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Class of 1973 remembers Stroman High School (video)

By Bianca Montes
July 20, 2013 at 2:20 a.m.
Updated July 21, 2013 at 2:21 a.m.

Doug Heinold hugs former Stroman High School Assistant Principal Bill Dunn during the 40th reunion celebration for the Stroman Class of 1973 at Club Westerner. Reunion committee member Philip Vasquez estimated that around 100 of his former classmates attended the celebration, as well as five former faculty and staff members.

In Memory

Class members who have died:

Patricia Barnes

Robert Cantu

Blake Daniel

Twyla Diggs

Birdie Edwards

Deborah Franklin

Gloria Garza

Melvin Girdy

Cluster Greene

Debbie Hale (Soloman)

Douglas Hillyer

Yvette Hilton

Janice Hughes (Mikelec)

Charles Peoples

Jann Perry

Mary Sanchez

George Stanly

Mary Stobb

Nanny Threadgill (Hargrove)

Debra Ann Webber

When it was time to sing their alma mater, former Stroman High School students sang it loud and proud, despite it being 40 years since they crossed the stage at Memorial Stadium.

"Our spirit all together faithful gold and blue," they chanted with devotion - fingers interlocked with those of their compadres.

"To our alma mater, forever we'll be true."

The class of 1973 gathered Saturday at the Club Westerner in Victoria to celebrate its 40th high school reunion.

Memories of the good ol' days filled the air quickly with talks of playing with the high school band, making district with the baseball team and "trying to play good football."

Teammates Sylvester Thomas and Greg Harwell had a good laugh about playing defensive end for the football team.

"We tried," Harwell said, burying his face in his hands to laugh.

But, what most truly recalled about their high school experience was the sense of unity the class had despite some not so peaceful times.

Stroman High School opened its doors in 1967, signaling the end of segregation in Victoria public schools.

Segregation in public schools was ruled unconstitutional in 1954.

"There were a lot of things going on in our society at that time," Thomas said. "We weren't immune to them."

But, Thomas said, race was never a real issue at Stroman.

"We knew who we were, and we knew who we weren't," he said.

Stroman was the type of school where everyone was someone, reunion chairman Philip Vasquez said.

"We were special, and we all went forward not knowing what to expect," he said. "It's wonderful to know we've made this journey together - we know we didn't do it on our own."

Philip Vasquez, the lawyer

Philip Vasquez said his generation was one of the last that truly fought over discrimination in Victoria.

"When we were young, blacks couldn't do anything - they couldn't go to the stores, restaurants or drink from the water fountains," he said.

"Whites," he continued, "could do anything. Us Mexicans, we could do some things but not others."

Vasquez remembers not being allowed in a restaurant because his brother's and sister's skin was too dark.

"You really don't appreciate discrimination until you experience it," he said.

Vasquez graduated from Stroman not knowing exactly what he wanted to do with his life.

He just wanted a meaningful degree. At the time, oil was a hot commodity in Texas, and he got his bachelor's in petroleum land management.

A few years later, the oil industry crashed, and he found himself unemployed. He returned to college to peruse his true passion: law.

Growing up Mexican-American in Victoria, Vasquez said he saw a lot of injustice. When he returned to practice law in the city, the injustice was still evident.

"If you ask around Victoria," he said, "they're not very fond of me because I made a lot of changes that had to be done."

One was a voter's rights lawsuit to change the way residents elected their council members.

It was a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the Hispanics in Victoria.

He also helped establish single-member districts for all of Victoria to ensure those representing a district lived in it.

"I was not a civil rights lawyer, but my passion was the Latino community," he said. "If you want to represent that part of town, you have to live there."

Vasquez's strong voice eventually found him in the capital working under the Clinton administration and then internationally in Iraq and Afghanistan as a legal adviser.

"When you're a minority lawyer, there are a lot of injustices going on," he said. "When you're a lawyer, you have the opportunity to do something."

Doug Heinold, the pitcher

In high school, Doug Heinold was known for his arm - his pitching arm.

And because of that, he was drafted by the New York Yankees right out of high school in 1973.

"I was very fortunate to play at the time that I did," he said, recalling some of the greats: Billy Martin and Yogi Berra. "I was very fortunate to be able to be coached by these guys."

Heinold said his success all comes back to being a student at Stroman.

Had he gone to another school, he said he might not have had the opportunity to play ball.

Stroman was the type of school with a lot of pickup trucks in the parking lot, he said, "a lot of good old country boys and girls."

"I was from the country, and that's where the country people went."

After playing for the Yankees, reaching the AAA level for four years before his career was ended by an arm injury, Heinold said he was ready to come back home.

"I guess I'm a homebody," he said.

Today, most people know him as an assistant coach for the Jaguars, University of Houston-Victoria's baseball team.

Heinold said he is proud of his team and that they're doing well and celebrated 100 wins last year.

"It's been very rewarding," he said.

Saying goodbye

Stroman High School and Victoria High School merged in 2000, and the schools were renamed Memorial High School.

"To me, it's kind of sad, Heinold said. "Not only for the students who went to Stroman but also the ones who went to Victoria High School. We had so many memories."

Memorial High School closed in 2010. Stroman is now Stroman Middle School.

"Stroman was a very unique school because nobody was rich at Stroman," Vasquez said. "There was no racial divide, and no one thought they were better than the other.

"If someone wanted to play with the school band, they could.

"If someone wanted to be an athlete, they could.

"I was convinced that I could do whatever I wanted."

The graduating class of 1973 went on to do many things in their lives, including being businessmen and -women, prominent cartoonists and even a Philadelphia hall of fame honoree for journalism.

"When I look at the people today, I think of how far we've come and how far they've come," said Harold Cade, former school administrator.

Cade was the vice principal of Stroman High School when it opened. He left in 1974.

"Its closing affected me, too," he said. "I was sad to see it dismantled."

Now, Harwell said, the reunions aren't really about the party but instead, "a special time to go back and remember where we came from."

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