POSTED: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 - 8:47am
UPDATED: Thursday, February 25, 2010 - 11:33am
The best Valley athletes, coaches and programs are honored in the second annual All-Star Sports Awards. A complete list of the winners are posted at www.rgvsports.com 
Stephen Saenz and Victoria Gonzalez are very different athletes. Their sports require incredibly different skills. One excelled in individual sports while the other was a star of her team. But despite the differences, their accomplishments were honored the same way at the Rio Grande Valley All-Star Sports Awards, presented by the Harlingen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and RGVSports.com. Saenz, who won the state championship in the shot put was named the Male Athlete of the Year. Winning the award was even more meaningful for Saenz because of the presence of Rio Grande City throws coach Larry Howell, who recently suffered a stroke but was able to accept the award with his star athlete. “For him to be standing here is amazing,” Saenz said. “He’s been like a dad to me. He’s one of my biggest admirers and I admire him so much.” Gonzalez, meanwhile led the Hidalgo Lady Pirates to the Class 3A Final Four in basketball and took home the Female Athlete of the Year, capping a special year for the Hidalgo athletic program. It was also a special year for Gonzalez, who was also a part of the Lady Pirates’ district champion volleyball team. “It was an awesome year,” Gonzalez said. “I can remember my freshman year but I know I’ll never forget my senior year.” While Saenz was the lone winner or nominee from RGC, Gonzalez was far from the only Pirates athlete honored. The Pirates won four awards, and ended a historic school year on a high note. “It was a pleasure to be nominated in every category,” Hidalgo athletic director Albert Guerra said. “To come out with four awards out of the seven, we’re extremely proud of that. To have the boys Team of the Year and the girls Team of the Year from the same athletic program, just speaks volumes for our athletic program, and we’re really excited to be a part of that historic year.” Girls basketball coach Monica Rodriguez, was a nominee for Coach of the Year, which went to Santa Rosa basketball coach Johnny Cipriano for leading the Warriors to the Class 2A Final Four.
Jessica Olvera’s free throw with 3 seconds remaining in the regional final that sent the Lady Pirates to the Final Four was named Moment of the Year. Together, Rodriguez, Gonzalez and Olvera helped the Lady Pirates earn Female Team of the Year. “It’s been a historic year all season. To end like this in the Rio Grande Valley as girls Team of the Year just closes it off,” Rodriguez said. “This was a historic year for us. Definitely the most memorable for our team and myself.” The success wasn’t limited to the girls basketball team, either. The 4A state champion boys soccer team added one more award, as it won Male Team of the Year. Coach Esequiel Morales was a nominee for Coach of the Year, while star forward Jesus Mireles was also in the running for Male Athlete of the Year. “There’s no words to describe the excitement and joy that one feels when you get to accomplish the goals you set your mind to,” Morales said. “I look back at it now and there’s so many things I take with me as a young coach that I’m learning and that I’m going to use to get better and win more championships.” One of the few awards Hidalgo didn’t win Tuesday night was Program of the Year. Despite being the only school to have nominees in seven categories, the Pirates were passed over for Sharyland.
While Hidalgo sent two teams to state and won one title, Sharyland won 12 district championships and finished second in four other sports. To show his appreciation for his staff, Sharyland athletic director Richard Thompson invited his coaches up to the stage to accept the honor with him, a group that included baseball coach Barton Bickerton and football coach Fred Sanchez. “It means a great deal for our school because we do want to develop the overall program,” Thompson said. “That’s one of the goals we do have. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to win a district championship in everything, but we want to be competitive in every sport.” Also honored was former Donna and Edinburg High coach Earl Scott, who won the Robert Vela Lifetime Achievement Award. Along with quarterback Luz Pedraza – who was in attendance – Scott led the Redskins to a 1961 state championship, the Valley’s only football state title.
Brian Sandalow covers high school sports for Valley Freedom Newspapers. You can reach him at (956) 683-4436 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
HARLINGEN – The following is the list of winners of the 2009 Rio Grande Valley All-Star Sports Awards, presented by the Harlingen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and RGVSports.com:
Robert Vela Lifetime Achievement Award
Male Athlete of the Year
Stephen Saenz, Rio Grande City
Female Athlete of the Year
Victoria Gonzalez, Hidalgo
Male Team of the Year
Hidalgo Boys Soccer
Female Team of the Year
Hidalgo Girls Basketball
Coach of the Year
Johnny Cipriano, Santa Rosa
Program of the Year
Moment of the Year
Jessica Olvera’s two free throws, sending the Lady Pirates to the Final Four