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Former officer makes difference in athletes’ lives

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Dexter girls basketball coach Greg Barela uses new school methods as he watches a video on his cellphone of one of his players making a layup during practice Wednesday. (J.T. Keith Photo)

There are three things that people know about new Dexter girls basketball coach Greg Barela who know him personally. One, he’s decisive. It doesn’t take him long to make up his mind to do something. Two, he’s a goal-setter and three, he believes in being disciplined.

Summer league

Former 20-year Roswell police officer Greg Barela uses his training to become a successful basketball coach. (J.T. Keith Photo)

On Wednesday during a mid-morning practice at Dexter High School, coach Barela is putting his new team through the paces. He is not discouraged. His team just lost four games in the Carlsbad summer league tournament on Tuesday night. The encouraging part of the tournament is they won a game and have a few minor areas to clean up. Barela will see if his young team has learned from their mistakes as they play on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Roswell tournament.

“I saw a lot of promise last night,” Barela said. “They’re little things we need to correct, but we have a lot of promise. We have a lot of speed.”

Takes over a playoff team

Barela takes over a team that made the playoffs last season, and many expect this upcoming season to be a rebuild as the Lady Demons have lost all five senior starters along with coach Elizabeth Elizondo stepping down. Coming back for Dexter will be one senior and five juniors, along with six freshmen and sophomores.

“The truth is you have to have patience,” Barela said. “If you don’t have patience, the players aren’t going to learn everything the first time, or the second time or the third time. It takes a while for them to learn it and a lot of repetition before it becomes familiar with their muscle memory.”

Not new to coaching

Barela may be a new coach at Dexter, but he’s not new to coaching. Last season, Barela won the middle school title as the boy’s basketball coach for Sierra. Just like his other teams, Barela feels like once the team gets used to his system, they will be formidable in the district they are playing in. Barela thinks it will be a learning experience this season, but then the next season, once his team gets comfortable with the system, he will expect them to compete for state championships.

The Lady Demons have practiced for three weeks and will practice one more week and then take a summer break. So far, Barela has put in some of their offensive and defensive plays.

The rough side of town 

Both of his parents — mom, Lucy and Cruz, dad — made a big impact on him and his life. Raised in the rough east side of town, Barela looked around and knew that he wanted to live a different life. From 5 years of age, he knew that he wanted to be a police officer.

“I knew at a very early age that I wanted to be a police officer,” Barela said. “I remember telling my friends when I was 5 or 6 years old that I’ll be driving one of them police cars someday.”

Decision changes life

On a Saturday night, Barela remembers having a heart to heart talk with his mother. She sat him down at the kitchen table and asked him what he wanted to do with his life. He told her that he wanted to be a police officer and that he needed to get out of Roswell. Needing only one class to graduate going into his senior year, Barela looked at his friends and most of them were in trouble or going to get into trouble.

“I was 17 years old,” Barela said. “I remember some of my friends in high school were getting into trouble, and sometimes the neighborhood was so good at times. I told my mom I don’t want to wait a year. She told me, ‘Go do what you have to do.’”

Barela took his GED test and ASVAB and within a month he was gone. It was a hard time for his mother because in a span of eight months, his mother had lost three of her kids. Cruz, his brother, joined the Marine Corps. His sister, Deborah Escobar, got married and moved to California.

Air Force/ Police

Barela spent four and a half years in the Air Force, getting out in March of 1984 and entered the police academy in July. Barela served 20 years with the Roswell police department before retiring in 2004.

Coaching

“I went into coaching for the same reason I became a police officer,” Barela said, “I wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives. Hopefully, I did that when I was a police officer, and I wanted to make a difference here at Dexter. I saw them when they were out of school and they were getting in trouble — I figured if I became a coach, I could guide them in the right direction.”

When Barela got out of the Air Force, he started coaching his niece, Diane, in 1984. He started coaching his kids when they were born — Kristian Chavira and Stephen Barela — that’s when he started working for the school district in 2005. One of the administrators asked him if he wanted to coach basketball at Berrendo Middle School. He was successful and they asked him if he wanted to coach volleyball the next year.

“I look at it this way,” Barela said. “That some kids don’t have parents, and I like to be that figure for them. That (kids) see me as a successful role model. I’d like for them to see me as a successful minority. I liked where I was at in the Roswell Independent School District, but then I come to Dexter and I love my kids.”

Barela thinks that one of the keys to his success is that he has had great administrators everywhere he has been. He also feels like he has learned a lot from the athletes he’s coached and other coaches.

Mentors

“I’ve learned from Goddard coaches,” Barela said. “I’ve also learned from Roswell coaches. I will call Mr. Moses ‘Dude’ Burrola and ask him to come and show my girls some things. He’s (Burrola) kind enough with his time to share his knowledge and help me and my girls get better. I will go to games and look at what other coaches are doing, that’s basically how I learn.”

Run, run, run

Run, run, run. Coach Barela learns running is an equalizer for height. He discovered it by accident because when he coached at Sierra, his teams (both boys and girls) were always the shortest team. Because of that, he started having his team run the ball all the time. Knowing that most of his opponents are going to be bigger than his teams, he decided to run them into submission.

“This is the first time in eight years that we’ve had height,” Barela said. “We got into the philosophy that we have to run, run, run all the time. That’s our philosophy here. We played in a game in Carlsbad where their smallest girl on the court was bigger than our tallest girl, so that’s why we have to develop that philosophy because there are not a lot of tall kids in Dexter right now.”

Police teach life lessons

The one thing that Barela carries with him from his days as a police officer is discipline. He believes that carries over to the way his teams are prepared and how they will play. He also felt like living in danger and not knowing if he would come home every night that the family got used to it. Barela is close to all three of his kids; his daughter is a postwoman, his son is serving in the Air Force and he especially enjoys spending time with his 2-month old daughter Madison.

Barela would like to be a positive role model to the players he coaches. At Dexter, he teaches criminal justice and leadership. If things go as planned, Barela would like to end his coaching days on the Dexter bench and groom his first-year assistant coach, Karol Fury to take over when he retires.

One of the biggest differences between coaching girls and boys is the girls are more receptive to instruction, where guys feel like they know it all. Barela uses new-school methods with old-school work ethic. In practice, he videotaped one of his speed demons, guard Anayee Carlos, as he had her practice running full speed the length of the court after making a steal and practice making a layup. Afterward, whether she made it or missed it, he gave her instructions on how to do it better and then they watched it on his cellphone.

“One of the things I like about Dexter,” Barela said, “we don’t cut anybody, everybody makes the team. You might have someone come out as a freshman that has never played before, or they might not be very good, but if they work on their game and learn how to play by their junior year, they might be a stud.”

Barela teaches life’s not fair

One of Barela’s goals as a coach is to teach discipline to his players. He wants his players to know that the world has rules and life’s not fair.

“If a player comes in and gives me 50 percent on the court,” Barela said, “chances are, they’re not going to play. I believe society has developed a participation trophy attitude. Society says, ‘Yes, you participated, here’s your trophy.’ I don’t believe in that attitude — my attitude is ‘Here’s your trophy for the hard work you’re doing.’ I believe you have to go out and reach for everything you’re going to get. My players earn their playing time, they don’t play just because they made the team.”

Barela has high expectations based on the talent he has. He anticipates they will be a team to look at in Class 3A in the next couple of years. If some teams sleep on the Lady Demons, they could surprise some teams.

Dexter will play at 7:30 p.m. today at Roswell High School.

The Lady Demons’ first game of the season is Nov. 29. in a tournament at Taos.