Basketball Sports

Valdez savors send-off salute

Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

IHS coach honored for 30+ years’ service 

Amongst those shaking Lee Larson’s hand after the former boys’ basketball head coach was officially inducted January 13, 2024, into Ignacio High’s Coaches Hall of Fame, Chris Valdez had to know one day he’ll be on the receiving end of such grasps. 

And that IHS Gymnasium won’t be the only place his name will indefinitely endure. 

The wait to learn exactly where began in earnest Friday evening, June 7. 

Lured into Sky Ute Casino Resort Event Center, Valdez was caught completely off-guard to see a sizable crowd standing and applauding, ready to feast – Valdez himself believed he and wife Cindy, the party’s likely mastermind, would be dining at the Casino’s Seven Rivers restaurant – and commemorate the recently-retired Bobcat boss for more than three decades of dedication. 

“Well, to tell you the truth I was one hundred percent surprised,” he said, beginning an impromptu speech – bookended by 10- to 15-second ovations – following brother (and former assistant coach) Johnny Valdez’s opening comments, and lasting precisely five minutes. 

“I’m not worried about me and this being about me; it’s always been about the kids and, of course, what we can do for our kids, our community, our school. But mostly it’s for the kids, you know? What are we going to do for them today? What can we do to make them better, their lives easier? It’s hard for me to ever want something for myself, because that’s so selfish. But I do appreciate the people who came out today, and the relationship I have with each and every one of you – you know what it is – and I thank you for this moment.” 

After relinquishing the microphone, an impressive 13 more speeches were made, by former ’Cats, colleagues, friends and even rivals. 

“I’m a worse crybaby than him!” joked Matt Lucero, longtime and still current skipper at Blanca-area Sierra Grande (east of Alamosa), after Valdez had choked up while restraining a tear or two. “So, if I get through this without crying … . Chris is someone that I’ve looked up to; I try to make my teams play like his teams. We’re not flashy, we’re not big, we’re not ‘athletic,’ but we’ve got kids that play hard, and we’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to get to the State Tournament. It’s (about) leadership, getting your kids to play bigger than what they actually are – that’s what he’s always been able to do, and I’ve always tried to follow in his footsteps.” 

“And just finally getting to be able to talk to him … we shared a lot of stories, a lot of game plans. And even today, you know, one of my offenses is called ‘Bobcat’ – he told me his offensive plays!” Lucero continued. “But I guess one thing that I want to say, is that … everybody comes first – but your family – when it comes to coaching. And that’s hard to say, because if you want to be good you’ve got to put in the time – and he’s done it for 30 years! I’m in my 22nd year, and every month of June we’ve given up our (families) for everyone else; Chris finally – hopefully – has the time to give his time to his wife this month of June, and for every June that comes after.” 

“Look, growing up in Ignacio … it’s interesting; we have so many different personalities and so many different people and lifestyles, and he had to mold all that when they were playing. And I think that’s the thing that I admired most, was the fact that he could get us all to get along, for one, and then play,” said former ’Cat Laramy Miller. “And I know I’m thankful … . I mean, we had a lot of bad attitudes on our team, I was probably the worst, but he knew how to get you ticked off enough to play good, but not so pissed off that you were worthless.” 

“I think we were playing Pagosa (Springs), and I just had a horrible attitude; my mom comes out of the bleachers at halftime and … caught Chris on the way to the locker room, and she asked him if he was wanting to win a game or make men. And she said, ‘You sit my son!’” Miller recalled. “And, you know, it got to me; Chris had a talk with me and … . It’s stuff like that, it’s knowing how to deal. I just want to thank him; I know he’s changed a lot of lives and helped a lot of people.” 

“Coaching was the easiest thing for me,” said Valdez, a 1986 IHS graduate. “I have, you know, 15 aunts and uncles on my mom’s side, I had 15 brothers and sisters … . We always had a big family, a big community; there was always people fighting and jarring for position. Everybody was different and you learned how to talk to everybody at once, but to each as an individual. And try not to hurt anybody’s feelings, but try to – as a coach – push your kids. So I’ve enjoyed doing that; it was something I saw my dad do, and this is where I got it from.” 

“And the hardest thing for me was to watch my wife raise our three daughters while I was out there on the court all the time,” Valdez continued, with daughters Chrystianne, Kiana and Charlize – former multi-sport IHS athletes – all in the audience. “But every day she came, and she was there with snacks and coloring books – there was no iPads or anything like that back in the day – and she was the one who made me who I am today as a coach. If it wasn’t for her I could have never done it, because your ‘supporting cast’ has to be there.” 

“Your effort and time with all of us throughout your 30 years of coaching will truly be missed; it was a full-time job with you, providing us with opportunities to play basketball and develop not only in season, but providing us opportunities to play in rec league and summer camps,” former ’Cat Alex Herrera said from overseas – he spent the 2023-24 winter with Medipolis SC Jena (averaging 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in 37 games played) in Germany’s ProA league – via a recorded phone message. “And without a doubt I can say that I wouldn’t be where I am without you teaching, pushing, and having my back throughout all these years.” 

Valdez’s first season as an Ignacio head coach was the 1995-96 grind, after taking over for Jack Riddle (whom he’d spent the previous two years assisting) as the Lady Bobcats’ leader. He remained in that capacity through the 1999-2000 campaign, then replaced Lee Carleton as boys’ boss (assisted by Art Silva and Al Cloud) for the 2000-01 season. Interestingly, Ignacio’s 2001 yearbook was titled ‘From Dreams to Reality.’ 

“I just want to say thank you for letting me live my dream,” former ’Cat John Valdez said via phone recording. “All I ever wanted was to make you and our community proud; I’ll always be thankful for the lessons learned along the way. I hope I can do even half of what you’ve done for the people around you, in my life and in my profession. We were all so blessed to play for you.” 

“You know, all the different personalities that he’s helped take from boys to men is, I think, his legacy,” said Miller, a sophomore in ’00-01. “I think that’s the most important thing that he’s ever done.” 

“Conditioning? I don’t even think you condition your boys like you conditioned us, Coach!” Lori Casias (née Pinnecoose) said, eliciting an echo of laughter. “Chris started coaching me when I was a (’95-96) freshman. Being his cousin, of course, he got to really chew [me out] often, and … it was some of the greatest memories of my life playing for him. My high-school days were pretty awesome because of you, Coach, so I wish you lots of luck.” 

“Chris’ first year was my senior year – he was an assistant coach. I got my nickname from him, and he has plenty of stories to share with my daughter about me,” said Gina Cosio (née Cox) a ’93-94 senior. “I went off to school for a year and came back, and Chris was the head coach. And I didn’t have anything better to do, so he offered me a position. He knew how much I loved basketball, and he invited me – for no other reason except for that I had a good hook shot – to come on with him and Johnny to be the sole female coach, and I learned so much.” 

“He expected the best of you, demanded the best of you, but always made you feel you were fully capable,” she stated. “So, I’m happy to see you going out the way you did; you gave it everything and I’m proud of you.” 

“The love that I have for this, the appreciation I have for the community and the people who backed me … . I don’t want to babble on all night, so I’m just going to say thank you to all you people,” Chris Valdez said. “Someday I may coach again, I don’t know – Little League (baseball) or something, C-team girls’ (basketball) junior-high … probably about my caliber now – but thank you for everything you’ve done.” 

“I never came out to coach the game for me – or my family, obviously. It’s for the kids, it’s for the families, it’s for our community. You know, I always said that if there was somebody better or if I ran out of energy that I would turn it over to the best person that I could find. And, you know, it was time; I think I’m getting a little more old and tired, I think Cindy’s tired of doing bake sales and concession stands (crowd laughs). But I want to thank all of you.” 

“All the things everybody’s talked about … remember that when you think about him, he is a legend. He’s one of the greatest basketball coaches in the history of Colorado,” said Johnny Valdez, in his event-closing comments. “It is for this community that he did it … and for all the friends and players that made it happen. I know he doesn’t think it’s about him, but today it is. Thank you, Coach.” 

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