Coach’s Corner: Memories of a Fallen Hero

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On Tuesday, October 13, 2015, the world lost a wonderful man and a great coach.  John Velasquez lost his battle with cancer only a short time after retiring from the profession that he loved in the spring of 2015.  For those that had the honor to have played for him, as well as those who had the pleasure of working with him, his passing leaves us with a heavy heart.

johnvelasquezJohn received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Texas in 1978.  He began his coaching career in 1978 at Big Spring, where he stayed for 12 years until moving to Floresville in 1991.  He spent 15 years in Floresville and made stops at Ft. Bend Marshall and Lamar Consolidated before finishing his career at San Antonio Southwest high school.  During his time coaching, he worked on and received his Masters in School Administration/Principalship from Texas A&M Kingsville in 2001.

Coach Velasquez exemplified the phrase, “one of a kind.”  As a coach, he was demanding of his players regardless of background or talent.  As a colleague he was someone that quickly earned respect, and was always willing to speak his mind.  As a friend he was loyal and kind to those who had earned his trust.

When John was on the field coaching, it was hard to miss him.  John’s short stature and fiery attitude gave proof to the adage that powerful things come in small packages.  He had a fire and energy that was palpable.  Some would say that he was hard on his players; most understand that he was merely demanding.  John didn’t care about the size or talent of a player, it didn’t matter how much a player lifted, or how fast his forty-time was, Coach V. pushed each player to reach their potential.

John’s talent lay in his ability to get his players to fight every play.  He knew how to light a fire in them.  He never gave up on a kid, or made excuses for them.  I remember John once telling a player, “You’re like a mosquito hitting a tank, but you can’t quit, you’ve got to keep fighting.”  It was that “never say die” mentality, paired with his genuine care and concern for his players’ success that made him an excellent motivator and endeared him to his players.

Bowen Crisp was a senior baseball player for John last season, and he had this to say about John, “Coach Velasquez was my head baseball coach and football coach in high school, but he was way more than just a coach in my eyes.  I will never forget the time during my senior year when my head wasn’t in the right place.  He took me aside and said that whatever was wrong that he had my back and he loved me, and then he gave me a hug, which was much needed.  Coach Velasquez wasn’t just a good coach, but more importantly, he was a great man and I pray to God that I will one day be close to as great as he was.”

John was a truly unique individual, even among coaches.  There are coaches who are great X’s and O’s guys, and coaches that instill great team discipline.  For those of us that have had the distinct honor of coaching with John Velasquez, there are things that we learned about him very quickly.  One of the things that stand out is the fact that there were few, if any, on staff that would out-work him.

Even though he drove from the Northeast side of San Antonio to the far Southwest side of town, he was always one of the first people on campus, and usually one of the last to leave.  Sometimes he was preparing for his classes, which he took seriously, other times he might show up with a player or two in tow.  Many evenings he went out of his way to drop players off after practice or a game because they didn’t have a ride home.  John never had to be asked to pitch in when setting up practice, or putting away uniforms, he just jumped in where help was needed.  His work ethic, even in his 50’s, was incredible.

Another thing you learned by working with John was that he wasn’t afraid to tell you things as he saw them.  He was comfortable letting you know his point of view, even if it didn’t necessarily go with what was popular.  John’s forthright nature served him well, and allowed him to garner due respect from those who worked with him.

John was an outstanding model of what a coach should be.  Steve Chapa, who coached with John over the past several years at Southwest said, “John was a father figure for so many kids and young coaches.  He always put family first and believed in doing right by all.  He always made himself available to help anyone that needed it, whether it was lunch money or a ride.”  Coach Velasquez lived and breathed coaching, it wasn’t just a job, it was a large part of what defined him.

John was the kind of person who enriched the lives of those around him, and to each person, his impact was different.  John Tarvin, Southwest high school’s defensive coordinator, recalls that, “John’s greatest asset was his ability to build positive relationships with players, coaches and faculty.  He would listen more than most people and could always find something positive in a situation.  I am a better person for having known him.”

Another colleague of John’s at Southwest, Brandon Crisp, said, “John was a wonderful coach, and anyone who saw his craft would agree.  He loved the profession and built tremendous relationships with his colleagues and many of his students and athletes.  Most importantly, he was a kind and compassionate man who loved his family and friends.  He was a great mentor for me and a loving coach for my boys.  He will always be in our thoughts.  John will be missed, but his legacy will live on.”

To work with John meant learning about coaching, but it meant learning about friendship, and what it meant to be a stalwart friend even more.  Jodie Stringer came on staff with John at Floresville high school over 20 years ago, and as he puts it, John “was a character in every sense of the word.”  One story that Coach Stringer tells about John is a true display of John’s selflessness and commitment to those he considered his friends.

“On a cold and blustery Thursday night in November, we were playing our final sub-varsity game of the year, and the winner would determine the JV district champion.  We found ourselves pinned down on our own one yard line late in the fourth quarter, protecting a 6-0 lead, and it was fourth down.  We coaches got together to decide whether we should attempt to punt with the wind gusting in our face, and decided we had no other choice.  The punt hung in the wind and rolled back to our five yard line.  Needless to say, the other team scored a couple of plays later and converted the point after to win 7-6.  The head coach was pretty upset afterward and called us in to find out who decided to punt, and cost the kids the game.  John, as the veteran coach on staff, stepped up and claimed it was his decision, even though it had been a group consensus.  He took the heat for us young guys even though he didn’t have to, a trait he displayed throughout his lifetime of looking out for others and aiding those who needed it.”

John Edward Velasquez was a wonderful man regardless of which role he was playing, father, husband, coach, teacher, colleague or friend.  I feel blessed for having had the opportunity to work with him and call him my friend.  He displayed amazing courage in the face of his diagnosis last summer, and chose to continue on in the profession he loved despite his health.

He was committed to his players and his friends and family.  He was always willing to listen when someone needed to talk, and would always give the best advice he could when he felt it was needed.

Coach Stringer said it best, and I agree with his sentiment wholeheartedly, when he said about meeting and knowing John, “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had made a lifelong friend, and John would call me from time to time to check on me and the wife, and once we had kids he asked about them as well.  He really cared about you and yours, and it came from his heart.  You knew he meant what he said, and said what he meant. Thank you John for all of the wonderful memories, and God bless you and yours.  You represented what is right with the world and we will never forget you, and will certainly miss you.  You changed the world, and you did it your way my friend.”

Rest in peace dear friend.

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