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Going the extra mile: Distance coach’s drive earns Person of the Year

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, December 30, 2017
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Leading the Charge

LEADING THE CHARGE – Boyd cross country coach Oscar Hernandez led the Yellowjackets to state this past year. His drive and willingness to help his student athletes made him the 2017 Person of the Year. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

A tiny cap and gown hangs in Oscar Hernandez’ Spanish II classroom at Boyd High School.

At his graduation in 2015, Marco Martinez brought the little token to the man he credits with pushing him to receiving a diploma.

“I almost never did homework, but he was the one that told me to do it. He made me pass classes because my team and my family needed me. I did the homework for them,” Martinez recalled.

“No, I don’t think I would’ve graduated without him. He was like a step to helping me graduate.”

Martinez was just one of many Boyd students Hernandez has pushed on the cross country course, track and in the classroom to be their best since the coach arrived at the school in 2001.

“He’s always been a great coach and great mentor,” said former Boyd runner and current teacher at Denton Braswell Katie Mark. “He kept encouraging me and pushing me. If I stopped anywhere short of my potential, he pushed me more. It rolled over into more than cross country and track. It rolled over to school and academics, as well.”

This year, Hernandez’ encouragement of his athletes and willingness to open his program to all-comers paid off as his Yellowjackets earned the school’s first trip to the University Interscholastic League’s cross country state championships. It followed a successful spring in which his long distance runners paved the way for Boyd to capture the 8-3A title.

Hernandez’ willingness to go the extra mile for Boyd students, including a trip in recent years to Colorado with a group of runners, made the educator the top choice for the Messenger’s Wise County Person of the Year.

“This award is cool, but the thing I’m most proud of is that the kids are proud of themselves,” Hernandez said. “The community support for the kids this year has been so good. It gets better every year. A lot of kids are leaving here, and I think they are using some of the things they learned here in their lives.”

Hernandez, 45, grew up in the San Antonio area. He graduated from Hondo where he played multiple sports but fell in love with running. Coaches put him in the 800 and mile, and he quickly adapted to it.

“I’ve always been taught if you are going to do something, you go and try to do your best,” Hernandez said.

Following the lead of the older runners, he turned himself into a regional runner by his sophomore year.

After high school, he joined a few of his Hondo classmates at Tarleton State University. He initially went to school to get his basics and hoped to find a career. While in school, he started volunteering with the parks and recreation departments in Stephenville and Dublin, coaching and working with young athletes. It didn’t take long for him to realize it was his calling.

“I just loved it. I loved the competition and how you felt after winning,” Hernandez said. “I just loved the feeling of working with younger kids, and I guess I liked the fact that people were valuing my opinion. People were thankful you were giving up your time.”

He set his career path toward coaching and teaching.

His wife landed a job with Lake Worth, where she is still a counselor. Not long after, he received a call from Boyd athletic director J.G. Cartwright.

“He gave me an opportunity to coach. He told me it was hard to find people that could coach and teach Spanish,” Hernandez recalled. “I’ve been here ever since. I’ve been blessed to be part of a state championship and some really good teams.”

Over his time at Boyd, Hernandez has coached football, softball and boys basketball, in addition to track and cross country. He served as boys basketball coach, leading the Yellowjackets to the area round in 2010.

After the 2015 season, he was told he would no longer be the boys basketball coach. Hernandez admitted the news stung. He considered some other jobs but elected to stay at Boyd and pour all his energies into his distance runners.

“It says a lot about him. He took a situation that was not the most positive and refocused his attention and dedication,” said Boyd ISD Superintendent Ted West. “It’s paid off for the kids and the community.”

Knowing the district’s commitment to him, Hernandez said he took on the challenge of making his cross country program the best it could be. It was already coming off a district title and sending a pair of runners to state – Marco and Nathan Martinez.

He organized the trip to Colorado in 2016 for his runners to train in the mountains for a week. Last summer, he called up mentor David Park at Decatur and brought his runners over to the train on the hills of Eagle Summit.

“I learned from my parents and especially my mom, whatever you do, you have to do it whole-heartedly,” Hernandez said. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to dig my heels in and try to get this program to an elite level.’ I want it to be where people are like, these guys are workers. Look at these kids. They work all year.

“I’m determined to get these kids going in the right direction. When they leave here, I want them to be proud of their program. More than that, I want to teach them about hard work and discipline. I have to reinforce in my kids you have to do the right things even when people aren’t watching.”

His athletes have bought in, seeing how hard he works and knowing how much he cared about their success and them as people.

“He’s never done me wrong and has been a great coach and mentor. He’s been there for me no matter what I’m going through,” said junior Connor Richardson. “[Like the Colorado trip] … for Coach to be able to do that for us, that’s big. It shows he cares, and he has more than just a goal of getting to state. He’s trying to make a future impact on our lives.”

Hernandez has always wanted his program to be inclusive – drawing in athletes of varying abilities and socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.

“He’s accepting of everyone. He’s not one of those guys trying to find the best athletes,” Richardson said. “He’s welcoming of anyone that wants to come out and run and work for him. If you show him respect, he’s going to show you respect, and that’s why he attracts a lot of kids … because they see he’s so accepting to all these runners.”

Many of Hernandez’ runners are not traditional athletes or may have failed in another sport. Hernandez opens doors for them. A great example this year is Colton Lawson, who is legally blind and can’t play other sports. But with Hernandez’ encouragement, Lawson has turned into one of the area’s top middle distance runners and was a member of this year’s state cross country team.

Boyd High School Principal Susan Foster said Hernandez brings the same passion from coaching to the classroom and is a perfect role model and mentor, especially to the school’s Hispanic students.

“You see Coach Hernandez and how well respected he is and how well he’s done, I think that motivates them. There aren’t any barriers if you are willing to work hard,” Foster said. “He’s real and honest with the kids. He expects them to perform and doesn’t allow excuses. He doesn’t just teach the concepts. He also teaches the real-life skills of being accountable and responsible and how to take care of your business.”

Hernandez is already looking forward to track season and next year in cross country, where he hopes to see his squad on the medal stand. But more valuable than a medal, will be the memories and the overriding lesson he strives to instill.

“They learned about hard work, dedication and perseverance,” Hernandez said. “If you set your mind to something, you can really accomplish it. You just have to keep working at it.”

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