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Barela leaves Robertson pressure cooker for Albuquerque Eldorado

May 16, 2019

Leroy Barela has learned over the years as a basketball coach that his profession can be humbling — especially when it comes to making that walk into the administrator’s office.

There are few things more exhilarating about the job than that first day, when hope is high and a coach explains their vision for a program. Barela got that experience Monday, when he met the members of the Albuquerque Eldorado girls team after he was hired as head coach of the venerated 5A program.

It was the antithesis of the trip he made in June to tender his resignation as the head girls basketball coach at his alma mater, Las Vegas Robertson. It was a program he helped build into a state contender — albeit one that didn’t live up to its potential, as it failed to reach the state championship game despite a 47-11 record in two years.

Parents in the program started a petition raising concerns about undisclosed issues, which led to a meeting with Robertson administrators. Barela saw the handwriting on the wall, although the administration welcomed his return for another season.

“This game is very humbling and it can be taken away from you in a blink of an eye,” Barela said. “You have to treasure your experiences you have with your kids.”

Complicating matters at Robertson was that one of “your kids” was actually your kid. Maria “CeCe” Barela had been a part of the program during its successful run, having been the starting point guard since the eighth grade. However, it was an uneasy alliance between the two families — the Barelas and the Lady Cardinals — and rumors often persisted that there was jealousy over CeCe’s role with the team.

When Leroy Barela resigned, he said the pressure cooker at Robertson had become too much to bear. What it didn’t do, though, was shake his faith about his performance as a teacher and a coach. The elder Barela pointed out he still uses administrators at Las Vegas Robertson and Pecos, where he coached for three years before going to Robertson, as references.

“I told the interviewers at Eldorado to hear from the administrators I’ve worked for and the students I’ve taught and coached,” Leroy Barela said. “They’re the ones who can best tell you how I managed my classroom and behaved and taught. I feel really good about that.”

Sort of like how he felt good about the change of scenery for his family. CeCe suggested moving to Albuquerque to play for West Mesa. She had been teammates of Lady Mustangs stars Esperanza Varoz and Maiah Rivas on the AAU circuit, and she felt it was a good place to land. While dad played he part of basketball parent instead, CeCe became a key part of the Lady Mustangs’ Class 5A championship as a post player instead of at guard.

“She went from a school that had the size of a small Division-two school with our length and she was the smallest one on the court to being one of the bigger and stronger girls on the team,” Barela said.

CeCe should return to her old position with the Lady Eagles, as she follows her dad to his new post. As for Leroy, he hopes that he can follow the path at Eldorado to a more natural completion and make that final walk to the administrator’s office humbling for a different reason.

For a job well done.

James Barron writes an opinion column about sports in New Mexico. Contact Barron at 505-986-3045 or jbarron@sfnewmexican.com.