One of the comments on last week’s post about Hispanics at Rice came from Tomas Molina ’68 who talked about being one of the very few Hispanic athletes on campus. This brought back to mind an earlier Mexican-American athlete, Placido Gomez ’42. I first found about about him when I came across this arresting photograph on eBay, which I immediately purchased:
The only words on the back are “Placido Gomez.” Well, now you really have my attention. I started poking around in the best source for this kind of thing, the gigantic alumni scrapbooks, and found what I was looking for right away:
Jeff Davis High School! Remember I just told you last week that the vast majority of Hispanic students at Rice in this era came from very high socio-economic backgrounds? That doesn’t really square with what I was seeing here. So when I get really interested in someone like this my next step is usually to see if I can find their Rice application, which often yields a small tidbit or two worth pursuing. This one did. Can you see what caught my eye here?
It was his address. For complicated reasons of my own I immediately recognized the area–north of Buffalo Bayou, east of 45. Placido Gomez, I can tell you with assurance, was not the son of a Spanish diplomat. The house is still standing, by the way, as are almost all the houses in that neighborhood:
Gomez was a phenomenal athlete. As near as I can tell he was actually recruited to Rice to play football but also became a key player in Rice’s strong basketball program in the late 1930s and early 1940s. When Rice went to the NCAA tournament in 1940 Gomez became the first non-white player to participate in that event. He enlisted in the Marines after graduation and fought in the Pacific during World War II. Afterwards he continued his education, first earning a Master’s at Columbia, then a doctorate from NYU. He spent the next 35 years at Brooklyn College as a professor of physical education and variously as head basketball coach, golf coach, and assistant football coach and passed away in 2000.
Bonus: Is there such a thing?
Great investigative reporting!
And the investigative process is fascinating! Thanks as always for sharing this, Melissa!
My parents were both Jeff Davis grads, 1938 and 1939. So they might have known Placido!
I really enjoyed your article. Placido is my dad. I have a great picture of my dad & his younger brother standing outside that house when they were kids. I’d upload it if I could – my picture would drive the point you are making home. You are correct – my dad was definitely not from diplomat’s home. My dad told me his neighborhood was known as “the Bloody Fifth Ward”. This was confirmed by childhood friends of his, the Matranga’s, who I befriended when I attended the U of H. My grandfather was the baker at the Rice Hotel. He was a single dad, my grandmother died shortly after his younger brother was born. He never remarried. Once when I asked my dad about how it was “living through the Great Depression” … he said to me he was so poor he didn’t know there was a depression. Everyone in the neighborhood was “poor”, but he said “it didn’t keep us down … everyone helped everyone, it was like a big family. We didn’t know any better.” He said “Poppa Gomez brought home the left-over baked goods each night and would distribute it in the neighborhood. Some other dad would bring home whatever they had and shared what they could. No one complained. No one whined. Each knew they lived in the greatest country in the world.” He told me that his dad taught him early … “choose something you love, work hard to be the best you can be … and you will get what you earn.” I learned a few tidbits from your article that I didn’t know … for example – he didn’t have the highest IQ … so I guess my dad was telling the truth when he’d say to me & my 6 siblings that we got our brains from our mother (LOL). Being that he went to Rice we just assumed our table manners came from our mom. One correction to your reporting – to the best of my knowledge he was not recruited as a football player. He only played football for maybe one season because the team needed an extra player to fill a hole. He regretted that because he injured his leg & it bothered him for the rest of his life. His main sport was basketball, followed by baseball. Coach Needham inducted my dad into the Texas H.S. Basketball Hall of Fame sometime in the late ‘70’s. He had a respectable batting average for the Owls baseball team. I also have a great picture of my dad sitting in the dugout with the NY Yankees manager Joe McCarthy. Right about when my dad passed I spent some time looking into his record at Rice. The Owls made it into the NCAA Tournament twice while my dad was playing. I believe in 1940 the Owls made it all the way to the Elite 8. My sister has a collection of articles on the team. A good number of the headlines featured my dad’s name … one headline I remember clearly from the Houston Chronicle … “Spaniard Out With Stomach Ailment”.