Story ran in the El Paso Times on April 15, 2022
Written by Bret Bloomquist
Photo by Ivan Aguirre
Bernie Olivas’ name is royalty in the El Paso sports world, but only once did he try to flex it.
In 2001, when he was high up in the Sun Bowl organization that he is now executive director of, an internship in UTEP’s sports information department opened. He felt his daughter Angela, then a UTEP student and the mother of a 3-year-old girl, would be perfect for it.
He called the athletic department’s senior women’s administrator, Stephanie Rempe, to lobby, something he had never done before and hasn’t done since.
“I know everybody over there; I’ll call somebody,” Olivas recalls. "I talked to Stephanie. I told her my daughter needs an internship — do you have any room? She said, ‘I did, but I already hired somebody.’ "
Rempe said she’d keep his daughter’s name in mind for next time, and by the way, what was that name?
“That’s who I hired!” Rempe said.
Go-getter from the start.
As it turns out, a few days earlier, Rempe spoke to one of Angela’s journalism classes, mentioned there was an internship open in the athletic communications department and “I literally chased her out the door; I got up and left class to talk to her,” Angela Olivas said.
“She was so eager to work, to learn the profession,” said Rempe, now the executive deputy athletic director and chief operating officer in the LSU athletic department. "She was so excited about it, so hungry. She got better the more she learned, and she learned quickly.
“That’s such a neat family.”
It is one that can aptly be called the First Family of El Paso sports. As the executive director of the Sun Bowl since Sept. 10, 2001, the 68-year-old Bernie Olivas is the driving force behind El Paso’s defining sports event.
Angela Olivas, 44, has been the senior director of marketing and communications for the El Paso Chihuahuas since their inception in 2014 (she was one of their first hires in 2013) and recently took that position for the Locomotive as well.
That daughter who was 3 when Olivas was hired for the fateful internship that launched her career is 24-year-old Elizabeth Vega. Vega now works for her mother as the manager for marketing and digital strategies for the Locomotive, a club she has been with since its inception in 2019 when she started as an intern.
There is an inevitability to three generations of Olivases making such an impact in El Paso sports, though not because Bernie strong-armed his daughter and granddaughter into the life or greased the wheels for their ascent.
The members of this royal family made their rise because of merit, ability and a love of their profession that drove everything they did.
That started with Bernie, though he was following in the footsteps of his brother Sal, now a member of New Mexico State’s Athletic Hall of Fame who led the NCAA in passing as a quarterback in 1967.
Sal taught Bernie how to score baseball and softball, and by age 12 he was an official scorer for the Catholic Youth Organization softball league, making $1 a game. Not incidentally, that was Angela’s age when she started scoring Diocese of El Paso basketball games.
Vega quips she was 12 when she started serving as an unofficial intern for UTEP athletics, though the truth is Vega’s start in the UTEP athletic communications department came substantially younger than that.
“My entire family was athletic,” Bernie Olivas said of his childhood. “I’ve always said if Title IX had been around when my (five) sisters were growing up, they would have all played college sports.”
Bernie did, as a receiver for UTEP, then went straight into a career as a coach at his alma mater Cathedral, where he founded the baseball program in 1976 (a year before Angela was born) and took the basketball team to two state championship games. After the Irish lost by a point in 1981, he went into the pharmaceutical business, but still felt the siren call of sports.
He called the Sun Bowl offices in 1983 and soon enough was volunteering on a host committee. He worked his way up through the ranks to president, then when executive director Joyce Feinberg resigned to work for El Paso mayor Ray Salazar in 2001, Olivas ascended to the top. He got that job on Sept. 10, “the day before the world changed,” Olivas recalls.
Oddly, that wasn’t a position he aspired to until, as president of the Sun Bowl Committee, he was hiring for executive director and realized he had the perfect resume.
“Not until it happened,” Olivas said. “Somebody asked me, is this a dream come true? No, because I had never dreamed of doing this. Timing is everything.”
Along the way he became the official scorer for the El Paso Diablos, a job he passed off to his understudy Angela in 2005. She had been working for the Diablos in various game-day capacities since she was 16.
By then, Angela’s full-time job was in the UTEP sports information department, a position she was promoted to from her internship in 2001 and also in the same time frame when her father became executive director of the Sun Bowl.
“Angela was a real go-getter,” said Jeff Darby, the associate athletic director at UTEP who was her boss in the sports information department. "She called me up and set up a meeting. She didn’t mind working for free and she worked her butt off.
“She earned everything she got. She got promoted because she earned it. She came in as a volunteer worker, she left as an assistant AD.”
“I fell in love with it right away,” Angela said of that job. "It was exciting, it was fun. It was the adrenaline rush of being a small part of something that’s big. I had great mentors, Jeff Darby, Trent Hillburn, Charles Staniszewski. They took someone who didn’t know anything about sports information, a new mom coming out of college, and they gave me as much as I could grasp.
“And I asked for more. I just started climbing the ladder.”
Angela was never pushed toward sports, and in fact her younger sister Teresa is a physical therapist.
“People grow up two different ways,” Bernie Olivas said. "Some parents push their kids to be what they want them to be. Then there’s the way, let them do what they want to be, then push them to be the best.
“I think I took the right route. I didn’t push them to get into sports, I didn’t push them to get into athletics, whatever they chose, I wanted them to be the best at what they chose. I think it worked out well.”
Vega also wasn’t pushed toward sports, but she was immersed in it from the time she was able to run errands.
“Jeff Darby let me raise Lizzy at the office,” Olivas said. “It was picking her up at 3 o’clock, then she’d be my runner at basketball games. She’d be in her little St. Patrick’s (Elementary) uniform handing out stat sheets. I’d send her down to development to stuff envelopes. ‘Lizzy, go see what marketing has for you.’”
Vega remembers that fondly.
“I was there after school, on the weekends,” she said. "Mom would pick me up from school and we’d go to a softball game. Instead of going to play with friends I’d go to a football game and sit with the stat people and media people.
“I never really questioned it because that was my life. I’m grateful for it now, I wouldn’t be where I am: a love of sports, this career, without being raised in that environment. I never thought about, ’I’m going to do sports marketing,’ because I never considered doing anything else.
“I was primed to do this. I literately grew up in the sports industry. It’s different than the way other kids are raised, but I wouldn’t change it.”
Angela Olivas’ life changed again in 2013 when MountainStar Sports Group bought the Triple A baseball team that moved from Tucson and became the Chihuahuas.
She wanted a job with them so badly she didn’t tell anyone in her family she was applying for fear it wouldn’t pan out. It did; she’s the only communications director the franchise has had.
“She’s such a professional,” said Chihuahuas general manager Brad Taylor, who first met Olivas when they were both interviewing for jobs. "She’s the first one to volunteer on any community project. She’s completely immersed in what we stand for.
“They aren’t just three generations, they are three great people. I’ve gotten to know Bernie, I’ve worked with Angela since I started and now I’m getting to know Lizzy. It’s not just generational, they are all good at what they do.”
The Locomotive set up their offices in 2018 and in a family tradition, Vega was first in line to apply for an internship in the marketing department and quick to work her way up. Along the way she picked up her MBA from UTEP and earned the promotion to manager, working for her mother.
“It’s so cool, and not just because they’re mother and daughter and colleagues,” Locomotive general manager Andrew Forest said. "They are so professional. I couldn’t be more proud of Lizzy, the way she and her mother work together is so professional.
“Lizzy is so eager to learn and her mother has so much to teach her. To have three generations like them, this city is in good hands. Lizzy didn’t get the job because of charity because of who her mom and grandfather are, she got it because she’s talented and good.”
Vega loves working for her mother.
“I don’t think it’s weird, it’s been really easy and I don’t think a lot of people expected that to happen,” she said. "Because I grew up in her office, it’s like going back to 10 years ago when I was always bothering her and asking her questions. Now it’s work related. “The only hard part for me, yes she’s my mom, yes he’s my grandpa, so maybe people might assume I got the job I got because of them and not because of my own hard work. That’s the one thing that’s a nuisance. I’ve put in the hours, I want this for myself.”
Angela Olivas relates.
“I completely understand that, I was the same way,” she said. “It’s hard to get out from under, ’You’re Bernie’s daughter.’”
Obviously, though, being Bernie’s daughter is a source of pride.
“I’m blessed to have a mentor in my dad,” Angela Olivas said. "To follow in his footsteps and have somebody to look up to is amazing. I can just call and ask opinions and I do. It’s awesome to be able to show Lizzy, to be her boss, and say it’s cool you can be better than me.
“That’s what I hope for her, that she excels more than I could. I got into this late, she got into it early. The possibilities for her are endless.”
Said Vega: "I think coming from two generations of people in the sports industry, you have a lot of pressure to meet expectations and exceed expectations, but at the end of the day I’m grateful for that. Bernie Olivas, an icon in the sports industry, Angela Olivas, an icon in the sports industry, in the city but also nationwide.
“The fact that that’s my family, my grandpa and my mom, I’m the luckiest person ever.”
El Paso has been lucky to have all three of them.
Bret Bloomquist can be reached at email@example.com; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.
Link to El Paso Times: https://www.elpasotimes.com/sports/
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