I’ve said we shouldn’t forget our sports stars of yore. Wayne Thornton, marketing and public relations manager for the El Paso Parks and Recreation Department, agrees.
And boy, did he come up with a gem this year: Gloria Estrada.
Hadn’t heard of her? Not too many have. You see, she was on the first-ever basketball team at UTEP. Few if any fans would show up at the games and there was little notice of them in the media.
Not only that, there was little money to help the team. “There were no airplane rides for us,” she recalls. “We made long, long trips in vans to out of town games – even Brigham Young University.
“We also didn’t have much money for equipment. We would wear Converse tennis shoes in games. Turned ankles were common.”
Nevertheless, she was UTEP’s first female basketball super star. She led the Miners in scoring as both a junior and senior and is tied for second in school history for most field goals made in a game – 14 versus New Mexico State.
BEFORE MORE on Gloria, let me give you a little history.
Equality in women’s sports came to UTEP as it did for other universities with the 1972 adoption of Title IX of the Higher Education Act. The Herculean task of implementing it at UTEP fell on the shoulders of newly appointed athletic director of the Miners, Jim Bowden, a former star quarterback at the school. He had inherited the job after George McCarty had left for Wyoming following the 1972 season.
It was a big blow to budgets throughout the country but especially to UTEP, which had a low economic base to begin with. What’s more, unlike many other state universities, UTEP did not receive funding from the state legislature.
UTEP’S ATHLETIC budget at the time was $650,000, the lowest in the Western Athletic Conference.
It took a while, but there were El Pasoans willing to help. Wayne Thornton and Don Lewis, a couple of radio show hosts at the time, went to UTEP president Raleigh Templeton and proposed forming a women’s basketball team.
Thornton and Lewis had coached a girls’ flag football team and Lewis a girls’ intramural basketball team. Templeton was so impressed with their enthusiasm he provided them with $1,000. It was barely enough to buy uniforms, but it was a start.
BUT GETTING back to Gloria Estrada, Thornton, who co-coached her the first two years at UTEP, says she is the purest shooter he ever saw. “She could hit from anywhere,” he says.
Gloria, who also played volleyball, is quite modest. “There was no three-point line in basketball at the time but I made quite a few baskets from that distance,” she says. “I made quite a few free throws, too. Unfortunately, no statistics were held in those early years.”
She had been a super star at Fabens High School, too, scoring as much as 60 points in one game. She says she enrolled at UTEP “because I wanted to keep playing basketball.”
She has spent the last 34-plus years teaching and coaching in the Fabens, San Elizario and Canutillo school districts. She’s had many winning seasons
THORNTON nominated her for both the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame and the UTEP Athletic Hall of Fame this year.
She didn’t make the former but will be inducted into the UTEP Athletic Hall of Fame at its annual banquet in October.
Other inductees into the UTEP Athletic Hall this year will be Gus Bailey, Harry Flournoy, Wayne Hansen and Greg Joy.
Bailey earned All-Western Athletic Conference and NABC All-District honors twice, 1973-74, during his tenure at UTEP.
Flournoy was the leading rebounder and a team captain on the 1966 national championship squad.
Hansen played at UTEP for three years before moving on to the NFL, first with the Bears and later the Cowboys.
Joy won the high jump title at the 1975 and 1977 NCAA Indoor Championships.
Tickets for the 2013 UTEP Athletic Hall of Fame induction banquet are $25 per person or $160 for tables of eight and can be purchased by calling (915) 747-8759.
Sounds like a great evening.