race I entered up to the State Championship.  Over the next two years, I won every race including two State Championships.  My successes in athletics, and the fact that I held the nation’s second fastest time in the mile, opened new doors.  I had known since the tenth grade that I would be attending college on a track scholarship.  I had many scholarship offers from out-of-state universities, but my family convinced me to select a university close to home.  While I had been a good student at Tech H.S., I left for college in the fall of 1962 with feelings of joy and trepidation.  I knew that only a handful of Latinos were enrolled at UT Austin, and only one other Latino of more than 200 scholarship athletes joined me that year.
While I had given college a lot of thought during my last year in high school, I had very little understanding of what the college experience would be like.  No one in my family had gone away to college, so I never discussed with anyone what I would major in or what courses I should take.  The first year was especially challenging for me.  While I studied constantly, I did not seem to make much progress.  Fortunately, I learned from my classmates how to apply good study habits.  As a result, I began to see positive results.
Racing in England with Alan Simpson and John Wetton
My track career at UT Austin also blossomed.  Over the next four years, I competed both at the national and international levels.  With support from the British Athletic Union, I competed in England for an entire summer.  With the encouragement of my history mentor, I applied and won acceptance to an educational exchange in Santiago de Chile during my junior year.  



Because of interest in teaching history, I turned to education courses with intent to both teach and coach at the high school level.  Upon graduation and newly married, my wife and I left for Los Angeles where I planned to run track and teach high school.  My main goal at the time was to make the 1968 Olympic Team.

I learned from athletics that self-assessment was as important as preparation and training.  As a distance runner, I had to constantly assess my capacity for training, as well as my need for fuel, water, and rest.  I had to determine whether speed was a strength or liability in certain middle and long distance races.  Competing in distance running also taught me lessons about preparation, determination and postponing gratification.  The title of a new book, Heart, Smart, Guts and Luck pretty well sums up what I was learning from my running experience.  However, an injury before the U.S. Olympic trials forced me to reconsider my goals.  I decided to give up track, and instead, redirect my time and energy toward earning an advanced degree.  


from some of our email conversations
George. 
  Well, small world.  No doubt we ran at the Texas Relays at the same
time. I remember Lawson and Dotson, and recall the fine  runners from
the midwest.   One of the best was Robin Lingle from Missouri.  Wonder
 what happened to him.  Thanks for your interest in my story.
My  running days are over.  I do lots of walking.  Best, Ricardo 




Apr 20
Ricardo,
Robin Lingle died several years ago from a lingering illness.
 I don't recall exactly what that was.  His was an interesting
 story having started out at West Point.  He left there after a
 cheating scandal, because as a matter of honor he would not
 rat on his comrades.  He was not accused of cheating.

    I spoke to him several times when we competed against Missouri.
  He was very open and friendly but still carried that military
bearing about him.  Very disciplined, and his presence was a
big influence on that team.  He graduated with an engineering
 degree then turned to teaching in the private secondary school
 in the East where he had been a student.  Taught there his full
career.    He was in the Jerry Thompson mile when John Camien
upset Dyrol Burleson.
     
That's amazing that your mile record held so long at UT.
It also is interesting that it has been  in the hands of a Latino for
 so many years with Joe Villarreal, yourself and Leo Manzano.
Is Villarreal still alive?    I'm interested too that you were not in the
 68 Olympic trials.  Were you injured or had your career taken you
 away from the hard training and racing?
Happy Easter,  George

George.
  I wish Robin (Lingle)  had stayed at West Point.
I finished 2nd to him several times at major Relays,
including 1964 Tx. Relays and Kansas R.  He was quite a
runner—and had a great finish.

I knew Joe V. well in the late 60s—lost touch after
 Mexico '68.  We hosted him when the Mexicans came
 to  Los Angeles in 67.  —he was the Distance coach for
 the Mexican team in 68.  I  Have not heard about him
for decades.

In May 64, I ran a mile race in Houston  and finished one
spot ahead of Jim Ryun.  That month, I took a  job loading
 beef at the meat packing packing district in SA—starting
 work at 2am and ending at  noon. I also enrolled for night
 summer classes—and it was all predictable.  I messed up
 my training schedule and found that training at 5pm in
105 degree weather was nearly impossible.  In June, Jim
 won the  3rd spot on the Olympic team. 

 I was injured in feb. of 1965—got spiked in an indoor meet
 in Ft. Worth—where we ran on dirt left over from the Rodeo.
 It was a deep wound and my season was over.  My last race
was in May of 1967  when I won the West Coast R. in Fresno.
 The top ten milers, including Bob Day were in the race—with
 the exception of Jim Ryun.  With 150 yards to go, I felt a
tightness in my leg and lower back.  I won in about 4:00.8—to
 the great disappointment  of the meet director—Wannamaker,
 who thought I  should have  broken  4min. For the crowd.
I never could train again, and decided to go to  graduate school
instead.  It was a good  decision. 


George - thank you so much for covering Ricardo Romo's story.  As I was reading it, I could only think of my father, Aristeo Ruiz Jr, who had the same up bringing in Austin.  My father was such an athlete and military man and his discipline and encouragement helped shaped me in my athletic career. He had big hopes for me to go to University on scholarship since few in our family did and costs were a big concern for him. Unfortunately, my achievements didn't make it to that level.  But as I was reading Ricardo's story and somewhat hear the disappointment in not making the Olympic team, I realize the glory is not in whatever ultimate goals we had aspired to but in the journey of simply participating in a great sport and becoming a better person from it.
Looking forward to the second part and will have to share this on FB for mi familia de Tejas :). Susan 


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