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Emotional joy ride makes sports special

May 8, 2010 at 12:08 a.m.

Goliad senior Raydean Mata gets a celebratory ride from coach Stacy Zamzow after crossing the finish line first in the 800-meter relay at the District 28-3A track and field meet in Yoakum on April 15. The Tigerettes won the district championship.

Goliad senior Raydean Mata carried more than a baton across the finish line at the Bulldog Stadium track in Yoakum during the 800-meter relay at the District 28-3A meet.

Mata ran a phenomenal race to hold off the Yoakum anchor by .25 of a second and all but wrap up the Tigerettes' first district track and field championship in five years.

Mata's feat was all the more remarkable considering just over two years had past since she survived being thrown through the window of car.

Mata underwent six surgeries and had 82 stitches stapled into her face. The sliver of glass that remains between her left eyeball and eye socket is a constant reminder of how close she came to losing her life.

Mata's teammates did their part in perfectly executing the plan set in motion by Goliad coach Stacy Zamzow, who had his fastest runners run the first and third leg into the wind and had Mata run the final leg because of her experience and determination.

Zamzow was so excited when Mata won the race that he lifted her on his shoulder and carried her onto the infield where the rest of the team joined in the celebration.

The victory ride was a spontaneous reaction to a triumph of the human spirit and part of what makes athletics so special.

The joy of the moment remains etched in my mind and it caught the attention of Advocate Photo Editor Frank Tilley, who was shooting the meet.

Tilley showed me an image while I was writing my story after the meet, but he never sent it to the sports desk for publication.

Our decision not to submit the photo had nothing to do with its quality, but more to do with our concern over how the photo could be perceived.

The district meet in Yoakum was held days after a Bloomington coach had resigned following the board of trustees' decision not to renew his contract.

The Bloomington coach's supporters said some people felt the coach was getting too close with members of his team.

A coach's relationship with students is a sensitive matter for any parent, including myself. I have heard stories of inappropriate behavior many times during the course of my work and most are unproven.

But a coach I covered and knew well went to prison for his conduct with students, so the issue can't be ignored.

The regional meet has come and gone, but I kept thinking about Tilley's photo and wondering if our concerns had prevented us from telling a vital part of the story of the meet.

I spoke with Bruno Mata, Raydean's father and a coach at Yorktown. He was at the meet and was perfectly fine with what transpired.

Mata was not surprised with my questions and said he has become more careful around female athletes.

He said he usually extends his hand to offer congratulations. If a female athlete gives him a hug, he said he'll hug them back. But he won't give a student his cell phone number except in an emergency.

"I'm very cautious," Mata said. "Unfortunately, that's what it's come to."

Zamzow also saw nothing wrong with the impromptu ride he gave Mata.

"I tell my girls they are all part of my adopted family," said Zamzow, whose daughter is a member of the team. "You cross the finish line first and there's going to be some type of reward. That's the way I am. The guys do it in football. It's the same thing."

Zamzow is aware of how perception becomes some people's reality.

"It's very possible it could be seen that way," he said. "But very few understand how mentally tough it is. I tell the parents these girls bust their butts to do well and I am going to treat them like my own daughter."

Zamzow was an excited coach when he hoisted Mata onto his shoulder at the district meet.

You should have the opportunity to share in the moment.

Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or mforman@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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