The Unchanging Face of Milby

For more than 70 years, Milby High School has educated working class kids from the East End. In the early 1960s, I was one of them. I recently went back to Milby to see not what had changed, but what, if anything, remained.

It was a more innocent age. Now when you go to an HISD football game, two guards scan you with a metal detector before you can enter the stadium. After a Milby game against Pasadena a few weeks ago, one of the Milby cheerleaders, Jorge Cisneros, got into a scuffle with some classmates who had heard a rumor he was talking trash about one of them. Cisneros is a trim, athletic kid who walks with a little bit of a swagger. I took an instant liking to him when I saw him at the pep rally earlier that day, with his face painted blue and gold. Where did that come from? I wanted to know.

"Do you know wrestling?" he asked. He had based his facial paint on that of a contemporary wrestler named Sting. I looked blank. Wrestling is very popular in Mexico, and Jorge, who is originally from Monterrey, must have felt he had asked one of those cultural questions that couldn't be understood by an outsider.

Later I realized that I did know wrestling. Hadn't Mike Conti, the old city auditorium announcer, lived right across the street from me? And it wasn't unusual to see the late Paul Boesch, the king of Houston wrestling in the '50s and '60s, walking his German shepherds near his house off Broadway. I knew wrestling, all right, but it was a different generation. I wondered if Jorge knew that one of the most famous of early television wrestlers was a 1938 Milby graduate, T.G. Waggoner, better known in the '50s as "Gorgeous George."

Jorge is a wrestler too. He says when the kid started picking on him after the game, he took him down with a wrestling move, only to get pummeled by the guy's three sidekicks. Jorge took a couple of stitches in his head and had a scab from a ring that caught the corner of his mouth, but says it was all a misunderstanding, and it was all straightened out.

Jorge Cisneros has better things to do than worry about smalltime arguments. He's bent on getting accepted to Annapolis. He spent his first three years at Milby in Junior ROTC, only to lose the top post of battalion commander to a girl. He knew tumbling, so he went to cheerleading camp and decided to give it a go for his senior year. He wants to be a yell leader at Annapolis. He's also in other clubs: National Honor Society, yearbook, English Honor Society. Jorge knows how to build a resume and how to set goals.

Cisneros's female counterpart is Nina Soliz, the student body president, and, as school mascot, one of the 27 varsity cheerleaders. While other clubs have diminished at Milby, cheerleading has not. It has become a sport of its own, with competitions sponsored by two national cheerleading companies. When I was at Milby, cheerleaders were screened by a teacher committee but elected by the student body, and they were popularity contests. We never picked any real duds as cheerleaders by this method (in fact our squads regularly won competitions), but we probably excluded some pretty good kids from getting up in front of us and showing off. Cheerleaders are still screened, but only by the teacher/sponsor, Christian Sanders, one of the few male cheerleading coaches in the area.

Nina Soliz is the youngest of four children and hopes to go to the University of Houston and study mechanical engineering. Her mom, who is part Apache Indian, had little education and grew up working in the cotton fields in Arizona, and she is always pushing Nina. Her attitude, says Nina, is "always think you're the best, and don't let the negative talk bring you down." Soliz is a bit on the chunky side, she admits, and felt discriminated against when she didn't make cheerleading the first time she tried out. "But," she says, "when I want something I'll work for it till I get it."

When she saw that the girl wearing the Milby Buffalo costume didn't seem to be doing much at the games, she decided to try out for the position. She says she paid an Astros mascot $200 for two hours to teach her the tricks of the trade. Now she has won competitions for her work and is eligible for a scholarship at UH as a mascot. When I talked to her in the cheerleading room, she was painting a nicely done poster with a freehand sketch of her opponent's mascot, a mustang. "Nobody could draw," she said, referring to the other cheerleaders, who seem to be mostly a slender bunch, very attentive to their makeup, "so I got mad and taught myself."

I interviewed other student leaders at Milby. Olga Serpas is the girl who beat out Jorge Cisneros for the job of battalion commander of JROTC. She says that when she came to Milby from Deady Junior High, she was "just a little hoodlum," but when she saw an upperclassman in his uniform with a chest full of decorations, she decided to become like him. "Only I would have more," she says.

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1 comments
drewp10
drewp10

What a great read,Mike is very talented. I will enjoy sending this on.

 
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