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Warriors take on Jal as season resumes

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Gateway head coach Jerryme Ledesma talks to his team in a timeout during a game last month at the Hondo Tournament. (Submitted Photo)

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The Gateway Christian Warriors resume their season on Saturday when they host the Jal Panthers at 6:30 p.m. The Warriors are 5-3 are under first-year coach Jerryme Ledesma.

But Ledesma is not a stranger to this program, he had been an assistant coach for three years before being named head coach after last season. He takes over for former coach Dan Smith and inherits a team that got bounced in the 1A state quarterfinals by Quemado last season.

Never having been a head coach before, Ledesma brings game to the table. He played his senior year under former Roswell High basketball coach and current RISD athletic director Britt Cooper. Ledesma was a member of Roswell High’s Final Four team in 2007. He never played on any of Cooper’s four state championship teams but he did learn a lot from him, which has prepared him to lead Gateway.

“He was always committed to his players. He was concerned for them on and off the court,” said Ledesma.

“I always tried to treat all the players the same whether they were the top player or the freshmen,” said Cooper. “I emphasized to them basketball was about life, they needed basketball more than basketball needed them.

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“For some of those kids it stuck with them and it’s carried over into their lives.”

As for Jerryme, Cooper said, “He was always a great kid. He was a good player and he was a better person. I am glad to see him going into coaching, following what he loves and doing a good job.”

Ledesma said he hopes to pattern his coaching style after Cooper’s. “That would be nice,” Cooper said, smiling. “Several of my former players who are coaching now are always fun to watch, and certainly when they are running some of our stuff and executing that Coyote style of ball we used to play.”

Ledesma is finding out this season that his Warriors have to discover their own identity. The team has five seniors on the squad. The underclassmen, however, have been carrying much of the load during the last eight games. At the Mescalero tournament the Warriors lost a 20-point lead to Alamo Navajo before the youngsters had to come off the bench and salvage the win — and Ledesma was not afraid to call them out.

“Fortunately for us, we were able to trust them,” said Ledesma, who was referring to freshmen Hayden Wigley and Jace Worley. “You could tell when we needed them they didn’t play like it was their first time on the big stage.”

Make no mistake about it though, the bread and butter of this year’s team is their senior leadership. “They (seniors) want to prove that they belong here.”

Seniors like Chase Winkler, Jacob Swan, Joel Perry, Joe Waide and Wes Tipton are expected to fill the shoes left by the vacancy of Jaydon Stephens, who graduated last year. “Jaydon was a big part of our program the last few years,” Ledesma said. “These boys they want to show that they can still compete without Jaydon being here. You can’t replace a kid like Jaydon, however, our seniors want to show that it wasn’t just Jaydon who got us here, and these seniors are willing to come in and work and make themselves better every day.”

As the second half of the season begins, Ledesma has worked on his team being better conditioned during the holiday break. “You can never be in enough shape for basketball,” Ledesma pointed out.

As a matter of fact most of the players on the varsity came off the football field as soon as the season ended. “Basketball is non-stop we’re working on those football players to get their basketball legs under them,” he said.

Ledesma believes in the chemistry of this team. “We believe in ourselves, the boys have to buy into what I am selling and I think that they are,” said Ledesma. “Looking back and reflecting on the impact that coach Cooper had in my life, that’s the kind of coach I want to be to these boys and when they see I am 100 percent sold into them, hopefully it will bring out the best in them

However, the most important lessons that Ledesma hopes to pass on to these boys as they grow into manhood is “To be Godly men, good husbands, good fathers. Yes, we want to win championships but we’re looking at the bigger picture for them to represent God and his kingdom to the best of their abilities.”