McALLEN — Rio Grande Valley golfing legend Oton “Tony” Guerrero died Saturday surrounded by family members at his home in Mission. He was 96.
His bio on the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame website describes him as “a veritable giant among men in Valley sports history, Guerrero was an original Bronc great. After starting at the university as golf coach and professor of Physical Education in 1969, he worked for 28 years to turn out fine athletes and successful students.”
Guerrero was much more than a golf coach, though. According to his family, he was the first Hispanic principal in the Mission school district. He served as principal for 10 years starting at the old Citriana Elementary, before its name was changed to Castro Elementary.
He had begun his teaching career in the Edinburg school district, where he coached the golf team. He later coached Mission High’s golfers while serving as an elementary principal in that district.
Guerrero coached golf and taught 23 years at Pan American College, Pan American University and the University of Texas-Pan American. He retired from coaching in 1992 to become Assistant Athletic Director at UTPA before retiring for good in 1997.
Guerrero developed many outstanding athletes, including Bronc golfer Mike Brisky (1983-86). Brisky spent 10 years competing professionally (seven on the PGA Tour) and earn nearly $2 million.
While at Pan American, Guerrero organized the Intercollegiate Golf Tournament pitting US college players against golfers from Monterrey, Mexico. Future PGA Tour great Ben Crenshaw won the tournament in the early 1970s, while a student at the University of Texas.
Guerrero is a member of at least three Halls of Fame, including the All-American Intercollegiate Golf Coaches Hall of Fame, the RGV Sports Hall of Fame and the UTRGV Hall of Fame.
Naturally, many Guerrero family members became outstanding athletes themselves.
“He was our first coach,” Melissa Reyna, Guerrero’s granddaughter who is the swim coach for Mission Veterans High, recalled. “He would always tell us that integrity was one of the biggest values. It didn’t matter who was watching or who was listening (he said), integrity was one of our first attributes. I take that with me, trying to be loyal coming back to Mission and knowing that integrity is going to be the most valuable characteristic we are always going to have.”
Sports were always a big part of his life. The son of a mail contractor, Guerrero first learned the game as a teen caddy at Shary Golf Course in Mission.
He was a football teammate of legendary Dallas Cowboys’ Coach Tom Landry while both were students at Mission High in 1941. The Eagles went 12-0 that year and won the Regional title.
They remained lifelong friends.
“He (Landry) would come to the house and he (Guerrero) would serve fajitas,” Reyna said. “(Coach Landry) would bring some of his players.”
Both also served their nation during World War II. Guerrero signed with the Navy while still in high school. He earned his high school diploma after the war, before graduating from what was then Edinburg Junior College.
As a junior college student, he earned extra money as a bus driver, ferrying college students living in the Mission area to school. He walked on to the Edinburg JC golf team, which led to a scholarship to play for Texas A&M.
Funeral arrangements were still pending as of press time.