Matt Martinez is retiring from 33-years as athletic director at Pojoaque Valley … leaving behind huge footsteps to follow
He drove the school bus, put together a modern campus sports facility, did what a good athletic director would do
COMMENTARY By ARNIE LESHIN
When I first relocated to New Mexico from south Florida in 2001 was when I first met Matt Martinez. I was feeling my way around the Santa Fe area when I was assigned by the Journal North to cover the annual Ben Juan basketball tournament.
With directions provided on the drive up I-25 north to Pojoaque Valley, I arrived to see a neat gymnasium that hosted the tournament. Then I located Martinez, the athletic director, and he was quite the host. Spoke of the banners that hung from the rafters and the walls and made sure to reserve a seat at the official table for me.
Next, he brought some water and other treats. I was no doubt impressed. As a long-time sportswriter, I had been to many different states, but this was my first time on an assignment outside of the City Different, and I wound up meeting the perfect host.
I covered a few more Elk and Elkette basketball games, but in recent years I didn’t.
Despite this, Martinez didn’t change. He constantly gave me a call to come on up to his school, said he’d reserve a seat for me, other times he’d get in touch and inform me that he had a real comfortable lounge chair waiting for me.
That was nice, the athletic director inviting me. But I also thought of how successful he was as a head basketball coach. Back when he showed me those banners, he did mention that he had coached the girl’s team, but never bragged about it.
But he certainly had a reason to brag. His undefeated Elkettes (28-0) won the school’s first hoops championship in 1998, and lost in the previous two state finals. In three years, his girls went 78-3, and were unbeaten when they lost to Moriarty in the final in 1997. In ’96, they lost to undefeated Kirtland Central in the final for what was KC’s 17th state championship.
The Broncos, in fact, had won four of the last five titles, only missing the 1997 final, but in ’98 it was Martinez’ team edging KC, 67-65, in the final, and in those years it was something special to win over the Broncos.
He hasn’t coached since than. That was the agreement he made when he was offered the AD job in 1999. He had been in that role before, but now the superintend school offered him a choice, coach or be the athletic director. He chose the latter, but as a coach he never lost in the Ben Lujan tournament.
Now the man who grew up in basketball-hungry Mora and played on its basketball team, is winding down his 33 years spent at Pojoaque. Whereas Mora was his first home, the home of the Elks and Elkettes became his second.
His reaction to retiring included his passion all these years, and his joy to finally break away from the usual 24 to 7 days.
“I mean, my options are open,” he said. “I’m not sure if I’m ready to give it up entirely. Maybe I’ll get into teaching and find that I enjoy getting off at 3 o’clock and going home like most everyone else. If I don’t have to work, then I don’t have to. That’s another option.”
But no more driving the school bus. That’s another thing that went with the job. I could sometimes catch him on the phone as he was driving one of the Pojoaque High teams to their event. He’s driving, I’m calling, and he didn’t mind taking the call.
But no bus when I last bumped into Martinez at the state basketball tournament in Albuquerque. He was hanging around the upper area with his many peers and friends and called out to me as I strolled by. He informed me that he was retiring as AD in June.
Rather than interview him with this knowledge, I congratulated him. It was his choice, no one had offered him anything else. He could stay if he wanted to, but was nevertheless pleased to say goodbye after 17 years as athletic administrator.
I consider Martinez and St. Michael’s AD Tom Manning, as two of the state’s better athletic directors. Manning, still recovery from knee surgery that sidelined him for quite some time, had no problem getting in some nice things to say about Martinez.
“I think people forget how good of a coach he was,” Manning said. “As good as a coach he has been, he’s probably been just as good of an athletic director.”
I second this. Martinez got around as a good AD will do. He was often at Pojoaque events, whether it be basketball or other sports, and I can always run into him at the state track and field championships.
He’s been a busy man enjoying life, dedicating himself to the responsibilities that occur in his position. He’s on various committees that involve the NMAA. He’s been a district chairman.
He even put in one season as Elks’ head hoops coach. It was the 2000-01 campaign, one in which his close friend, Chris Peterson, died in a motorcycle accident during the summer. It was Peterson who had encouraged Martinez to take the athletic director’s job full time.
Peterson had coached the boy’s team in 1999, but after his tragic passing, Martinez was allowed to coach the team that season. Before he and Peterson, Ernie Rodriguez had coached the boys for seven years and Martinez had nothing but good to say about Coach Rodriguez.
The school moved from its present campus in Jacona during Martinez’ tenure, its centerpiece being the Ben Lujan gym. But Martinez worked to make it into one of the best facilities in the state. It now includes a modern sports complex that features football, softball and baseball.
Since he took over full time as the athletic director, the school has won 22 state championships, and Martinez has knowledge of each and every sport, although basketball remains his favorite.
As for returning to coaching, he won’t rule that out. Maybe even apply for an assistant’s job under an experience head coach. Perhaps a head coaching position that interests him.
It was after two years as a teacher with the Albuquerque public schools and as an assistant basketball coach at West Mesa, that he chose Pojoaque over Penasco. He picked the kelly green and white because he was given the chance to be the junior varsity girl’s basketball coach. He was named head coach of the varsity the following season.
He’s also spent the last five years teaching special education.
Now he figures it’s time to move on. He admits it’s not easy, for it’s been a part of his life for quite some time. But he also said he’ll no doubt find something else to do.
It’s also a dash to the finish, where he adds that he’s going to work as hard as he can every day until June 9.
“There’s no other way to get to retirement as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
See you around, Matt Martinez, maybe we can meet for lunch one day and discuss your present state of mind?