Zamora wraps up 50 years in journalism

Communications and Marketing Coordinator at Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District Ronnie Zamora enjoys coworkers, friends and family Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, as he holds his grandaughter Sofia Zamora, and his wife Yolanda Zamora embraces her husband Ronnie during a retirement pitada in honor of Zamora at his home in Brownsville, Texas as Zamora.

Ronnie Zamora, the former sports information director for UTB-TSC, beloved sports announcer and longtime reporter and editor, is retiring after a 50-year career in journalism.

Ronnie Zamora, left, former sports information director for UTB-TSC, beloved sports announcer and longtime reporter and editor, is shown in this undated courtesy photo.

Zamora is battling multiple myloma cancer and other health issues while at the same time celebrating 50 years of memories in the business. He retired last week as public relations coordinator for the Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District, where he had worked since 2012 after The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College separated in 2010-11 and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley was born.

Zamora shared the news Dec. 12 in a post from his family on his Facebook page.

When Zamora was still a high school junior and with no writing experience, The Brownsville Herald tried him out in sports. His first byline was April 23, 1971 about an upcoming Brownsville High School baseball game. After graduating from Brownsville High the following year, Herald Sports Director Tom Drew hired Zamora at $1.60 an hour, the minimum wage, as sports editor.

“Don’t ask me how, work ethic or whatever you want to call it, for an 18-year-old to get up before 6 in the morning every day, go to work, put the paper together and come back in the afternoon and sometimes in the evenings — we had games to cover — those are interesting times right there when I was between 18 and 21,” Zamora said this past week from his home in Brownsville.

Zamora worked full time at The Herald until he had his associate’s degree, then enrolled in the journalism program at The University of Texas at Austin.

“The sports stuff was not really fresh news because it was stuff from the night before,” Zamora said. “This was back when we were an afternoon paper, too. I had to get the paper done by 10 a.m. and then go to TSC. It took me three years to finish at TSC because I was working full time at the Herald.”

In Austin, Zamora worked as a sports reporter and sports editor at the Daily Texan in addition to his classes, graduating in 1977.

“Becoming a sports editor as a Hispanic in the ‘70s was something that a lot of people were proud of me for doing,” Zamora said. “If you remember in the ‘70’s it was a different world. I had to work twice as hard as everybody else to prove myself, and I did.”

At UT Zamora began to show uncommon journalistic instincts.

In December 1976 he wrote a famous farewell piece about former Longhorn Head Football Coach Darrel Royal’s retirement. Zamora remembers being in the stands when the news broke.

“I wasn’t really even working the game. I was in the locker room after the game. They had told us all day that he was going to retire and so a lot of the main reporters, the beat reporters, went to the conference room for his press conference. Well, I went to the locker room and just started interviewing players, but the sports editor at the Texan at the time liked the story so much he made a full-page spread out of it,” Zamora said.

Zamora later donated a framed copy of the story to Royal and the UT athletics department, which is encased in Coach Royal’s locker in the T Association Room for past UT athletes.

“That’s something I’m really proud of. I didn’t know when I donated it that they were going to do that. I guess UT liked it, too. I had people offer me money for it. Anyway, that made my Daily Texan career.”

Zamora also got to cover Johnny “Lam” Jones, the three-time Olympic Gold Medalist from UT at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The two remained friends until his passing a few years ago. He also covered Earl Campbell, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1977, the year after Zamora and classmate Johnny Olvera, the standout quarterback and baseball player from Brownsville High, graduated from UT together.

The two had been classmates since first grade at J.T. Canales Elementary School and later Faulk Junior High and Brownsville High.

Olvera, by then a star on the Longhorn baseball team, said he would remind his buddy not to show any favoritism covering him.

“Ronnie smiled as he always does and he says ‘I don’t need to do that. I just need to report the news,’” Olvera said from his home in Keller, near Grapevine.

“In the classroom, Ronnie was exceptional. I was pretty good but he was exceptional, and his math skills were astronomical,” Olvera said, remembering getting pointers from Zamora and gradually realizing that Zamora was teaching him math in the process.

“Yeah, Ronnie and I go way back. I’ve always considered him my brother,” he said.

After graduation, in August 1977, Drew hired Zamora as the Valley Morning Star sports editor right out of college. At the Star, he and Drew hired a kid out of Nebraska named Roy Hess, a former sports editor at the Herald and all three Valley papers and with whom Zamora stayed close until his passing last year.

In 1979 Zamora moved to San Antonio to work for the big-city San Antonio Light. That lasted almost two years before Zamora moved the family back to the Valley, “maybe because my wife was pregnant with our first child, Juli.” The Herald hired him back as sports editor.

Zamora said he is proudest of his three children, Juli Zamora Rivers, Ronnie Zamora Jr., and Laura Zamora. All three followed in his footsteps, worked as editor or sports editor at the Hanna Screaming Eagle newspaper in high school, and majored in journalism in college, the two oldest at UT-Austin and Laura at the University of North Texas in Denton.

Ronnie Zamora Jr. teaches journalism at Los Fresnos High School, as he did for 12 years before that at Pace High School in the Brownsville Independent School District. Laura is in corporate communications for Keurig Dr Pepper in Dallas.

“Don’t forget to mention my wife Yolanda Zamora. She was an elementary school teacher for 36 years, mostly in BISD but yeah, she had a hand in all of this, too,” Zamora said, adding that both of them stressed the importance of education and good writing with all three children. Juli is a teacher at Anderson high school in the Austin school district.

Back at the Herald, Zamora hired three kids out of high school who have done him and themselves proud, he said.

“Michael Vega is a sportswriter at the Boston Globe, a longtime sportswriter. He’s a Brownsville kid who did really well, and Charlie Crixell, he’s the news editor at the Houston Chronicle who’s been there a really long time,” Zamora said. The third is Daniel Cavazos, who went on to become editor of The Monitor in McAllen and publisher and interim publisher of The Herald before Aim Media Texas took over.

In 1982, Zamora made the transition to the news side. He was assistant managing editor until 1986. This was before computers, when The Herald moved from hot-lead production to offset printing before the internet was invented and the paper moved to online publication.

He transitioned to education public relations, first as public information officer at BISD under Superintendent Raul Besteiro from 1986-90. The district moved into the new administration building at 1900 Price Road in 1988.

In 1992 Juliet Garcia, then Texas Southmost College president, hired Zamora to be part of the transition team when the partnership between The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College was being created.

“We had to create a whole package of stuff, a new logo for UTB-TSC. She wanted to make a separate position for publications. She liked my technical skills,” Zamora said. This was when registration for college classes still was done from printed course catalogues and students stood in long lines to get the classes they wanted.

Garcia put Zamora in charge of creating UTB-TSC’s first web page, which launched in January 1998.

“I didn’t know anything about (the internet.) I remember that at first it was Yahoo and web crawler or something, not Google,” Zamora said, remembering that he became the first publications director and that Letty Fernandez, who still holds a successor position, became the first news and information director for the partnership between UTB and TSC.

“Dr. Garcia was in charge of it. I was part of the team and so was Letty. The emphasis was student services. What can we do to make this process easier for students and for the university? That was when the Bargain Book was still around and they would print our course schedules,” Zamora said.

“During the 14 years I did that, between 1992 and 2006, publications director for UTB-TSC, during that time the internet was invented and we launched the first internet page in 1998,” Zamora said. “A lot of things were accomplished under Dr. Garcia’s leadership.”

In 2006, the partnership schools decided they wanted to strengthen athletics and joined the NAIA, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

“There was a need for a sports information director and Dr. Garcia knew that I loved sports and so I took on that new position of SID in ‘06 and the athletic programs started in ‘07. That was a lot of work in those years because I was in charge. In a week there would be times when I would do 80 hours. There would be night games plus your regular work. Soccer, baseball, golf. Women’s volleyball became very competitive, won two national championships, one while I was there, one later. I got to travel with the teams all over the country. If they were in a regional tournament or a national tournament, I would go,” Zamora said.

“I was the game announcer, the statistician. That was a lot of work but a lot of fun. I would be in the press box during the games and there would be times that we were short-handed and I would be the announcer for the game and I’d be broadcasting the game on the internet at the same time. That was a challenge but we got through it and did a good job, I thought,” he said.

Garcia, president of TSC and then the UTB-TSC partnership schools for 22 years, remembers Zamora having found his calling, especially behind the mike.

“He transformed into this voice of God from on high. For me that’s what Ronnie was. He loved and was just superb at, and I don’t know the right word, at talking about a game. He seemed to know the story about every athlete, where they had come from. He had done his homework, and if the parents were there he would play, for example we had girls from Canada and all of a sudden the Canadian national anthem would play. He just knew how to pluck the heartstrings of those young women, those athletes and their parents or grandparents, whoever had come to watch them play. It was beautiful, it was heart-warming, and then he’d get off the mike and he’d become Ronnie. I loved the transformation. It was magical and it was powerful because he told it with such care because he knew the players and he talked to them, so I think that was his greatest strength, loving to call the games and walk us through the games,” she said.

“The second thing I will always remember Ronnie for is he was in charge of our wonderful commencement ceremonies, not entirely, but he was one of the key team members,” Garcia said. “His job was to get all of our students that were graduating in place in the correct form and order by exactly one hour before the services were going to start the commencement. … The graduates would already be in place and ready for the music, the pomp and circumstance, and so he would time it. He knew how many steps they had to take, who would walk slower and how to compensate for the slow walkers and how to make up time and how many marshals he had to have to marshal the graduates into their places. … He was just extraordinary.”

Zamora remembers both things plus a couple of others: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, then U.S. senators running for president, campaigning on the UTB-TSC campus in 2008.

“Because athletics was part of Student Services and Dr. Garcia had a chance to bring in national people, in this case Sen. Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Obama a week later, and she appointed me the liaison with the Secret Service and the advance team for both of them, for both Hillary and Obama. I got to shake hands with both. Yeah, it was a lot of work, a lot of planning, a lot of detail.

“I remember the Secret Service talking with me telling us what they needed, office buildings and stuff. So I got to wear a pin for a day, be part of the team. It was Dr Garcia’s decision, she trusted me enough to take care of two very important jobs.”

Zamora also remembers reporting back to Garcia how an aide from the Corpus Christi end of the Valley’s U.S. House district had wanted their people to sing the national anthem and say the pledge of allegiance. “I told them we invited you, we have plenty of good students who can do that just as well. Same thing with Sen. Clinton. Our mariachi was on the second stage when they were supposed to be on the first stage, so I called one of the people on their advance team” and got it straightened out, he said.

“A day after that I remember getting a call from Chelsea Clinton. She wanted to come to the campus, her mother liked it and thought it was so pretty. I told her we would make it happen. She called back later and said thanks.”

“After that the divorce started happening between the university and the college and a lot of people lost their jobs. I was not guaranteed a job, nobody was guaranteed a job, and so I went up to Los Fresnos and told Dr. Salazar what I could do and what we needed to do and so he hired me back in 2012 and I’ve been there ever since updating their website three times and doing a lot of good stories about students.”

In Los Fresnos he’s also become the voice of Falcon sports, graduations and other events.

“Everything was journalism … Something I’ve always preached to our kids, too. Writing basically is effectively the foundation for everything in journalism. I can take a good writer and make him a good designer, idea editor, announcer, but as you well know I can’t really teach a photographer to be a good writer … it’s the foundation for everything in communication … if you’re a good writer you can do about anything else but not the other way around.”