Graduating may have stopped Rene Plasencia from running at UCF, but not in life. The former UCF track and field runner is in yet another race — this time, to become a house representative for the state of Florida. With a landslide victory in the primaries, Plasencia is on the last leg of his sprint toward congress.
Rene Plasencia, better known as Coach P, graduated from UCF in 1996 with a degree in psychology. Plasencia currently teaches American Government and coaches track and cross country at Colonial High School in Orlando. In 2011 and 2012 he led the school to back-to-back state championships in boys cross country, giving the school its ﬁrst state titles in any sport.
Plasencia's former student, athlete and now campaign manager, Patrick Hale, is a 2009 UCF graduate who earned his degree in political science. Hale has always seen Plasencia as a mentor, so when he was asked to be Plasencia's campaign manager, he was more than happy to ﬁll that role.
"One day he just randomly came up to me and said he wanted to run for state house," Hale said. "Obviously, he understood what issues he wanted to address. He wanted to make a difference when it came to education and make a positive impact on the lives of people around him; but to me he had always been just a coach."
Though Hale may not have seen the decision coming, Plasencia notes that he had been accruing the leadership experience it takes to make a difference in the community for quite some time.
"I got really involved in leadership positions through athletics, but really, I got involved because our team was being torn apart," Plasencia recalls.
Plasencia and a few of his teammates founded the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, or SAAC, in 1994 after the athletic department decided to discontinue the UCF men's track team. Plasensia acted as the committee president for two years until he graduated. He used it to give athletes a mouthpiece to speak up for not only themselves, but for their teammates as well.
During his senior year, the men's cross country team coach resigned just before the season started. The university didn't hire a replacement until the next year, so in the meantime, Plasencia acted as the team's leader.
Assistant football coaches helped to fulfill the safety traveling requirements, but Plasencia ordered the jerseys, planned the trips, licensed the travel vans and led the practices, all as a college senior working to earn his bachelor's degree. He liked to think that no hurdle was too high for him.
Now, as the cross-country coach at Colonial High School, Plasencia continues his passion to actively lead and inspire.
"I always felt like I wasn't just a coach, but I was part of the team. I did every run with the boys," he said.
One practice, while running with the boys, a student collapsed on the track due to an unknown heart condition. Plasencia and several other administrators rushed to his side and immediately began to administer CPR until the ambulance arrived, which ultimately saved the boy's life. Plasencia was awarded the Civil Award of Merit for his efforts.
Plasencia, whose old track picture can still be found hanging in Wackadoo's in the Student Union, wants to use his background as a child of an American immigrant, a college student-athlete and an educator as a springboard for positive political action in the area, he said.
He credits the leadership roles he took on as a Knight to some of his success today.
"Even though I didn't realize it, my experiences at UCF led me to this place," Plasencia said.