Breaking news: Longtime Roswell softball coach Art Sandoval will not return
Roswell and Chaves County sports fans know the name Britt Cooper. He was voted to the New Mexico High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor in 2016, finishing up with a 448-236 record. While cementing his legacy as one of the best basketball coaches to roll out basketballs for his teams, he helped put Roswell basketball on the map by winning four state basketball championships, in 2009, 2010, 2014, with the last coming in 2017.
Like the NFL’s Ray Lewis, John Elway and college basketball’s greatest coach, John Wooden; Cooper went out on his own terms, with a convincing 74-53 win over Capital at The Pit. After his team won, Cooper retired a couple of months later.
After sitting out a year, Cooper found he missed being around the local sports scene and applied for the Roswell Independent School District’s athletic director position, vacated by the former RISD activities and athletic director, Troy Hudson. Cooper was selected to replace Hudson and started on the job in July 2018.
Cooper had to learn on the job and worked harder this past year than he did as a basketball coach. There was no manual on how to do the job, he received excellent mentorship from Don Alsup which has helped him with ins and outs of the job allowing his first year to be easier than it would have been without any help.
A big part of the job for Cooper was being on the phone and making sure every game — middle and high school — had officials. Cooper also tried to attend as many games as possible. There were times when he felt he needed to be cloned because he had to deal with parents, coaches and administrators. Cooper had to make judgment calls on the spot, like when the Goddard boys and girls basketball teams were kept up in Albuquerque when Roswell was hit with high winds and the conditions were unsafe to travel.
Those are just some of the things that Cooper faced in his first year as RISD’s athletic director. RDR sports caught up with Cooper to get his thoughts on his first year, and new changes coming to the district.
David Sifuentes is the new RHS boys’ soccer coach. Baylee Robinson is the new assistant girls’ basketball coach for Roswell. Rebecca Blanco is the new cheer coach for Goddard, and there has not been a replacement named for Goddard boys’ and girls’ tennis teams. Former Goddard vice principal Dennis Montanez is the new assistant athletic director for the district — he began on July 1.
“We felt like with both of the coaches,” Cooper said, “they were the best qualified of the applicant pool. With Rebecca, she’s been at Berrendo she’s been in the school system and she’s still going to teach. She was a cheer coach at Berrendo and has some experience. We think it will be a good transition for her.”
Cooper felt with the selection of David, that he is more than ready. He’s been an assistant coach recently at NMMI, Goddard and has coached club soccer. Cooper hopes David can keep having the same success former RHS soccer coach James Vernon started. Cooper knows it’s going to be tough with Roswell moving up a class to 5A.
The reason the job became open was that Vernon decided to move into administration within the district. Roswell assistant girls basketball coach James Scott resigned to take the girls head coaching position at Hagerman. Longtime Roswell softball coach Art Sandoval has decided to go into administration opening up the Roswell softball head coaching job. Sandoval last week decided to remain the assistant principal at Early College High School. Former Goddard cheer coach, Patty Nolan, is relocating to Oklahoma. Cooper emphasized the cheer team is to be student-athletes and be visible at games. He noted the cheer team finished in fourth place at state last year and hopes they can make a run at the state title.
Cooper oversaw the eighth-graders’ inaugural football season in Border Conference Football this past season. The conference includes teams from Clovis, Hobbs, Artesia, Carlsbad, and Lovington, along with local teams Mesa, Mountain View, Sierra, and Berrendo.
Some changes were made to implement the RISD drug testing policy. Cooper commented that Artesia and Portales have had a drug policy for 20 years. Cooper stated that for a first offense, an athlete has to sit out 45 school days, an athlete cannot practice with the team or play in any games, or sit on the bench with the team during games.
“Hopefully, the first offense is the end of it,” Cooper said. “What that does is work as a deterrent. I’ve had kids tell some of our coaches and trainers, ‘If I even thought about doing it, I’m not going to do it now, because I can’t take that chance.’ That’s what we want, we’re working to keep kids off drugs. We want to help kids.”
For a second offense, it’s another 45 school days and an athlete has to go through a counseling program. The third offense, and it’s three strikes and an athlete is out. They would have to sit out a year, athletically — all of which is in the student handbook.
Cooper had his work cut out for himself this year. He had to learn two different sets of policies, guidelines, and rules; with Goddard being in District 4-4A and Roswell being in 4-5A, both schools are in different classifications.
“Instead of worry about a district schedule or policy for two schools in one district,” Cooper said, “I had to worry about two different schools in two separate districts, with every district being different. Things teams do in 4-4A are different than what they do in 4-5A. That’s been a challenge and it’s been rough for Roswell because they’re one of the smallest 5A schools, but we will see when the reclassification comes about in two years. We should know something about that in December.”
With reclassification, Roswell has to compete with schools like Hobbs, and they have 2,600 students. Cleveland and Rio Rancho have 2,400 students and Cooper doesn’t feel it’s a level playing field.
Since taking this job, Cooper has established a good working relationship with Sally Marquez, New Mexico Activities Association’s executive director. Cooper feels it’s important to have a good working relationship with the governing body.
“We’ve had a lot of success this year,” Cooper said. “Roswell won a state championship in football, Goddard volleyball was state runner-up. Roswell (High’s) Charlie’s Angels were state runner-up.” And with the controversy at state during the Spirit Competition, he felt Roswell and Goddard parents, students and athletes handled losing with class. “We had several district championships from both schools and we retained all of our coaches. I’m proud of that.”
After the season, Cooper met with the principals of Roswell and Goddard, along with the head coaches of each sport and evaluated them. Cooper wanted to let each coach know he was there to assist them and help them be successful, and in what areas they had to improve in, going forward. He wanted to let the coaches know they were being held accountable … it is the first time that has happened when he was a coach.
“It’s been really good,” Cooper said. “I get a lot of support,” from Roswell High principal Ruben Bolanos, Goddard High principal Brian Luck, Brian Byrd and Dr. (Ann Lynn) McIlroy, by centralizing the power and putting Dennis (Montanez) in the central office, it frees up the coordinators who have been an assistant principal to worry about curriculum and academic affairs. That’s what they’re hired to do and where they need to be. It gives the principal less to worry about.”
Montanez, assistant athletic director, will be dealing with eligibility issues and zoning issues, among other things. He will also be visible at games. Cooper is most proud of the fact that he was visible at as many athletic events as possible, and will continue to do so. Both Cooper and Montanez will be with the middle school coordinators and work with the principals.
“I tell people,” Cooper said, “‘I was at Roswell for all those years.’ Now, I’m neutral. I’m RISD and I want to see Roswell and Goddard have success, their programs and kids have success. I want student-athletes to get the total value out of athletics. Athletics teaches an athlete how to deal with wins and losses and adversity. It teaches them how to deal with everything, both good and bad.”
Cooper’s goal is the same as when he was a coach, to not only help Roswell and Goddard win a Blue Trophy while an athlete is in school, but to be successful academically off the court, as well.
NMAA just had its first year of Esports — there have been talks about it in the area, but no movement so far. Also, there are talks about the new aquatic center and maybe forming swim teams, in time. Two of Cooper’s biggest headaches this past season has been transportation and officials. Because of work schedules and availability, there’s a shortage of buses and game officials.
There’s been a debate about zone exemption. Cooper tried to explain it — an athlete has to be in the school zone. Athletes make their first choice as a freshman. An athlete has to go to school in their school zone unless they ask for a zone exemption, which has to be in advance and has to be approved by the building principal and superintendent.
Unless a parent physically moved from the north side of town to the south side, or vice-versa. The student would have to sit out 10 school days before being eligible. After it was approved by the NMAA, as long as it was a legitimate move and it wasn’t done for athletic reasons, but purely academic, the athlete should be approved.
Cooper has added AEDs (automated external defibrillators), which are heart defibrillator machines, at DeBremond Stadium, the Wool Bowl and the softball complex. The athletic equipment and helmets are the best and rotated every three years and they are replaced after 10 years. The equipment is checked every spring. The rotation schedule is every four years for uniforms, both home and away.
Goddard will open up at the Wool Bowl against Carlsbad on Aug. 30 — they will be playing on new turf at the Wool Bowl. The turf is being replaced after 12 years and the track will also be resurfaced.
“I’ve listened to the community,” Cooper said. “I try to do what’s best for kids. My first year, I’ve learned a lot and see things for what it is. I try to see things from RISD’s perspective. My big thing is to be visible at all sporting events. Wherever our teams were competing at, I was there. We have a pay scale that pays the same for male and female coaches. I believe all head coaches received a raise and most assistants did. We tried to level up the pay scale and that meant some head coaches got more of a raise than others. We tried to lift them to be competitive with other school districts in our area. I try to make things easier and better for our coaches.”
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or email@example.com.