Mission High School

               Come to school everyday..... and "Change the World".  Becoming the person YOU wish to become.              GO EAGLES!

Mission coach Iglesias leaves legacy heading into retirement

MISSION — There is no doubt in Mission High’s Sara Stubbs’ mind as to what makes the Lady Eagles’ softball program special.




“Everything we do is because of tradition, and that’s because of Coach (Iris) Iglesias,” the senior catcher said. “The tradition gives us a reason to want to play harder, because we know we’re playing for something bigger than us.

“We play for Coach.”

Since Iglesias, 57, started the program in 1995, Mission High has been a consistent staple of Valley softball, claiming five district championships, nine bi-district playoff titles and a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2000. But on Friday, the final chapter was written for Iglesias’ illustrious career, as her Lady Eagles came up short in a 7-3 bi-district playoff loss at Flour Bluff. The Mission native, deservingly, now sets for retirement, having worked for her alma mater Mission High since 1980.

“My dream as a kid was to come back and give something back, and that was fulfilled,” Iglesias said. “I got here, and I’ve been here ever since. I always wanted to be a coach growing up, in any sport.

“Shoot, I would love to have even coached football.”

Iglesias played during a time when Title IX was introduced. She coached during a time when only volleyball, tennis and track and field were available to females as sports.

And she initiated a softball program during a time when resources were slim.

“It wasn’t even about taking a chance when I brought her on,” said Roy Garcia Sr., who hired Iglesias as a Mission High sub-varsity coach in 1980. “I knew she could do it. I knew she had the knowledge.

“She’s aggressive and she has the desire to win. That’s what I wanted. We wanted the proper leadership, and she had it.”

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

Iglesias, a 1973 graduate of Mission High, played volleyball and ran some track in high school. She played volleyball on scholarship at then-Pan American University (now UTPA), and it was there that she first became acclimated to competitive softball, playing for the university’s fast pitch program.

She spent two years at Pan Am before going with her husband, who was in the military, to the east coast for three years. When she returned, she got her coaching career started thanks to Garcia and coach Carmen Martinez, whom Iglesias played for as a Lady Eagle and then served as a volleyball assistant for.

“When I went to Pan Am, that was when Title IX came in for females and it was a huge deal,” Iglesias said. “Things came into play and it fully came in the next couple of years, where they were looking at all sports and the equity part.

“Being young, I didn’t really know what was happening. I look back now and I realize I was a product of it. Playing with the seniors as a freshman in college was a big difference. You could see steps were being made to get girls sports going.”

Iglesias coached volleyball at Mission High before taking over the girls’ basketball program from the mid-1980s up until 1995. That’s when she was asked to lead the softball program.

“Maybe we had the right personnel or right leadership, but it wasn’t hard to start a program with Coach Iglesias in charge,” Garcia said. “Iris produced. Once she started, she won. Nobody knew much about softball, but she did. That gave her a step up.

“She knew what she was doing.”

It was a task Iglesias was enamored with.

“I wanted the challenge of starting the program and setting the tone, getting this thing off the ground,” she said. “Getting girls involved … even today, it’s a challenge because we don’t have softball in the middle schools. If these kids aren’t playing summer ball or travel league, it’s difficult.

“By the time they become seniors, they’re at a junior level. It’s frustrating when you see all the other sports that have that, but that’s what I wanted to build. I wanted to start something.”

The hardships were plenty. Iglesias’ vehicle was used as a storage unit for softball equipment. The Lady Eagles did not have a softball field their first two years, so they played games at a local city park and used the football field for practice. Iglesias recalled that the state tournament in 1995 and 1996 was even played at a city park in Austin.

In 1997, the Lady Eagles finally got their own softball field. And since then, Iglesias said, building a program has been relatively easy. Wins came early and often, culminating in the 2000 Lady Eagles that finished as regional semifinalists after placing third in district.

“I think we were just trying to live up to her standards,” said McAllen Memorial softball coach Audra Flores, the catcher for that Eagles team. “Making the playoffs was never a question; it was always just how far we could go. We had a big-picture mentality.

“When you play Mission softball, you live up to the name.”

Flores recalls how Iglesias put a lot of time and energy into developing the pitcher-catcher relationship. It molded Flores and pitcher Leslie Moreno, now a coach at La Joya Palmview, into being able to take the program to its greatest height so far.

“She instilled in us that we were going to be together four years and she would ask us, ‘What are you all going to do?’” Flores said. “That sticks with you. It drives you.”

A MISSION INSTITUTION

“I don’t know what we’re going to do without Iris.”

Mercedes softball coach Betty Morrell, Iglesias’ cousin, searches for the right words to express her thoughts. Those 10, however, pretty much sum up her feelings, as well as those of many others.

Morrell, who started coaching softball at Mercedes two years after Iglesias started Mission’s program, has coached against Iglesias for a long time, establishing her own tradition with the Lady Tigers. She credits Iglesias for helping her get her start.

“We’re very close,” Morrell said. “We’ve both got each other’s back and I have the utmost respect for her. When I first got to Mercedes, I was new to this and she welcomed me. She gave me a bunch of advice, was always a phone call away.

“She’s someone who’s willing to share what she’s learned, and obviously it’s a lot.”

Senior Lyanna Garza spent two years playing at a rival school before transferring to Mission High. The difference between the two programs, she said, was night and day.

“There’s a lot more tradition here,” she said. “It’s just not the same. It’s more business. What Coach has built makes you feel like you’re more a part of things.”

Iglesias, who has seen the growth of female sports prosper so much that she has also been girls athletics coordinator at Mission High since 2009, contemplated retiring after last season, but decided to give it one more year. Now there are no second thoughts or regrets, even as the Lady Eagles cruised through another strong season, winning 21 of their 28 games.

“I think I’ve done enough,” said Iglesias, who is looking forward to spending more time with her four grandkids. “I’ve enjoyed what we’ve done here, but it’s got to happen sometime, right? Your body kind of gets tired, and I’m just tired.”

The Sweet 16 team. The district and bi-district championships. The annual Mission Fastpitch Festival that remains the standard for Valley tournaments. Iglesias has left her mark. She accomplished what she set to do.

“I’m excited for her,” Morrell said. “I know she’s been at this for a long time and I know she’s excited about her grandkids. I’m happy for her. She’s done so much.

“Mission softball is what it is because of her.”

dsilva@themonitor.com
Published Print