Sports has the power to accomplish great things. It can break down the thickest barriers that divide us from one another. Over fifty years ago, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente gave us a vision of a society where people are judged on their abilities, hard work, and perseverance. Just last week, Michael Sam, a football player from the University of Missouri, became the first NFL prospect to come out as openly gay. In doing so, he opened a new conversation about tolerance and acceptance. Today, we witness the ongoing ancient tradition of the Olympics, an event in which the world’s nations put their geo-political differences aside in the name of sport.
We look to sports to shine a light upon people that disregards their race, religion, economic class, or sexuality. In our nation’s armed forces we find the men and women who most personify values such as equality and dignity for all. These men and women live their lives devoted to protecting our nation, its people, and their freedom. Not enough can ever be done or said to fully honor or repay the debt that we, as citizens of a free nation, owe to their sacrifice.
This debate highlights two sources of deep pride for Edgewood ISD: one is the countless number of former students who have honored us by choosing to live lives of service to our country; the other is a remarkable individual who devoted himself passionately to a competitive sports program that is often overlooked or forgotten. It is a true tragedy, then, when community members become divided from one another when they have so much to celebrate. If the Edgewood ISD school board is guilty of any wrongdoing, it is guilty of dividing the community between these sources of pride. The only way to move forward from this controversy is to reach a compromise that honors Edgewood’s past while continuing to encourage and inspire its current students.
A name does more than identify a person or place. It establishes an identity and sets a standard to which we all can aspire. Frank Mata devoted his life to Edgewood ISD as a teacher, coach, mentor, and friend. When he passed away in 1999, he left a legacy in Edgewood’s athletic program that the school district chose to honor by renaming the former “Edgewood Stadium” “Frank Mata Stadium.” When Edgewood’s students see Frank Mata’s name on their stadium, they should be reminded of what an individual can accomplish. It should remind them that someone just like them, someone from Edgewood, made a difference that touched the lives of many people.
Our students should look at the names that adorn the places in their community and feel proud of where they come from. They should feel the same sense of pride when they see the name on their stadium as they might feel when they see signs pointing to the Cleto Rodriguez freeway, Cesar Chavez boulevard, or Gus Garcia Middle School. These namesakes do more than celebrate the lives of single individuals. They serve as monuments for future generations, reminding them of what people just like them can achieve.
Honoring our veterans is a truly commendable undertaking. But we cannot dishonor the legacy of Frank Mata—what he worked for and what he achieved—by allowing his name to disappear from our memory. The Edgewood ISD school board now has the opportunity to unite the community around its alumni who have been part of causes much greater than themselves. The “Frank Mata Field at the Edgewood Veteran’s Sports Complex” is the most fair and proper name for the stadium under the current circumstances. It would honor Edgewood’s proud tradition of duty to community and service to country more than ever before.