The Long Game Brings Local Heroes From the Putting Green to the Silver Screen

Julian Works as Joe Treviño and Jay Hernandez as JB Peña in The Long Game.

There was no fanfare at the 18th hole of the 1957 high school men’s golf state championship. When the five boys from San Felipe High School walked off the course—ahead of the second-place team by 35 strokes—they would be given their trophy unceremoniously, before making the same journey home they’d made many times before after shifts caddying on the very same course.

As Mexican Americans, they hadn’t been allowed to practice at the all-white country club where the championship would eventually take place. But that hadn’t stopped them. They built makeshift courses, including sand pits, in dusty Del Rio, mere feet from the Texas-Mexico border.

Fifty-one years later, a fellow San Felipe graduate, writer, and then-amateur golfer Humberto Garcia, BA ’75, JD ’78, Life Member, stumbled upon the largely forgotten history at a 2008 golf tournament for a high school class reunion. When the organizer introduced the 1957 state champion golf team—a celebration never fully afforded to them while students in the still-segregated Del Rio Independent School District—Garcia knew this was a story he had to write.

He couldn’t have known that his book, Mustang Miracle, would one day be made into a movie starring Dennis Quaid, and that his hometown and his five new friends—Joe Treviño, Lupe Felan, Mario Lomas, Felipe Romero, and Higinio “Gene” Vasquez —would be catapulted into the spotlight.

Back in 1976, when Garcia’s law school classmate had asked if he wanted to go play golf to take a break from studying, he responded, “I don’t play that sissy game.” After some convincing, he joined his friends at the Hancock golf course and tried his hand at the sport for the first time.

“I hit the ball in the sweet spot … and the ball took off. And the sensation that went through my fingers and hands and up through my shoulders was completely foreign to me,” he says. “I was hooked in that moment.”

Every week, the boys would go hit golf balls for about an hour and then go hit the books. Garcia says he was so focused on playing the game that his brain would rest, and it was the perfect break from studying.

Garcia credits golf with getting him through law school at UT and keeping him connected with former Del Rio ISD superintendent JB Peña at the high school’s reunion golf tournaments. Despite hitting balls alongside Peña for years after Garcia graduated, he didn’t know the man had coached the San Felipe golf team to an unbelievable victory in 1957. He didn’t even know his alma mater had a golf team, much less state champions.

Works as Treviño.

Garcia first had to convince the men on the team that he really would tell their story. Other reporters had approached them before but never followed through. Garcia made them a vow—based on more than a shared heritage or respect for the sport, but rather a desire to tell a triumphant story from an otherwise dark period of history.

“I needed to give the story to [the boys] and then to the world,” he says. “And to tell the world, ‘See, even though you treated us this way, we still succeeded.’”

To fulfill his promise, he wrote at least one page every single night. After beginning research and interviews in 2009, he had the book done a year later.

“The night I wrote the last sentence, oof, what a rush of emotion,” he says.

Garcia tried to get the book picked up by a publisher but had no luck, so he decided to publish it on his own. Mustang Miracle was out in the world: the first step in the next 16 years of his life and the “long game” of trying to make the book into a movie.

“I persevered as much as the boys did to succeed,” Garcia says. “I had to be patient and persevere to get their story out. I couldn’t make less of an effort than they did to win in the first place.”

The story was originally picked up by Lionsgate and the George Lopez-owned Travieso Productions in 2011, but both companies backed out in 2014. Garcia had to start looking around all over again. In 2015, the rights were picked up by another production company, but progress once again stalled over the next two years.

In 2017, Garcia received a phone call from an old friend, Javier Chapa. Chapa had clerked for Garcia at a law firm when he was in law school at St. Mary’s University from 2001–02. Garcia had told the firm to bring Chapa on as an associate, but Chapa had other plans. He had his heart set on going to Hollywood—he didn’t even take the bar exam before beginning his journey to the movie industry.

Fifteen years later, Chapa had indeed made it in the movie business, co-founding the production company Mucho Mas Media, and wanted to make a movie out of Mustang Miracle. At the time, Garcia still had a few months left in his existing contract, but he told Chapa to call him back later that year if he was still interested. When the contract lapsed, Garcia received another phone call from Chapa. Finally, the story was on its way to the big screen.

Works, Quaid, and Angel Garcia.

The Long Game, directed by Julio Quintana and starring big names such as Dennis Quaid and Jay Hernandez, premiered at South by Southwest in 2023 and has gone on to gross more than $3 million in box office sales since its theatrical release on April 12, 2024. Garcia even makes a cameo in the movie as the chief of police (a role that inspired him to pursue acting even further). The movie will stream on Netflix after it finishes in theaters.

Garcia says he’s proud of how the movie portrays the boys’ story.

“Julio and the other two screenwriters created a product that was intended to appeal to a general audience but tell the true story of the message,” he says.

He says the reactions he has received to both the book and the movie have made the process worthwhile. Garcia has been approached by young audience members who cried over how their parents or grandparents were treated during the time period. And he has been approached by older audience members who cried remembering how they themselves were discriminated against in their own lifetimes.

Garcia says one of the best parts about Mustang Miracle is that it includes Mexican Americans as the heroes of the story. He hopes their same persistence and drive is imparted to others through the boys’ story.

“If you have a dream and you want to work toward it, don’t let anyone or anything keep you from that dream,” he says. “You’re going to face obstacles; you’re going to be told no along the way. But don’t accept no.”

The team and Garcia catch up over dinner.

CREDITS: From top, Mucho Mas Media (2); courtesy of Humberto Garcia; Mucho Mas Media (2); courtesy of Garcia


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