Four families arrived this weekend at Academy Sports in Brownsville—lured into the sporting goods store for surprise shopping sprees under the guise of four cover stories.

The fathers and children in each family were led to believe they were needed at the store to help others—such as helping someone else pick up a heavy order.

However, as they entered through the front doors, they were met by a store manager and a representative from nonprofit Fishing’s Future: With cameras and attention directed at the fathers, each was told they would receive a $500 gift card as a Father’s Day weekend surprise.

The Brownsville shopping spree was a local giveaway in line with what other Academy Sports stores were doing elsewhere to honor fathers, according to Jamie Wells, a store manager. The store partnered with nonprofit Fishing’s Future to select four Brownsville families.

Fishing’s Future has a goal to connect children and families through fishing and environmental stewardship. Founder and CEO Shane Wilson said, “These families had no idea what was going on. It was a minefield to keep the secret.”

The mothers were in on the Father’s Day weekend ruse, making sure the families arrived promptly at 6 p.m. with fathers unaware of the surprise.

“That was hard, especially getting here,” Edna Lopez said.

A stepdad and new father, Gabriel Hernandez’s family knows just how strong he is.

“They had tricked me into coming so that I could help out lifting a heavy item,” he said.

Rogelio Acevedo, his wife Marlene and sons Luis, Andres and Armando push their cart through the store as they browse fishing gear Saturday at a surprise $500 Father’s Day Giveback shopping spree courtesy of Academy Sports + Outdoors and Fishing’s Future at Academy Sports + Outdoors Brownsville.

Hernandez has settled into the hero role for his family, helping Edna Lopez raise her sons Edgar, Jonathan and Nicholas Nieto—as well as the couple’s son, Gabriel Keith Herrera Jr.

“The thing is, I never pictured myself having a family,” said Hernandez, who began dating Edna, who had three boys of her own. However, he never hesitated to take on the role of a family man.

“I try to take as much off her plate as I can,” he said, explaining that his goal is that she doesn’t have to lift a finger in the house. “Anything, you name it, I do it.”

Although Hernandez is loved in his family, the boys do not call him “dad.”

Instead, they use a nickname created by Jonathan.

“The thing is, I always said I liked the movie ‘Tarzan’ and I liked the monkey,” Hernandez said. “And when they saw that I was strong, they started calling me Tarzan.”

Edna added: “Or ’Tar.’”

Would these fathers spend the shopping spree money on themselves? The shopping carts did not show that to be the case this weekend, and Raul Lopez replied plainly to the question of how he had decided to spend the money.

“On my children,” he said. “So that I can spend more time with them.”

Daena Aguilar begins to cry as she leads her husband Alex into the store Saturday for a surprise $500 Father’s Day Giveback shopping spree courtesy of Academy Sports + Outdoors and Fishing’s Future at Academy Sports + Outdoors Brownsville.

The Lopez family had found sporting goods: bat, baseball gloves, a basketball were loaded in the blue cart—and a basketball backboard and hoop awaited them at the front of the store.

A police officer in Primera, Lopez was the first to arrive with his family.

“No warning,” he said, about the surprise awaiting him. “I didn’t know what was going on. As I walk through the door, I was completely taken by surprise. I never expected something like this.”

Reflecting on the moment, Lopez almost came to tears as he spoke.

“I try to be a tough guy, and I was like, ‘don’t cry,’” he said.

The Acevedo family weaved through the camping section in search of items. As a U.S. Army veteran now working as an accounting clerk, the father had been thinking about getting out of the office and spending quality time with his loved ones.

Wife Marlene Acevedo teared up during the surprise shopping spree reveal.

“He’s a very good provider, and it’s very hard to get him to say, you know what I’m going to do, take some time for myself or I’m going to buy something for myself,” “So this is a big deal for him to actually be able to buy stuff—for him.”

Instead, Acevedo had time with family on his mind.

“My shopping list is stuff for fishing and camping because we have been talking a lot about going fishing and planning a camping trip,” Acevedo said. “So that’s what I’m focusing on right now.”

A U.S. Army veteran, Acevedo had been told he was needed to load a pool table for his father-in-law. Unfortunately for his father-in-law, that was a cover-story and no pool table had been purchased.

“I was expecting it to be a physical day, transporting the table from here to there,” Acevedo said. “I’m kind of sad for my father-in-law, but I’m sure he’ll get it at some point.”

Gabriel Herrera stands with his three sons Nicholas, Johnathan, Danny, Gabriel Jr. and wife Edna as he is presented with a gift card Saturday for a surprise $500 Father’s Day Giveback shopping spree courtesy of Academy Sports + Outdoors and Fishing’s Future at Academy Sports + Outdoors Brownsville. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Fathers Day can be difficult for some—including the shopping spree’s fourth family.

Father Alex Aguilar began to cry, reflecting on the meaning behind Father’s Day and everything his family has endured in the past year. He lost his job of 10 years in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he has been traveling to Houston for work during the week and then traveling back to Brownsville on weekends to be with his family and serve as a youth pastor at his church.

“Everything we’ve been through,” Aguilar said, beginning to cry. “Since March, my dad passed away this March, and it was the day of our anniversary. So we’re still getting through that.”

Aguilar contracted COVID-19 in January, and could not be near his father for a time ahead of his father’s death for fear of getting him sick. “The last time I kissed him (before his death), I kissed him on the forehead,” Aguilar said.

This weekend, Aguilar drove 51/2 hours from Houston because his family needed him, the family said. The surprise shopping spree greeted him at the end of a “stressful” trip home.

“I had to go outside (the Valley) to find work. My kids are growing up. I’m missing football games. I’m missing this and that,” he said. “But when I get here, and I see this surprise, it was awesome.

“It was heart-changing,” he added as Daena Aguilar looked on as her husband tried to describe the emotions of the day.


rhenry@brownsvilleherald.com