Champion of the Barrio – Author Interview




The Legacy of Coach Buryl Baty


Gaines Baty

Genre: Biography / Sports / Civil Rights

Publisher: Texas A&M University Press

Date of Publication: February 9, 2015

Number of Pages: 288

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In 1947, after serving in WWII and quarterbacking the Texas Aggies during the glory days of the old Southwest Conference, Texas football legend Buryl Baty was drafted by the Detroit Lions. But, the NFL wouldn’t be where he’d create his legacy. He instead became the head football coach at Bowie High School in El Paso, where he’d inspire a team of Mexican Americans from the Segundo Barrio with his winning ways and stand against the era’s extreme, deep-seated bigotry.

Tragically, however, just as the team was in a position to win a third championship in 1954, they were jolted by news that would turn their worlds upside down.

Later, as mature adults, these players reflected on Coach Baty’s lasting inspiration and influence, and 44 years after his death, dedicated their high school stadium in his name. The El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame followed up that honor in 2013 by inducting Baty posthumously. 

In this poignant memoir, Baty’s son, R. Gaines Baty, describes his own journey to know his father, portraying the man’s life and accomplishments through the perspectives of nearly 100 individuals who knew him, including many of the young men he coached and whose lives he changed. In addition to many documented facts and news reports. NFL Hall of Famer Raymond Berry provides a heartfelt and relevant foreword. 

A university professor labeled this an important and historic piece of work. It is also a moving story of leadership and triumph over hardship, over discrimination, over tragedy, over one’s self.


“The best love story I have ever read.” –William “Bill” Reed, author and retired news reporter/assistant editor at the Dallas Times Herald and Dallas Morning News.

Champion of the Barrio is an important contribution to our understanding of the power of sports to reach, teach, and transform and a vivid portrait of an inspirational figure who was cut down too soon.” –Alexander Wolff, award-winning sports journalist, Sports Illustrated

“You could not grow up in Paris, Texas without knowing about Buryl Baty. He took on the world, and he won. This is an inspiring account and a great read.” –Gene Stallings, former head coach at Texas A&M, of the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals and of the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide; Member, College Football Hall of Fame

“I knew Buryl Baty well. He created a glorious era and legacy for his team and school, and it was unbelievable how he captured El Paso’s heart. This is a gripping story — that brought tears to my eyes. Buryl Baty’s name lives on.” –Ray Sanchez, former writer and editor of the El Paso Herald-Post, author of seven books, member of five Halls of Fame and consultant for the movie Glory Road

“Perhaps one of Buryl Baty’s most important legacies is the hard lessons he taught a generation of Mexican Americans, who overcame so many strikes against them. El Paso owes Gaines Baty a ton of gratitude for reconnecting us with a man whose story continues to inspire.”El Paso Times

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Texas A&M University Press


Author Interview Part I: Gaines Baty

Conducted 1/31/2016 by Kay Ellington for Lone Star Literary Life

What inspired you to write this book?

This story has brewed inside me for my entire life. Not that I ever dreamed of writing a book, but the story – the legend – was there. My mother told me stories about my dad for as long as I can remember. I’m sure this was her way of keeping him alive for me, and for herself, in the only way she could. As I grew older the stories began to mean more to me. I yearned to know more, and regret not asking more questions earlier. And I wanted my kids to know about this hero of mine.

Over time, a number of profound events rocked me –slapped me in the face – with who my dad was and what he stood for. These are detailed in the book. Then, the “final straw” came as I read the mention of my dad’s name in a popular book by Jim Dent, titled Twelve Mighty Orphans. It occurred to me that my dad’s story was as good as or better than the story I was reading, and I made the decision to write the book. This was 2007. Trust me, I had no idea what I was committing myself to. But I had to do it – it was not a choice. I needed to learn more, I wanted to honor my dad, and I wanted for my kids to know the story – a family legacy. I first assumed that I’d spend a few weekends talking with his friends and family and documenting the stories I heard. One thing led to another. And as I spoke to his old players in El Paso, I realized that this story was for a much greater audience than just my family. I’d always considered my dad my hero. However, I was moved by the realization that he was not just MY hero – in fact he was a “legend” to many people, at every step in his life. Further, his accomplishments and his teachings were relevant for a much more universal audience than just my family – and as important for our troubled world of today as they were 65 years ago. Early manuscript readers and my publisher agreed.

Had you ever written any long piece before? Did you consider using a ghost writer? What made you decide to write the book yourself?

This is my first book. I had no idea what I was committing myself to, and I quickly realized that I was in way over my head. I did consider and search for a co-writer, but the only person who would agree to take on the project quoted a price of $40,000 for his services. Of course, this seemed prohibitive at the time, but upon reflection after my eight years of long nights and weekends – it might have proven to be cheaper in the end. Seriously, though, several wise people advised that this was a book that I should write. To coach myself up for the task, I read several “how to” books…“how to write non-fiction” and “how to tell a story”, and had the help of a couple of good editors. In the end, I just tried to keep it simple – to stay out of way with my writing and let the story tell itself.

It was a very interesting process, learning of my family’s history and about that fascinating era. It was also very emotional, and inspiring. Sometimes I would literally cheer out loud at the keyboard. Sometimes I would cry. In the end, I am inspired and humbled by my dad.

For our readers who haven’t read the book, how would you describe it for them?

It’s a story about an ordinary boy who grew up during the depression in an ordinary small Texas town, went to college, then took an ordinary job. What makes it so compelling is that all along the way, he did such extraordinary things. In the end, he transformed the lives and culture of an entire generation of young Hispanic men, their families, and their descendants. This man is a legend in this community. Of course it looks like sports book, but it’s much more than just inspiring sports story. At its core, Champion of the Barrio is a powerful story about character, heart & leadership.

Let’s back up a few years to set the stage. This “boy” was a great athlete, a WWII veteran, and after the war he quarterbacked the Texas Aggies against the likes of Doak Walker, Tom Landry, Darrell Royal, Bobby Layne, etc., and was drafted to play pro ball. But he chose instead to pursue his calling – coaching HS football and building men. He ended up in El Paso, as Head Coach of Bowie High School in the Segundo Barrio (the ghetto) on the south side of town – a stone’s throw from the Mexican border. These kids were downtrodden, the poorest of the poor, with no aspirations, and no hope. He helped them rise above hardship & discrimination to become winners on and off the field, successful men and leaders. They recognized this influence over time, and honored their old coach in an incredible fashion.

This boy, athlete, coach and legend was my father. Tragically, he died when I was young. Through the writing of this story, I got to meet him.



R. GAINES BATY, Coach Buryl Baty’s son, was a “Featured Author” and panelist at the 2015 Texas Book Festival in recognition of Champion of the Barrio, He has been published or quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Dallas Morning News, Healthcare IT News, etc. Professionally, he founded and leads a nationally-recognized executive search firm, and is a career counsellor, trainer and author. Previously, he was an accomplished college athlete, receiving All-Southwest Conference and All-Era honors. In 2011, he was inducted into the Garland (TX) Sports Hall of Fame.





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