You can call him “Coach Flash,” “Fabulous Coach Flash,” “Mister Valdez,” or even “Coach Valdez,” but in a few days you can call him officially retired.
Fernando Valdez, a physical education teacher at Ruben Chavira Elementary School and an assistant with the Del Rio High School golf team, is calling it a career after 44 years of service as an educator in Del Rio.
Valdez, who always made sure you remembered to spell his last name “with a ‘Z’,” began working with the San Felipe Del Rio CISD in 1974 after earning his degree at Sul Ross State University. But it wasn’t the athletic field that Valdez first called home.
“As an elementary school teacher back then, we were self-contained. We taught everything including penmanship and cursive. I began at North Heights, and early on I was told I had the signs of being a good P.E. coach,” Valdez said. “At that time there were only four elementary schools – North Heights, Garfield, East Side and Memorial – and all four schools participated in intramurals in football, basketball, track and softball, so we taught and helped coach.”
After six years at North Heights Valdez was re-assigned to East Side and became the P.E. teacher there. The next year, Valdez was re-assigned to the district’s seventh grade campus. He would remain in junior high athletics until he was re-assigned to Ruben Chavira in 2010.
With more than four decades of instruction under his belt, Valdez has seen his fair share of student-athletes, but some stick out in his mind more than others.
“I was a coach for Todd Hays (Winter Olympics silver medalist in the four-man bobsled). I knew about his dad who was a heck of an athlete in his time. His dad told me to look out for him and I told him, ‘don’t worry. I’ll take care of him.’ He was a heck of a running back for me. I also got the chance to coach Larry Molini, who was a heck of a baseball player. I coached many of our current coaches – Joe Nieto, who played basketball; Nufie Rodriguez, Frenchey McCrea and Tyrell McCrea – they were my running backs. Jesse Limon ran track for me,” Valdez said. “I’m proud of all of them and I’m glad they excelled because they became leaders in our community. That idea of working hard and helping each other was always there for them.”
“I was also blessed to coach my son, Benjamin Valdez, throughout his baseball career and through his offseason training. He went onto become an all-state pitcher in 1990,” Valdez added.
Valdez, who graduated from San Felipe High School in 1969, has coached nearly every sport possible in the district, including middle school tennis for a spell, but he’s never been a head coach at the varsity level. Valdez said he’s had his chances, but in the end he preferred to stay at the junior high.
“I’ve had the chance to move up to varsity a few times, but I knew that if I left it would make the middle school programs suffer, so I stayed,” Valdez said.
Valdez said he did have one regret, and that was not finishing his mid-management certification. He said that would have allowed him to go into administration.
“I started to do that, but I just loved coaching so much and it interfered with my classes. I’m just six hours away, or two classes, from finishing,” Valdez said.
Aside from being a coach, Valdez also served as a driver’s education instructor from 1982 to 2017. He also held a supervisor’s certificate, meaning he could oversee and instruct up to six instructors.
He used his time as a driver’s ed instructor to teach his kids the finer points of life at times.
“We practiced using the drive through, but if anyone spilled my coffee they failed,” Valdez said. “The first care I got to use was a Malibu two-door, hard top. I got to use an old station wagon, which was an old San Felipe administrator’s car, and we drove that all the way to Fort Stockton and Carrizo Springs for highway practice. I even had to drive the big yellow buses to games.”
Looking back, Valdez said there isn’t anything he would change, but said he looks forward to what the future holds for him and his wife Cecilia.
“I want to thank the parents for all their backing and support they’ve given to their sons and daughters, coaches and teachers. I want to thank all the student-athletes I’ve coached for their striving for maximum success in their classes as well as on and off the fields for whatever sport they participated in and how they represented Del Rio High School athletics,” Valdez said. “I also want to thank my amazing family for all their support. My lovely wife, Cecilia, for all her backing and support throughout all the years; my son, Benjamin, his wife Yanakany Valdez, my grandchildren Benjamin, Sophia, Amanda and Erin; and my great-granddaughter Mya. It has been a great ride for me!”