Seguin’s John Garcia was not always a coach.
Garcia, the Lady Mats head softball coach for the last 15 years, took the long route to finish his degree and get to his career in coaching.
A student at Texas A&M right out of high school, Garcia left school and joined the Navy, where he served for three years, mostly on aircraft carriers.
“I was in Grenada, and then spent some time in the Middle East,” Garcia, 55, said. “I worked on a squadron that was an anti-submarine tracking squad, so basically we tracked submarines that followed the carriers — there were always Russian submarines following us wherever we went.”
After serving, he returned to Texas and opted to continue his college education at University of Texas San Antonio, where he zeroed in on his dream of becoming a coach.
“I had wanted to be a teacher and a coach since I could remember,” Garcia said. “When I went to UTSA I knew that’s what I was going to do.”
But starting a family shortly after returning to college meant that he had to finish part-time, and he didn’t graduate until 1995, some 14 years after graduating from high school.
He was 31 years old when he finally got the degree.
“Once I started a family I had to get a real job, so I started a sub-contracting business, doing sheetrock and wallpaper,” Garcia said.
But coaching was the goal, and Garcia got his first job shortly after graduating in Floresville, as the head softball coach and a cross country coach.
While he was making way more money as a contractor, that didn’t matter to him.
“It was some long days sometimes, having to work, do school stuff, raise a family and all that,” Garcia said. “I always wanted to do it, I had the mindset that I was going to do it no matter what it took.
“I think if you ask anybody that is coaching and teaching at this level, it’s not about the money. It’s about the love you have for teaching and coaching whichever sport you coach.”
An all-around athlete at San Antonio Highlands High School, Garcia played several sports.
While there he played baseball, his first love, plus football, soccer, cross country and track.
He continued his athletic career at UTSA, running cross country and track, where he ran a mile in the “high 4’s,” he said.
Garcia cut his teeth coaching while at UTSA as an unpaid graduate assistant in the last couple of years he was finishing his degree.
The job at Floresville came next and he was at the school for 10 years, with the next stop in Seguin, meaning he has only worked at two different schools as a coach.
“I do believe in loyalty,” Garcia said.
Since coming to Seguin, the success of his program has been steady and ongoing — the Lady Mats have made the playoffs 11 of the 14 years he’s been here.
He notes an attention to detail as one of the reasons for the success.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m a great coach, but I would say that I’m thorough,” Garcia said. “We always pay attention to small details and work on fundamentals all the time. But none of that (the success) happens if you don’t have great players.
“You have to have great players, you’ve got to coach them and you’ve got to have them prepared.”
The little league program in Seguin, and the travel teams that play in the summer, means that he’s had girls coming into the program that have played a lot of softball before they get to Seguin High School.
“We have a good combination of that,” Garcia said. “I tell the girls all the time that if you can play wherever, and play more, playing year-round is going to help you tremendously.”
His current teams has five or six girls that made the the softball little league world series a few years ago.
“They are now going to be sophomores and juniors, so it’s good that they have had some success earlier in their careers,” Garcia said.
He started with the softball program at Floresville, as a volunteer coach in the first year of the program’s existence.
“I started out just teaching, but they asked me if I wanted to volunteer coach for the softball team,” he said. “I wanted to get my foot in the door, so I said yes. They liked what I did and the next year they hired me as a cross country coach and an assistant softball coach.”
In his first year at Seguin, the coach oversaw an historic moment in the softball program at the school.
“Our first playoff game against Reagan, we won it,” he said. “I believe it was the first time the program had won a playoff game. The girls were so nervous that a couple of them threw up before the game, and one of them threw up during the game — we had to call a timeout.
“When I see her around town I remind of her of that.”
A subsequent playoff win over Brandeis stands out because a pitcher of the opposing team got hit in the head with a line drive — she was fine — but Garcia’s team came back and won the game.
“The young lady that hit that ball is a coach now,” Garcia said. “That always makes me proud, to see them move on in the profession and be successful.”
Garcia estimated that 25 or 30 of his players have gone on to play in college, and another eight to 10 of them are now high school coaches.
“Some of them knew that’s what they wanted to do, but a few of them have told me that I made it fun, made it interesting, and it was something they fell in love with and wanted to do it the rest of their lives,” he said. “Any time you can have a positive influence in a young person’s life it makes it special — it’s not something you can really put in words.”
Garcia has obviously had several very talented teams in his time at the school, but last season’s team was special for him.
“A lot of times people measure that with wins and losses,” he said. “But as I’ve gotten older it’s more of the teams that come together as a group, buy in as a team, believe in you and the team concept.
“This year’s team was so much fun, the parents let me coach, the kids got along and were actually friends. There was no drama between the girls, they bought in to what we were doing, actually tried it and executed it.”
Injuries, transfers and other factors meant the coach was unsure about how the team was going to do.
“We didn’t know what we were going to get,” Garcia said. “It turned out to be not only one of the most fun teams I’ve ever coached, but also one of the most successful. They made one of our deepest playoff runs and we had a chance in that last game against Calallen — if the ball bounces a different way here or there, we could have won that game.”
Garcia and his wife Dena live at Canyon Lake, so he has a little commute every day, but they chose to live there for a couple of reasons.
“I always wanted a two-story house with some acreage, and she wanted to be close to the water,” Garcia said.
Kevin Duke is the sports editor of the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.