It would be easy to say that high school sports in the Imperial Valley serve as the mecca of the sport’s world for many athletes.
Most of the young athletes we follow today, more often than not, will finish their illustrious playing careers right here in the heat below sea level.
Is there anything wrong with that? No.
These young athletes get to live their lives learning and growing through the beauty of sport. If that opens up doors for further opportunities, than more power to them, but for the overwhelming number of athletes who will never set foot on a field, court or mat again, this was it.
So what happens to the athletes that are done with the game?
Some will continue their education, some will look for a career, and some are drawn to a cause due to their passion.
It’s the call to coach. It is for those rare individuals that share the passion for sport and what it can mean to young children.
I was never ‘by true definition’ an athlete, but I was raised by a family of coaches. To me, they were always the prime example of what I wanted to represent. From the moment I got into high school and saw the great coaches in my life inspire and drive their athletes to perform at their best, I knew I wanted to be a coach.
Most people would assume because of my family’s wrestling background, I would become a wrestling coach … well I did, but it wasn’t the first sport I coached.
I began coaching my first passion that first year after graduating high school. I started as a volunteer for Babe Ruth baseball.
I knew about the sport, but didn’t know everything I needed to coach. Lucky for me I got to coach with Steve Mendoza.
Now Steve was one of those guys with a once in a lifetime personality. He could be the joker with the players, the iron fist when adversity struck, or the source of a compassionate message when things get tough.
And man did he know his baseball. I’ve never seen a man of his age with feet like he had. The beautiful thing wasn’t how fast and precise his footwork was on every ground ball, but how he was able to translate that to this players.
Steve was also a family man. My first year with him, he was coaching his oldest child, Chris. They had their father/son bouts, here and there, but you could tell they were building memories they would never forget.
He also had two daughters, Cassi and Cortni. Naturally they were softball players and when they were at our practice they were on the field working out.
As a father Steve was there for his children and as far as I could remember, he never missed a game, not for them, or his team.
My father is the standard in my mind for what a coach should be. Yeah, you can say I’m a little biased, but I can truefully say I learned a good amount about coaching and life from Steve and I will never get to thank him for that.
My friend Steve passed away on Friday from a long battle with an illness that wore him down, but even during the fight, he still found a way to be there for his children, be it a game or a graduation.
So with that, I just want to say thank-you, Steve, for all you taught me and showed me. We need more people like you in our youth’s lives … rest easy, my friend.