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RUBEN ELIZARDE 61 Years, East Central Football Scholar

By Don Brewington

Ruben Elizarde’s long journey from deep in the valley of the south Texas town of Harlingen, Texas has culminated in being a resident of McAlester, Okla., 700 miles from his home town and place of birth.

Elizarde was the first Hispanic football playerto graduate from East Central University in Ada in 1970, and his heritage continues.

Elizarde attended school in Harlingen, Texas, where he didn’t learn English until the 3rd grade. All Hispanic children at the time were limited in learning until they first became proficient in English.

Elizarde and fellow Hispanic classmates were faced with the obstacle of learning in a different language on a daily basis.

In 1974, a federal law was passed called “Lau vs. Nichols” that helped level the playing field. The United States Supreme Court ruled that Hispanics had the right to be taught in their own native language orally r in writing until they became proficient in English.

In 1965, Elizarde discovered the love of football at the Harlingen High chool. He wasn’t an imposing football player, s he was only 5’8” and weighed in at 160 pounds, but he played defensive linebacker although he was smaller than the typical Texas 5A player.

Elizarde could tackle and hit harder than anyone else on the team, but he also excelled in academics

In the 1950’s, prior to accepting the coaching job in Harlingen, I met Elvan George, the Head Football Coach at Ada High School and later the Head Football Coach at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma.

In 1965, I called George and told him about Ruben Elizarde. Without telling Ruben why, I gave him George’s book on “Split-T Football in High School,” and when Ruben read it, he said he thought George was an “amazing man.”

George offered Ruben a half athletic football scholarship and helped find him a summer job to help out with his expenses at East Central.

Until the summer of 1966, Ruben Elizarde had never traveled out of south Texas.


In early August 1966, Elizarde took his first bus trip to Ada with two suitcases in order to play football and gain a college education. He was on his way to a state he had never been to and a college he had never heard of until reading the Elvan George book.

From that start, Ruben Elizarde was the first Hispanic to graduate from East Central in 1970. He met his wife Karla while in college and together they have raised two sons, Jordan and Jesse.

Elizarde has earned two college degrees and earned winning records during his high school and college football coaching career, including coaching at Baylor University.

“Ruben Elizarde was one of the toughest players ever to play football for East Central, bar none,” said Pat O’Neal, the legendary coach at East Central said. “He was one of our greatest All-Conference linebackers.”

Elizard and his wife Karla now reside in McAlester, Oklahoma and are retired.

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