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Teacher, coach comes full circle in Artesia

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Mike Smith Photo Artesia basketball coach Mike Mondragon stands in the school’s weight room.

ARTESIA — Walk into Michael Mondragon’s office at the Bulldog Pit in Artesia and you’ll notice a picture of him and former President George W. Bush. Mondragon has an interesting story behind the photo.

“Whenever I was first coaching here, I think it was 2008 or 2009, but they gave all the teachers the afternoon off, the whole school district. They had a big speech here by President Bush. Me, my older brother Patrick and Blackie Moreno, we’re golfers and it was in the spring and they gave us the afternoon off and we decided, ‘hey, let’s go to the golf course and get a round of golf in.’”

While at Artesia Country Club, Mondragon met former President Bush.

“So, we’re playing our nine holes and we make the turn and we’re going into the clubhouse (and) the pro shop, getting me a Snickers and a Gatorade, there’s security service everywhere and I turn around and sure enough here’s George Bush coming around the corner,” Mondragon said.

Mondragon added he was standing there, “taking it all in and sees me and says, ‘how are you doing sir, would you like to take a picture?’”

Mondragon said he was wearing an Artesia Junior High shirt and he jumped at the chance to have a photo taken with the former president of the United States.

President Bush asked Mondragon if he taught in Artesia. “I said, ‘Yes sir, I teach and coach at the junior high.’ He shook my hand and took a picture.”

Mondragon added, “I didn’t realize nothing of it, one thing that was pretty cool is, I went and told the guys, ‘Hey man, I just went and took a picture with the president (and) they’re all cool.’”

Sometime later, Mondragon got a phone call from the Artesia Country Club telling him that a manilla envelope arrived and it had that picture in it.

In addition to being a teacher and a coach, Mondragon is also seeking a seat on the Artesia City Council in District 2. He will have some write-in opposition from George C. Mullen. Did that encounter with former President Bush prompt his interest in running for the seat?

“I’ve always been kind of excited about politics,” Mondragon said. “I’m not afraid to talk and being from Artesia, I’m at the point now in the society I think, there’s so much going on and everybody’s got everything they want to say and complain about or don’t like. I think it was a Mike Krzyzewski (Duke University basketball coach) that kind of motivated me that said, ‘If you don’t like where things are going, get involved and inspire change.’ That’s something I want to do,” Mondragon said.

Mondragon has lived in Artesia since was 10 years old and he also has a wife and two young children.

“If I’m gonna sit here and complain about something going on with Artesia, might as well get involved,” Mondragon said.

Mondragon said he loves The City of Champions and he wants to inspire change. He teaches financial literacy and geometry along with weights and athletics at Artesia High School. When Mondragon was younger, he wasn’t looking to become a teacher or coach. Instead he wanted to go into aerospace engineering.

“I got into college and was fortunate enough to play a little college basketball at Eastern (New Mexico University) and when I got there, they didn’t have aerospace engineering,” he said.

One semester, Mondragon said he was overwhelmed with upper-level math and engineering classes.

“So I went from that to public speaking to business and then I got done playing ball and I started helping out with the girls program (at Portales High School). Brenda Gomez had called me up and knew my dad (Billy) was the head girls coach here and said, ‘Hey, do you mind getting some guys and helping us practice?’

Mondragon said yes to the question.

“Once I started doing that, I really enjoyed seeing the interaction and helping those girls and helping that program,” he said.

Mondragon comes from a long line of educators and coaches. He said teaching and coaching was his true calling.

Mondragon added, his job as a coach is an extension of what he does in the classroom.

“I think one thing that people don’t realize is athletes will do anything for you,” he said.

“You’ve kind of got that over them, because they want to play a game. So you think you teach them, I mean, that’s one thing we harp here. I want these guys to leave my program and be successful young men,” he said.

Mondragon said he likes to see his former charges attain a college degree and be positive role models who give back to society.

“The wins are gonna take care of themselves,” he said. “We don’t really harp a whole lot on winning, we harp on all the little things, having good character, having a good work ethic, being discipline (and) sacrifice for your teammates.”

He added, “We have a quote that we use a lot and it’s called sacrifice, ‘If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.’ We really push that on our guys and really push that mentality and I think that’s what teachers do.

“Teachers inspire people, they empower young men and I think that’s what we’re trying to do here in our program and be successful,” Mondragon said.

Mondragon was an assistant coach in Artesia from 2007 to 2010. In the spring of 2010, he became Morarity’s head coach and he was there until 2014 when he came back to Artesia.

Things have come full circle for Mondragon as Derek Montoya, a former player, is an assistant coach on his staff. Another former player, Koby Caton, is the head trainer.

“Derek, to see him grow up and to see him become the young man he was, it’s kind of weird when I got the head job here in the spring (of 2014), me and Coach (Cooper) Henderson (athletics director) were talking and Derek was helping out Ike (Montoya, Mondragon’s predecessor) at the time and he just finished his stuff with school and so I gave him a call and he was in Las Cruces and I was in Moriarty and asked him, ‘Hey Derek, how would you like to be on my high school staff?’”

Montoya accepted the job. “He’s a great addition,” Mondragon said. “What I like is he’s from here, he’s played in this program, I think that’s what you’ve got to understand, too, is you’ve got to get people who played in your program to understand what we’re trying to build here to help build your program.”

Regarding Caton, Mondragon said he was a freshman point guard when Mondragon was an assistant back in 2008.

“As eighth-graders, they weren’t very successful,” Mondragon said. “In ninth grade, we took them all the way to the Border Conference championship and Koby was on that team and unfortunately we lost to Lovington. It’s cool, I’m starting to feel like a dinosaur in here.”

Mondragon gives credit to his assistants, including Paul Kirkwood. “I played for him for four years,” he said. “So it’s kind of cool how it’s come full circle and Coach (Jeff) Davis was one of my coaches. I’ve got all of these who have either played for me or I played for them.”

Mondragon also gives credit to his family, including his wife Desrii.

“People don’t realize, coaches’ wives don’t get any credit and they’re doing all the behind-the-scenes (work),” he said. “She’s at home raising both kids, I’m on the road and it’s just really hard on her. I just couldn’t do it without her support.”

General assignment reporter Mike Smith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 307, or at sports2@rdrnews.com.

By Mike Smith
Roswell Daily Record