The Long Game: Is JB Peña Based on a Real Golf Coach?

Directed by Julio Quintana, ‘The Long Game’ chronicles the true story of the San Felipe Mustangs, a group of Mexican-American caddies-turned-golfers who went on to win the 1957 state championship in Texas against all odds. The film is based on Humberto G Garcia’s non-fiction book, ‘Mustang Miracle.’ Instrumental to the team’s success was their coach, JB Peña. A World War II veteran, Peña seeks to join the Del Rio Country Club but is denied access due to his ethnicity. Through his job at San Felipe High School, Peña discovers a group of Mexican-American students who practice golf on a self-made course.

Struck with the idea of creating a school team, Peña recruits the students and trains them with the help of Frank Mitchell, his war buddy. Peña becomes a guiding light for the team, understanding the difficulties faced by each of them. With his passionate backing and self-sacrifice, the Mustangs are able to make history, prompting further investigation into the real-world personality.

JB Peña Was a Real Golf Coach at San Felipe High School

The guiding force behind the San Felipe Mustangs, JB Peña, was a real golf coach who created the first golf team of the San Felipe High School. He is essayed in ‘The Long Game’ by actor Jay Hernandez. Much of the character of Peña seen in the film aligns with the public knowledge available about him, albeit with changes in a few events and a little dramatization. The largest change made to JB Peña is in his backstory as a war veteran. As per publically available information, JB Peña did not serve in the Second World War, and his veteran status is never mentioned in the source novel.

JB Peña (Leftmost) Image Credit: Mustang Miracle/Google Books

Peña moved to Del Rio, Texas, in the 1950s to start working as the superintendent at San Felipe High School. He had an interest in golf, and so did his close friend, Hiram Valdes, who was replaced in the film by the character of Frank Mitchell. Together, the two applied for membership at the San Felipe Country Club in 1955 but were politely rejected as the club members found the idea of ethnic Mexicans on the golf course to be preposterous.

While traveling, the two of them observed caddies of the club practicing golf on a hand-made course. Valdes suggested that Peña recruit them and form a golf team for his school. Under their leadership, the team won second place at their division’s state championship in 1956. Their success caused members of the San Felipe Country Club to lobby in their favor, allowing them to practice on club grounds on Mondays when it was closed.

Through the Mustangs, Peña was able to secure an invitation to the club and be recognized by its patrons, the same people who had rejected his membership. In 1957, the team would go on to place first in the state championship of Texas, beating their competition by a combined 35 strokes and sweeping all three medals.

JB Peña Passed Away in 1986

After winning the championship, the Mustangs’ team members went their separate ways, and Peña continued to coach the school team for several years. He handed over the team’s reins to a fellow teacher of the school district and left his work as superintendent in 1967. He then joined the San Felipe I.S.D. as its Curriculum Director and later became the Bilingual Education Director for San Felipe I.S.D. and San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated School District.

Peña was also recognized as a businessman and retired from his job in 1979. Post-retirement he focused on local civic activities and charities, some of them sponsored by San Felipe Lions Club. After the events of the film, he remained a regular golfer and even played with lawyer Humberto G. Garcia, who would go on to write ‘Mustang Miracle’ based on the golf team that he coached. Funnily enough, despite Garcia golfing with Peña from 1979 to 1985, he did not find out about the latter’s coaching accomplishments until 2008. Sadly, JB Peña passed away in 1986.

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