Coach dies after collapse at scrimmage

BROWNSVILLE — The Brownsville Independent School District is mourning the loss of a high school football coach, who died yesterday while at a scrimmage game.

Longtime BISD coach Art Cantu, 56, collapsed as the Pace Early College High School football team prepared to play its first official scrimmage at Sams Memorial Stadium.

Shortly after the beginning of the Pace-PSJA Memorial scrimmage, defensive line coach Cantu dropped to the turf. Pace athletic trainers, Sarah Gulick and Matthew Gross were immediately by Cantu’s side as he tried to sit up.

Athletic trainers began performing CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Cantu until emergency medical service arrived and took over.

EMS personnel were seen using a defibrillator on Cantu in an attempt to revive him.

Cantu was placed inside an ambulance, where EMS personnel continued to administer first aid to him. Brownsville Pace head coach Danny Pardo rode in the ambulance with Cantu as he was taken away.

Students who witnessed the tragedy were visibly shaken up.

It was later announced that Cantu had passed away at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville.

Cantu was the Pace offensive line coach and had been a coach for the BISD since 1993, when Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas hired him to coach at Oliveira Middle School during her first tenure as superintendent here in the early 1990s.

“This hits the BISD family hard,” Zendejas said at the hospital, where Cantu was taken by ambulance shortly before noon Friday.

Zendejas said the scrimmage against a team from the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district was cancelled immediately.

“Our prayers are with Mr. Cantu’s family and friends,” Zendejas said. “We are saddened by this news. He is a longtime employee of BISD.”

Cantu had been the athletic director at Stell Middle School for the past three years before moving to Pace. He had coached at various BISD schools, including Porter and Rivera high schools.

Luis Garcia, the boys head basketball coach at Porter, went to Valley Baptist Medical Center as soon as he heard something had happened to Cantu.

“I started with him at Oliveira Middle School,” Garcia said. “He taught me everything. He taught me how to be a good coach. … I came over as soon as possible. If there were anyone to model how to be a coach, it would be him.”