EDINBURG — When UTRGV Vice President and Athletic Director Chasse Conque first heard of his current employer a year ago in Little Rock, Arkansas, he was skeptical of the overwhelmingly positive reviews he was receiving from all angles.
“I’ll never forget the first phone call that I got while I was leaving my old office,” he said. “I don’t even think I had come to campus yet right after the announcement.”
But one year later, Conque and his family saw what all the buzz was about and couldn’t picture being anywhere else.
“All the reasons why my family and I made this move to UTRGV — all the points that were made, the selling points that were shared — the reality has been even better than what we thought. There are just so many wonderful things happening here on campus and around the Valley,” Conque said.
Conque was introduced as UTRGV’s newest athletic director Aug. 24, 2019. He and the Vaqueros’ athletic department hit the ground running, and the progress they’ve made together ever since is evident across the Rio Grande Valley.
The first priority for Conque, university president Dr. Guy Bailey and their team was boosting UTRGV’s engagement and outreach with community members throughout the Valley.
Together, they’ve implemented new protocols that see coaches, faculty and student-athletes more frequently visit all three of the university’s Rio Grande Valley campuses in Brownsville, Edinburg and Harlingen.
“Our theme was rally the Valley, and that’s something that we agreed is something we want to do. We wanted to do it early and as soon as we could, but we knew that started on campus,” Conque said.
“It bled into the curriculum piece, too. We started partnering with some curriculum base initiatives in Brownsville and just got to know the folks at our Brownsville campus better.”
The UTRGV Department of Athletics also recently announced a joint partnership with local government officials to bring Vaqueros men’s and women’s basketball contests to Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg — home of the NBA G League’s RGV Vipers — and annual tournament play to South Padre Island.
“We know that (South Padre Island) is the crown jewel of the Rio Grande Valley, so it’s something we want to make sure we’re aligning ourselves with. So to be able to pull off the announcement and pending the tournament this December, to play women’s basketball there on an annual basis is something that, I think, continues to show how we’re going to rally the Valley and what that means,” he said.
“We also had soccer matches planned for this fall in Brownsville and tennis matches that we had planned for the spring that we’ll now do next spring. It’s not just basketball; we’re looking at other creative ways to bring our programs into Cameron County.”
Conque also helped elevate the performance of the Vaqueros’ athletic department as a whole on the courts and fields, in the classroom and in the community.
During the program’s first year under his watch, UTRGV student-athletes shattered several of the department’s previous academic records and set a new bar with a record amount of community service hours performed by student-athletes, coaches and staff alike.
Vaquero student-athletes have combined to give 1,526 hours of community service back to the Valley over the past year and have helped prepare more than 14,500 meals for those in need since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, 93 Vaqueros student-athletes earned Academic All-WAC recognition for the 2019-20 school year, and the UTRGV athletic department posted a cumulative 3.38 student-athlete GPA, the best in the department’s recent history.
“We use the term ‘graduate champions,’ because we want to graduate our young people and give them an opportunity to make sure they have the resources and tools to be successful and win championships,” Conque said. “But we also talk about developing the whole student-athlete: mind, body and spirit.
“Those things — the academics, the giving back with community service and teaching our young people how to engage with supporters and how to have conversations with folks that love and support them as student-athletes — all those things really make the complete package for the student-athlete experience.”
The UTRGV athletic department, one of the country’s most diverse, also played a central and leading role in helping both the campus and local communities heal in the wake of the death of George Floyd in May 2020.
Coaches and student-athletes from all of UTRGV’s athletic programs reached out to student and university leaders to start running dialogues that have proven transformational and invaluable ever since.
“We feel and know that we have a platform that we can use for positive change. There was a time this summer when we knew that we needed to act and we needed to use our platform,” Conque said. “First and foremost, we needed to make sure that our student-athletes heard from us, our coaches and our administration, and the campus community, as well. It was wonderful to see the leading role that our department, and in particular our coaches and some of our student-athletes, could take as we talk about social injustices, and not just starting this summer, but continuing that conversation.
“That really showed that UTRGV athletics can be that unifier and can be that platform that really helps bring our community together and bring awareness to something that maybe a lot of folks in the Rio Grande Valley aren’t aware of. That’s meaningful work and those are things that live on.”