Nemo Herrera has monument to his greatness

 

The late William C. “Nemo” Herrera was one of the greatest high school coaches not only in El Paso but in all of Texas. Now he has a monument in El Paso that testifies to that fact -- a school bearing his name.

The opening of the William C. “Nemo” Herrera Elementary School was celebrated last Wednesday, much to the delight of his family, friends and legions of admirers. Needless to say, the auditorium in which the opening ceremonies were held was packed.

 

HERRERA IS best known in El Paso for coaching Bowie High School to the state baseball championship, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. He did something no other high school coach has done in Texas. That is, win state championships in two different major sports.

Before coming to El Paso in 1946, he coached Lanier High School in San Antonio to two – count them, two – state basketball titles. Not only that, his teams there made the finals two other times and reached the state tournament on seven different occasions.

The San Antonio school district honored him recently, too. It named the basketball court at one of its high schools the “Nemo Herrera Court” and put up a permanent sign declaring it so.

 

THOSE TWO are just his latest honors. He was inducted into the Texas High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 1967, the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame in 1969, the El Paso Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988, the Southwestern University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995 and the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.

But, of course, having a school named for him has to rate as his biggest honor.

His two sons and grandson, who were in attendance at Wednesdays’ ceremonies, couldn’t have been more proud.

 

CHARLES HERRERA spoke Wednesday of how his father not only won those state championships but did it with kids from the poorest Hispanic sections of both El Paso and San Antonio and in an era when discrimination was rampant. He quoted part of an article that appeared in the San Antonio Express News that read, in part:

“This is about a high school coach who took scared, skinny boys with growling stomachs and molded them into men of sturdy stuff. But it’s also about love, loyalty, compassion and champions. Herrera was far more than a coach. He knew more about his boys than did their parents. No coach ever played a tougher schedule. His opponents were poverty, pestilence and despair and he met them head on with a smile and understanding in his heart …”

Nemo’s other son, William, and Nemo’s grandson, Scott, along with Charles, expressed their gratitude to El Paso school district officials.

 

NEMO HERRERA was an outstanding athlete in his own right. He wasn’t a big man physically but he was as ferocious a competitor as they come. He played all three major sports in high school and lettered in all three. In fact, he lettered all four years in both basketball and baseball,

Baseball was his forte, however, and at Southwestern College he excelled as a second baseman. He was so good he played several years in the minor leagues

 

I WAS LUCKY to have been high school editor at the El Paso Herald-Post during Nemo’s coaching heyday in El Paso in the 1950s. I marveled at his ability.

He coached both baseball and basketball at Bowie High and won district championships in both.

And when Bowie head football coach Buryl Baty and assistant coach Jerry Simmang were killed and the other assistant coach, Fred Rosas, was seriously injured in a car crash in 1953, Herrera was asked to take over the head football coaching reins. The disaster occurred just before the district championship game against Austin High School. Austin won, but Herrera, with little notice, kept the team together well enough to make it a contest.

Nemo Herrera will forever be a legend in Texas high school lore. And deservedly so.

 

Veteran sports journalist and author Ray Sanchez welcomes suggestions for his column. Contact him at (915) 584-0626, by e-mail at rayf358@yahoo.comor online at www.raysanchezbooks.com