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What's in a name?

Calling plays and changing lives

Chelo Huerta Field, Marcelino "Chelo" Huerta Jr. Friendship Playground: At 28, he was a head football coach and athletic director. Later, he helped disabled people find jobs.

By MICHAEL CANNING
Published July 2, 2004


Chelo Huerta was a born leader.

As an offensive linesman for the Hillsborough High football team, he called the plays, a job usually reserved for the quarterback.

Not long after high school, he piloted B-24 bomber missions over Germany during World War II. Shot down over Yugoslavia, he evaded the Germans who were occupying the country, hooked up with local partisans and made it safely back to base.

At 28, Huerta, the son of Ybor City cigar workers, became the youngest head football coach and athletic director in the country when he succeeded Frank Sinkwich at the University of Tampa. After a highly successful 10-season stint there, followed by shorter ones at Wichita State University and Parsons College, he compiled a 104-53-2 record.

After retiring from coaching in 1967, Huerta returned to Tampa to serve as executive vice president of the MacDonald Training Center, a facility for the mentally and physically impaired. He developed methods to get them jobs in mainstream society and testified on their behalf before Congress in 1975.

Amid all this achievement, his son, Marcelino Huerta III, said he also managed to be a good husband and father. "We had to share him with the community and the country, but he included us in his very exciting celebrity-style life," said Huerta III, a 51-year-old Tampa lawyer. "He always made time for us."

Huerta died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1985 at age 61. Thousands packed his memorial service at Christ the King Catholic Church.

The football stadium at Hillsborough High School was named Chelo Huerta Field the next year. In 1987, the city dedicated a playground in his name at Bay To Bay Boulevard and Lois Avenue in Virginia Park.

In 2002, he was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

- Source: Marcelino Huerta III, Hillsborough High School.

[Last modified July 1, 2004, 11:26:08]


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