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Remembering Raymond ’Coach Mac’ McLean

Remembering Raymond ’Coach Mac’ McLean
Raymond “Coach Mac” McLean

March 26, 1933 Jan. 17, 2014
¢A memorial service took place Sunday, Jan. 26, at Hope Church in La Vernia, with a reception following in the Sherrill Cain Hall on U.S. 87. Funeral arrangements were handled by Doeppenschmidt Funeral Home at Canyon Lake.

When it comes to athletics, everyone knows the teams from La Vernia are going to be competitive. The athletes are talented, are led by good coaches, and have a wealth of equipment and resources at their disposal. But it wasn’t always like that.

It would be hard for today’s students to imagine the school without a big gym, without a football stadium, and without storage rooms filled with equipment. There was certainly a time when things were like that, though. There have been a number of coaches and school leaders who have helped grow the athletic program over the years, but to many of the “old timers” in La Vernia, it all started back in the late ’50s with Coach Raymond McLean, better known simply as “Coach Mac.”

Sadly, Coach Mac passed away earlier this month. At the age of 80 years, he had lived a good life. He traveled all over Texas and dedicated his working life to teaching kids and developing them into productive members of society. Coach Mac will be missed.

For those who didn’t know him, Coach Mac was a teacher and high school coach who spent several years in La Vernia. He later moved on to teach in the coastal region, and eventually retired as a principal at Calallen. His time in La Vernia was important to a great many young men and women, though, and he certainly is credited with helping to kick-start the amazing athletic program the school enjoys today.

I had the opportunity to visit with Coach Mac’s brother, James, by telephone the other day. By the end of our phone call, the stories were flowing like water, and James found himself laughing at memory after memory. He painted a clear picture of his brother, and it was easy to see why so many will miss him so dearly.

As it turns out, James was not only little brother to Raymond, but was also his assistant coach in La Vernia for a number of years. While Coach Mac started in 1958, James didn’t join the staff until ’63.

James recalled how little the school had in the way of athletic equipment when Raymond took over. He did the best he could with what he had, though, and built much of the equipment himself.

“There was just very little at that time,” James said, “but Ray had built it up the best he could with facilities and funds available.”

James spoke about the work they did, and about how most everything was left up to them.

“Of course we cut and lined the football field ourselves back then,” he said with a laugh, “and we didn’t even have a gym.”

James said he could remember Raymond getting calls from coaches at other schools who wanted to travel to La Vernia to practice with the Bears, or to play in a scrimmage.

“Raymond would say, ’you know we don’t have a gym, right?’ and they would say, ’well you have asphalt don’t you?’” James recalled with a laugh. “They were just happy to not be playing on dirt.”

James reflected on several more of their projects.

“Some of our best times were spent on the weekends in the ag shop building hurdles,” James said. “We never did buy any. We always just built them. Money was a problem back then, so we made do with what we had.”

James began to laugh as he thought back on another big improvement Coach Mac gave to La Vernia.

“When I started working there, the dressing room was just an old Army barracks,” he said. “The boys would put their stuff on shelves, and then they would sort of close them up. Well, when you opened them up, whoa!

“Raymond eventually got permission to rip out the walls and we made an open-air locker room,” he said.

“That allowed the clothes to air out, which was a whole lot better,” he said, now laughing continuously at the memory.

“I had a lot of fun building those things with him,” he added. “We had a lot of good times together. Every-thing was outstanding.”

Today, football is a big deal in La Vernia, but that wasn’t always the case. According to Lone Star Football Network, the inception of Bear football goes all the way back to 1938 with a game here and there. The school’s first 10-game season didn’t happen until 1958, however, when Coach Mac arrived. Two years later, he led La Vernia to its first winning season at 7-2-1.

James credited Raymond with putting together several good football teams, though the elder brother often joked that “if they had a good coach, they probably would have won more ball games.”

James said he was quick to disagree, and always thought Raymond was a great coach.

“We were the only coaches at the school back then,” James said, “so we coached everything.

“Raymond had some real good basketball teams back then, too,” he added. “In the early ’60s, Raymond took his team to the regional finals twice.”

James recalled the finals being in San Marcos, and said that La Vernia was slated to play Snook.

“Snook was 36-0,” he laughed. “Our boys were real nervous about playing them, but Raymond told them to just put the ball in the bag.

“And we won that game,” James said, laughing at the memory. “We beat Snook pretty good.”

James said he believed Coach Mac’s coaching passion and abilities stemmed from his own genuine love of athletics.

“He was the athlete in our family,” James said. “There was no doubt about that. He was great at everything!”

The sons of an oil man, James said they moved a lot, but that his parents would stay put once a child was in high school, allowing them to finish before moving on. For Coach Mac, that meant a four-year stay at Karnes City. As a Badger, Raymond participated in and excelled at everything, but was a true standout in football and track. He even qualified for the state track meet twice in the hurdles.

“The winner at state each of those years set a new record,” James said with a laugh of disbelief. “Raymond was definitely up against the best in the state.”

James said his brother was also a great tailback in high school, and that his coach at Karnes City said he was the only player he had ever coached who could operate out of the “short kick” formation.

“That’s what they call the ’shotgun’ today,” James clarified.

Coach Mac’s athletic career continued beyond high school, and he was a hurdler for the Bobcats at Southwest Texas State Teachers College, now Texas State University.

Coach Mac also had another passion, though. James said that when he wasn’t busy with the school, he often spent time fishing or hunting. James said he remembers when they were in La Vernia, that Raymond would have his boat hooked to his car on Friday nights ready and waiting to head for the coast.

“As soon as the games were over, he would make sure that no one was hurt, and that everyone had rides, then he would jump in the car to go fishing for the weekend,” James said. “Yeah, you could say he was an avid fisherman.”

Coach Mac eventually left La Vernia for a position as a special education teacher in Port Lavaca. He then went to Natalia as a middle school principal, and then to Calallen, where he stayed until his retirement in the late 1980s.

After his retirement, Raymond moved to Beeville, then to Kingsville, and eventually ended up at Canyon Lake, not far from James, who settled in San Marcos.

Coach Mac may be gone, but his efforts and influence won’t soon be forgotten.

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