Riding as Zen: History teacher keeps skateboard handy

Tom Gomez is a history teacher at Garcia Middle School, a onetime boxer and football coach at Rivera High School, who is among the third generation of his family to work at the Port of Brownsville and was part of the Gorgas Science Society during his days at the University of Texas at Brownsville.

He’s also a skater going way back, who at 45 still keeps a board in his car and occasionally goes riding the streets where he grew up. A few years ago some of his students got him started about skating, “so I told them to bring me 200 signatures to take to the principal and I’ll start a skateboard club,” he said.

The boys went everywhere to round up the signatures and eventually ended up with a group of guys in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Garcia Middle School had its skateboard club.

“The skateboard becomes my zen. I don’t have to think, just react, and it releases that energy pent up inside me and I’m able to figure out a way to get around that big problem that I’ve been worrying about,” Gomez recently said over the phone as he reflected on the trajectory that brought him back to Brownsville and a teaching job at the city’s largest school district.

His most recent return was 13 years ago when he was hired for a teaching job at Oliveira Middle School while teaching as a full-time substitute in the Pflugerville school district in Travis County. He taught science for eight years at Oliveira and was coaching at Rivera during the 2015 season. He was angling for an open offensive coordinator spot when Rivera came to its bi-week. A few days later he found out his mother had cancer. He declined the OC spot.

“I made a decision to take care of my mom and my 6-year-old kid. I was going to teach at Rivera but instead I stayed at Oliveira two more years,” Gomez said. He eventually ended up at Garcia teaching U.S. history and then Texas history to eighth-graders. The assignment “rekindled some old feelings about history,” he said.

“I don’t press a world view but I do try to give them food for thought,” he said. “Every Texan for the last 15 years, or at least as long as I’ve been teaching, only sees American history up to Reconstruction in the eighth-grade, and then not again until or unless they go to college.”

Gomez said he moved with his family to the Rivera side of town in the late 1970s and graduated high school in the early ’90s. He worked under his father Tom Gomez, the International Longshoreman’s Association Union leader at the port, after high school. He credited his father for instilling a tough work ethic and also pushing him to do well in school.

He said he came back to UTB as a serious student in 2000 and graduated in 2004.

As a member of the Gorgas Science Society, he was among groups of students that traveled to Mexico’s El Cielo Biosphere Park and Rancho del Cielo biological research site in the Sierra Madre Oriental in Tamaulipas then operated by UTB and Texas Southmost College.

glong@brownsvilleherald.com