WESLACO, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Bragging rights are on the line for the Wildcats and Panthers in Friday night’s Tinaco Bowl, but before players step into the bright Bobby Lackey Stadium lights, we are looking back at the vibrant history behind the rivalry.
Wedged between the cities of Mercedes and Donna is a town with just over 40,000 residents and a football rivalry that can be felt throughout the Rio Grande Valley. However, the teams that will go head-to-head tonight are fairly new rivals compared to the preceding rivalry between the Weslaco Panthers and their neighbor to the west, the Donna Redskins.
Prior to 1922, students in the Weslaco area attended the Donna Independent School District. Once the decision was made to establish the Weslaco Independent School District, residents from all over the Valley would come to watch the red and gold take on the purple and white.
Lupe Saenz was a Weslaco teacher from 1977 to 1995 and remembers how the city’s most recognizable landmark would light up after football games, signifying a win for the Panthers.
The Weslaco Water Tower has proudly stood off Texas Boulevard since 1928 after it was built to replace the previous one that was made out of steel.
“We made a big deal about the lights being on… The Tinaco lights were on when there was victory at the football field when the Panthers won. If they didn’t win, the lights were off,” laughed Saenz. “Cucu Granado was the one who would turn the light on. This was during the ’80s when it was big… Him and Hugo De la Cruz eran los que decian ‘Prende la luz del Tinaco!’ o ‘No prendiero la luz’ y decia ‘Donna Redskins, 24, Weslaco, nifu nifa!”
Saenz recalls hearing a popular radio host, Hugo de la Curz’s catchphrase after games. He affectionately earned the nickname Mr. Nifu Nifa for the way he would announce that a school scored no points at a game.
The Panther’s first home turf bared the name of one of the first families to come to Weslaco to teach. From 1973 to 1989, the Barbee Nehaus Stadium served as the Panther’s home stadium until a new one was built a couple of miles north, along the expressway in 1990.
It was known as the Panther Stadium until 2002 when it was renamed the Bobby Lackey Stadium, after the town’s most famous athlete. Bobby Lackey was the starting quarterback for the Texas Longhorns from 1958-1959. He was inducted into the Texas Highschool Hall of Fame in 2011.
While most will notice the elegant hues of purple that adorn the 12,918 seat stadium, few will remember the years when the Panther Corps marching band sported green and gold.
The Weslaco Museum Executive Director, Sheila Shidler, says the green uniform on display is an important piece of Weslaco ISD history.
“They started a marching band, but they didn’t’ have the money to buy any uniforms so Baylor University was getting new uniforms, they sent their green and gold down here and they were used for more than thirty years. From 1932 up until the 1960s, Weslaco wore green and gold in their marching band but their colors have always been purple and white,” said Shidler.
Shidler notes that Weslaco is getting ready to celebrate 100 years as a school district and says we have come a long way as a culture. She says the railroad tracks once divided the town between whites and Mexicans.
“You didn’t cross over the railroad tracks especially after dark, but education and putting children together is what has changed all of our communities – desegregation,” said Shidler.
The school district now boasts two high schools, with the addition of Weslaco East High School in 2000.
The two were scheduled to face off Friday at the Bobby Lackey Stadium at 7:30 p.m., however, the district announced the game was canceled due to health and safety concerns.
In 2018 the Panthers took the win 23-21 and in 2019 the East Wildcats won 17-14.
Saenz hoped the Panthers will take the win this year.