University Has Team That It Doesn’t Want
Meet the football team without a school.
Every member of the Broncos squad attends the University of Texas Pan American, practices daily on campus and wears the school’s green and white colors.
The university wants nothing to do with them. The team is the creation of a football-hungry faction of the Alumni Assn.
“Pan American University does not have a football team, does not plan to have a football team, and cannot afford a football team,” university Athletic Director Sam Odstrcil said in a letter distributed after the team started practice in August. “The current effort by the Pan American University Alumni Assn. is in no way connected to the university.”
Even the name “Broncos” grates on university officials who have suffered through decades of countless mispronunciations by those adding an “o” to the school’s mascot, the Broncs.
Too bad, says Eddie De La Garza, president of the UTPA Alumni Assn.
“This is going to continue whether the school supports us or not,” he said.
The Edinburg attorney and other Broncos supporters believe it will be easier to get a football program at the school with a team already in place and some community support.
The Broncos are meant to create that momentum at the school in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 15 miles from the Mexican border.
It has been a 40-year crusade, said Bronco Coach Don Pendergrass, an electronics marketer.
“After 40 years, something’s better than nothing,” Pendergrass said. “We don’t have aspirations of being Oklahoma or Nebraska or anything like that, but with this school of 13,000 we see a big void out there that’s not being filled.”
Pendergrass is president of the newly formed Gridiron Chapter of the Alumni Assn. He said the chapter so far has invested about $10,000 in the team.
The Broncos are playing teams from Mexico in a 14-game schedule at area high school stadiums.
Their first game on Sept. 2 ended with a 20-7 loss to the Zorros from the Instituto Tecnologico de Queretaro.
De La Garza blamed the defeat on “jitters” and that the team never before had worn pads, helmets and uniforms. The shipment of pads arrived three hours before the game, and some of the pants didn’t fit, players said, forcing a last-minute scramble to sporting goods stores.
The Broncos did better in their second game Sept. 9, beating the Universidad Mexico Americana del Norte, 36-0.
“It’s a start,” said 29-year-old Clint Cobb, the team’s largest and oldest player. “You have to start from scratch. This is the scratch.
“Now I can tell my kids I played for UT.”
Cobb, a Floridian who played basketball for Pan American in 1981-82, left and returned in 1986 to finish his physical education degree. Pan American became UT Pan American on Sept. 1, when it joined the UT System.
The school, originally called Edinburg College, had a football team from its founding in 1927 until 1950, but has stayed away from the sport since then.
“People are going to start accepting us once we start to do something,” said 18-year-old Danny Diaz, from La Feria, who said he was all-district linebacker in high school.
Most on the 40-man squad played in high school, but for various reasons were unable or chose not to go to colleges with football programs.
The team keeps high spirits, but anxiety is all the Broncos bring to university officials, especially during the three weeks of tackle football practice without pads or helmets.
Late last week, Broncos promoters still were trying to firm up a liability insurance policy.
“The liability. That’s the big thing. The liability,” said school athletic director Odstrcil. “We need to be clear that they’re not associated with us.”
Odstrcil said he keeps an open mind about a football team for the school, “but there’s a lot of thought that needs to go into it.”
Baseball, basketball and 12 other sports are all the university is equipped to handle now, he said. It has a well-kept soccer field, but none for football.
The Broncos practice on a scrubby field between two parking lots.
The school has refused to authorize use of its name, facilities, personnel, colors or mascot, but Broncos coach Pendergrass said he doesn’t see much the university can do about it, given that all the players are students.
“We’ll probably do it again next year and the year after that and the year after that,” Pendergrass said, “until we can either step up or step out.”