Once upon a time, when the world was young, the Rio Grande Valley embarked on a journey in basketball. Though early games starting in the 1910s were played on dirt courts outdoors during the day (no electric lights) and though the first official high school seasons took place amid the chaos and uncertainty of extreme national and ethnic tensions on the border, the sport caught on rapidly.
In the Valley, football has always been king, but basketball too has generally had a staunch following of die-hards. In Hardwood Heroes Vol. 1 the reader will get a comprehensive look at the formative stages of the game, including on one hand the prominent pioneers – players, coaches, promoters – who made the game go, but on the other, the cultural and socio-political context of the times. The book ranges from the beginning, in 1913-14, all the way up to 1989, and en route it examines the impact of race, economics, and technology on the sport, among other factors. For instance, one can read about the initial attempts to popularize roundball and obstacles to doing so: one year during the Teens, the McAllen contingent had exactly one basketball to play with! In the early 1920s, the exploits of the Harlingen Cardinals were interrupted by a march from the Ku Klux Klan, protesting the impending graduation of the first Mexican-American student in school history.
The book traces the population growth of various towns in the Valley and suggests that demographics have always been a predictor – with reservations – of success in high school sports. These population numbers also had something to do with which schools built indoor gyms, and which continued to play outside, into the Forties. Early basketball powers such as Raymondville would in time see their dominance dwindle with flattening census figures, but Hardwood Heroes surveys the Bearkats’ rise to the state tournament in Austin, in the spring of 1940, when they had the best team in South Texas.
And that is another element to the work. The reader will see, perhaps for the first time, that in the Ancient Era of Valley hoops, a number of schools besides Raymondville were to achieve the trip to Austin for the state tourney, including Harlingen a record six times, and Santa Rosa, which went on back-to-back Magical Mystery Tours in 1961 and 1962. Edinburg did it three times in a 10-year span starting in the early 1920s … did you know?
The intent of this book is to provide an encyclopedia for RGV fans. If one wants to know, year by year, who did what to whom and how well, they should read it. It was written to make sure that alongside big brother football, the indoor sport would have its own chronicle and compendium of facts, anecdotes, history, and records.