By Alnozo Quintero
During the 1960s, it was rare and also frowned upon to have any African Americans on an active NCAA basketball team be part of the starting line up. But Don Haskins broke the mold. From 1961-1999, a 38-year tenure, Haskins was the head coach of Texas Western’s basketball team, now known as The University of Texas at El Paso.
According to his biography, before Haskins was a coach he played for Oklahoma State University from 1949-1952 and later became the most iconic figure in the NCAA. Even now, UTEP remains the only Texas team to win a NCAA basketball championship. This is solely because of Haskins’ belief that anyone with talent should be on the court not just because of the color of one’s skin.
The year of the championship was 1966, and Haskins started African American players throughout that season. Against all odds, Haskins broke the rules and continued to go against the status quo to show America what he truly believed. In the championship game against the University of Kentucky he started all of his African American players and won with the final score of 72 points to Kentucky’s 65.
This was more than a game, it was a stepping stone for Americans to view things differently when it deals to the color of our skin, or where we come from. Often movies depicting historical and important events are not made until the person, or persons of interest, have passed on. Fortunately, in 2006, director James Gartner memorialized this social change within our country and Don Haskins was able to appear in his own movie.
This epic story resonates with a lot of El Pasoans including a UTEP alum who doubled majored in business and computer information systems, Isabel Salcido. Salcido, decided she wanted to honor the 1966 Basketball team by opening a bar called Spirit of 66. “The Reason I wanted to called the bar spirit of 66, of course it resembles the whole spirit of the NCAA championship of Texas Western,” Salcido said. Sports has always been an important part of Salcido’s life. “My grandpa would always take me to the basketball games, so I have always been a big UTEP fan.” Salcido believes a lot of people do not know what spirit of 66 means, but through this bar she hopes to give a history lesson to younger generations and people that just are not aware. “I want share the history with all ages, so it won’t die in 1966,” said Salcido.
As you walk into the bar you can feel the pride and the Spirit of 66 this is evident through the custom furniture and décor which don the UTEP colors along the photographs which capture the memories of the historic game. The atmosphere of the bar isn’t only focusing on UTEP sports but all sports in general due to the different memorabilia around the bar. “Every piece that you see here was thought out. So, we can generate something different and I have a great team to help me on what goes in what specific way” said Salcido. It is very important for Salcido not to lose what she is trying to make of this bar which is to be different “if I do lose that then I have not accomplished what I wanted to.”
The Spirit of 66 is not Salcido’s first bar project, in fact, she is currently the owner of Bar Fly which is located on the eastside. When starting her new project she wanted to go in a different direction to make sure this new bar captures a part of El Paso history and make a place to educate people about the past.
“What we are bringing here in the Spirit of 66 is that it’s a boutique bar, most sports bars are dark and dingy it just does not feel that welcoming. So, I want to make everyone feel comfortable.’’
The Spirit of 66 will have traditional bar food and more, but that is all Ms. Salcedo chose to reveal as she wants to keep some things a secret until the Spirit of 66 opens. Speaking of which, Spirit of 66 is scheduled open no later than Mid-January 2017. It is located in the heart of the Cincinnati district, at 2712 N Mesa Street. Spirit of 66 hopes to breathe life back into the Cincinnati district which is home to several bars and restaurants.
Ray, I changed the lead. The original was inaccurate and very generic. I mean, the original lead indicated that this writer talked to ALL americans and asked what they thought of Don Haskins and whether they could believe what he did. So I took it out and tweaked their starting sentence all together.