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NMMI coach honors mother beyond ‘the pink’

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

As the clock ticks down to zero, New Mexico Military Institute coach Randy Montoya stands on the sidelines with his arms folded trying to keep it together emotionally. Montoya is trying not to let the tears come to his eyes, because in his mind he has a checklist to do before he can unlock that door.

Montoya has to shake hands with Tularosa coach Richard Grace and say congratulations after his Colts team has just lost, 22-7 in their homecoming game on Friday night. Montoya still needs to meet with his team and tell them good job and encourage them, because there is still a game left in the season and a playoff berth at stake. He knows his team has things to work on in practice the last week of the season.

This week for the Colts might turn into weeks if they can win against Tucumcari on Friday. If they win, they could qualify for the playoffs for the second year in a row. But those thoughts are for a later date — all Montoya knows is he must get through this loss and process the next few hours.

For now, he will stay in coach mode — he will talk to his team. After that, he will talk to his coaches briefly to get their thoughts. Maybe his coaches saw something different than he saw. It is something else for him to analyze later on in the wee hours of the morning.

It’s been a long week for Montoya, physically and emotionally. He still has to go back to his office and watch the film of this game and give grades on his players’ performance, and then get ready for the Saturday meeting — while breaking down their next game against Tucumcari. Tucumcari is a must-win game if his team is to have any hope for the Blue Trophy.

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For Montoya, this game wasn’t just about upsetting the No. 1 team in Tularosa. This game has been a microcosm of their season. It’s been a breakdown here, a pick-six in the red zone, and the next thing he knows, three games have gotten away from his team that he would like to have back. Such is the life of a football coach under Friday night lights.

For the emotionally controlled Montoya, there will come a time when he will let his emotions out, but it’s onto the next thing on his checklist. When he gets home, he will hug his wife, Sonya, and go into his children’s room, Isaiah and Aniston, to look at them sleeping to make sure they’re breathing right and everything is OK. He’ll pull their blankets up to cover them and he’ll caress their hair and tell them how much he loves them.

This week every year is more about the man he’s become than his career. This is a way for him to publicly demonstrate how he felt about his mother. It’s his way to give back and honor the rock he lost. It’s about the NMMI community coming together to honor their coach and attack a vicious disease in cancer. That why he initiated “Cadets for a Cure.”

“I felt something deep down in my heart,” Montoya said. “I explain it as my mom talking to me. I needed to do something more for the cause than just wear pink during the month. Claiming our game is going to be our cancer awareness is not doing much for the cause. It came to my heart.”

It seemed that Montoya was living a fairytale: he’d played high school football at Goddard, having won a state title in 1997, and played at Eastern New Mexico University for four years making All Lone Star Conference as a fullback. He’d married the love of his life, Sonya, and just had his second child. Career-wise, he was at the top after winning a state title in football at Hagerman in 2009. He also had the opportunity to coach with his dad, Joe Montoya. Things in his life were going pretty well, and to top it off, he had just taken his dream job to coach at NMMI — what more could he ask for?

It seemed like he was getting everything he wanted out of life. And then the call came. It was so unexpected like most calls are when there is jarring news. “Randy, mom has ovarian cancer,” his sister said.

Montoya realized how ill his mother, Gloria, was when he was showing her around the NMMI campus during the summer, and she had to continually stop to catch her breath while walking.

The Montoya family, from left: Randy; Denise, sister; Gloria, mother; Debra, sister; Joe, father; and Cindy, sister. (Submitted Photo)

It took a while for him to process the seriousness of his mother’s illness, but he thought his mother was young, 61, and strong enough to beat cancer with the support of her family. Gloria Montoya would have her family around to support her. For the next 13 months, the family did everything to help, but on Mother’s Day on May 13, 2012, she lost her battle.

Since that day, Montoya doesn’t ever want to make the mistake of not letting the people he loves know how he feels. If he has one regret in his alone times, it’s that he found it hard to tell his mother verbally how he felt about her. He knows she knew, but the death of his mother has changed him for the better in how he coaches, and the type of husband and father he has become.

“My outlook on life is a little different now,” Montoya said. “I realize how precious time is. I try to make sure that my wife and kids know how much they mean to me — even through our rough times. I try and stay positive and not worry so much about the little things. I try and not let things bother me, even though that can be tough. I try and spend as much time with my dad and sisters, as well.”

Montoya felt like he wanted to go above and beyond just wearing pink for breast cancer awareness. He wanted his team to do more than just wear pink in the game — then when the game was over, just take it off and go on with life like normal, forgetting the reason they wore pink. So, three years ago, he came up with the idea to honor his mother and all the victims that have died from cancer.

He took his idea to the NMMI administration in 2016 and was able to gain their full support and “Cadets for a Cure” was born.

The game is important to Montoya, but this week is about remembering and honoring his late mother.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and at stadiums and gyms across the country, athletes and their fans rally for the cause. Cadets at NMMI will be going one step further.

“A couple of us got together and said we wanted to do more than just wear pink or wear T-shirts that say, ‘Dig Pink.’ We wanted to do something that actually helped the cause,” Montoya said. “It’s a cause that is dear to my heart, and a lot of other people here at NMMI, with loved ones who had battled against cancer. So, we’re recognizing all cancers, not just breast cancer.”

From Oct. 16-26, the NMMI cadets, athletes, faculty and staff will be raising awareness as well as money for cancer cures across the board with the Cadets for a Cure campaign. Cadets for a Cure will give all of the proceeds to the Chaves County Cancer Fund, with hopes of helping as many local families afflicted with cancer.

One of Montoya’s most stirring memories of him and his mother was when he first graduated from Eastern New Mexico University. He had just gotten married and was teaching. Sonya was still in school. Money was tight and they were having trouble making ends meet. He and his wife were at his parents’ house visiting and getting ready to leave.

Montoya didn’t even know if he had enough money to get back to Portales. Montoya didn’t want Sonya to know because of his pride. His mother came over to him and said, “Son, do you need some money?”

Montoya teared up and said, “yes.” He told his mother, “I don’t even know if I can put gas in the car to get back to Portales.”

His mother, Gloria, gave him money for gas and the weekend. Montoya told her he would pay her back. His mother said, “Don’t even worry about it.”

The biggest impact his mother left him was the importance of faith and family — those two things she and his dad instilled into him and his three sisters. The Montoyas did everything together and always supported one another. His dad was a coach, and his mom would be at every game with his siblings.

“I often talk to her,” Montoya said. “I tell her I love her and miss her. I say to her, ‘rest well,’ and I’ll talk to you soon. Your little rainbow.”

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.