To be part of Pima County’s Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2014, one must’ve won an Olympic swimming silver medal (Lacey Nymeyer) or played in five NFL Pro Bowls (Michael Bates).
It is a class of such distinction that it includes an NCAA championship pitcher (Jim Crawford) with a College World Series ERA of 0.00, and a man (Dennis Bene) who has coached Salpointe Catholic to a 129-26 football record.
One of the Hall of Famers (David Adams) went 4-0 against Arizona State and was the Pac-10’s leading rusher. Another was the world’s leading sky diver (Tee Taylor).
The class is so good that one of the honorees (George Arias) set home run records at Pueblo High School, Pima College and the UA, and was later traded, in part, for Rickey Henderson.
When the blue-ribbon class was announced Wednesday in a local hotel ballroom, Frank Garcia talked not about Olympic medals nor gaudy statistics, but about being released by six NFL teams, not to mention a failed bid to play for the ASU Sun Devils.
And yet Garcia’s sports career was just as Hall of Fame-worthy as those of his 13 classmates
“My dad was one of 13 children born and raised in Douglas,” Garcia said with a smile. “He taught me to stick with it. As you can see, I had plenty of opportunities to give up.”
Garcia was one of the last from Tucson’s generation of three-sports stars, a baseball/basketball/football dynamo who chose to accept a scholarship offer from ASU when the great Frank Kush , then in his prime, sat in Garcia’s living room in 1974 and said, “You’re not the best football player in Arizona; you’re the best athlete in Arizona.”
And that was barely a year after Garcia recovered from a risky open-heart surgery that fixed a restricted aorta problem so concerning that doctors put his odds of survival at 50/50.
The Pima County Sports Hall of Fame has 334 members, and there might not be anyone as unlikely as Garcia.
After leaving ASU, Garcia was a standout punter at Arizona in 1978, a one-year starter, who then set out for the NFL.
Atlanta cut him.
Dallas released him.
Tampa Bay fired him.
San Diego let him go.
Seattle turned him away.
Green Bay told him to go away.
So when Garcia finished his UA degree work in 1981, he was set to be a schoolteacher.
“My mom told me to finish school or go to work,” he remembers. “So I finished school.”
And yet two years later, he led the NFL in punts and was a second-team all-star selection.
By refusing to take no for an answer, Garcia played five NFL seasons at Tampa Bay and got out with his health and a full NFL pension.
“Every time I was cut by an NFL team, the special teams coach would say: ‘Frank, don’t stop; this is a tough business. You can make it if you stick with it.’ And I did.”
There’s a lot of the never-give-in theme that in the PCSHF Class of 2014.
Tucson High baseball coach Oscar Romero, who won his 400th career game last season, was promoted to the varsity as a high school sophomore by two-time THS state championship coach Ray Adkins in 1975.
“I struck out my first 10 at-bats,” Romero said Wednesday. “But coach Adkins pulled me aside and said he believed in me. He told me to stay with it.”
Romero went on to be a standout ballplayer at Pima College and UTEP.
Adams was recruited by a dozen premier college powers in the winter of 1981-82, but when they measured the Sunnyside Blue Devil and discovered he was a mere 5 feet 6 inches, 155 pounds, all of them backed away except Weber State.
“At 12:30 in the morning on letter-of-intent day, (UA coach) Larry Smith called me and said they had one scholarship left,” Adams remembers. “He said he believed in me. I got up at 6:30 that morning and got to the UA as fast as I could before he changed his mind.”
Five years later, as the league’s top running back, Adams received the ultimate compliment. Smith called him “the heart and soul of our team.”
After Garcia’s NFL career, he returned to Tucson and taught in the Sunnyside Unified School District. That led to a teaching job at Yuma’s Kofa High School. Next spring, Garcia will retire after 25 years at Kofa, the last 17 of them as an assistant principal.
“If anyone had told me the way my life would turn out after I left Salpointe, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said. “I’m a happy man.”
And one of Tucson’s 14 new and impressive Hall of Famers.