Del Rio’s sports world lost one its most beloved figures this weekend as longtime coach and educator Manuel Polanco Jr. passed away Sunday morning.
According to the San Felipe Del Rio CISD, Polanco’s career as an educator began with the San Felipe school district in 1965. Over the next three decades, Polanco taught science, physical education and health while also serving as a coach for a variety of sports including football, baseball, basketball, track and field and cross-country.
“Coach Polanco was a strong proponent of our youth; and always hoped that after obtaining an education, many of those he inspired and encouraged would return to serve our community. His former students (and athletes) credit Coach Polanco with instilling in them a belief that if they pursued in their education after high school, they could accomplish anything. As such, his success stories are countless,” the school district said in a release regarding Polanco’s passing. “Mr. Manuel Polanco will always be remembered as one of the most beloved Ram coaches and for his strong support and advocacy for SFDRCISD students and athletics. We will all miss him more than words can express.”
Aside from his career with the San Felipe and San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated school districts, Polanco also taught in Comstock and at Del Rio’s Radiance Academy. He also served as president of the Del Rio Babe Ruth Baseball League as well as other groups in Del Rio.
According to Polanco’s son, Gilbert, funeral services are scheduled for Thursday with G.W. Cox Memorial Funeral Home. He will be laid to rest at Sunset Memorial Oaks Cemetery. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, guests will only be allowed to view the proceedings in or near their vehicles and there will be no visitation with family under canopy or within cemetery grounds.
“We, the family, plan to have a Mass and Celebration of Life later in the summer or when this COVID-19 pandemic social distancing requirements are lifted or when it is most convenient for the family and all in the future,” Gilbert Polanco, on behalf of his family, said. “We thank you all for your thoughts and prayers and hope to see you soon and able to with hugs and kisses. God bless.”
Born in Marfa, Polanco was a standout three-sport athlete at San Felipe High School, playing football, baseball and basketball for the Mustangs. He played football alongside future NFL star Sidney Blanks and future collegiate standout Danny Chavira, played first base for the baseball team and was a key rebounder and scorer for the basketball team. After graduation, he attended Texas A&I, now Texas A&M-Kingsville, before eventually graduating from Sul Ross State University at Alpine.
Polanco cut his teeth as a coach with sub-varsity teams, finding success while learning under a variety of head coaches. He was named the Rams head basketball coach in 1976 following a pair of seasons in which he guided the junior varsity team to a 45-2 record with both losses coming against varsity teams in the finals of a pair of tournaments.
Polanco’s hiring was heralded by former News-Herald sports editor Carl Guys, who wrote the following:
“This strip tips in favor of the decision made by the school board Monday night giving the head basketball post to Manuel Polanco, a dedicated, no-nonsense coach who was a mentor the past season with Jim Harris who is leaving our system for others part of the Lone Star State.
“Polanco is a guy like Coach Harris, determined to give Del Rio the best possible basketball and both are coaches who direct interesting programs where the action is always great.
“Polanco will also produce a real running edition of the Rams and he’ll be highly interested in the defensive tactics of the Del Rio cage crew. We are happy for him and feel that the basketball program continues in fine hands.”