AP NEWS

Jump into Española’s wild dysfunction (could be worth it)

April 10, 2019

Way to call a bluff, Española.

Just days after speculating that this prep basketball offseason was going to be slow (read: dull), Española Valley jettisons head boys coach James Branch. In doing so, the school district relieved itself of the albatross that was a 45-12 record, just a year removed from taking the Sundevils to the state championship game and leading the program to consecutive regular-season district championships for the first time in five years.

The questions is, “Why?”

Sure, Branch is a little crazy, but it’s a prerequisite for the position. How else can you deal with a community that burns the house of its coach (granted, it wasn’t for his coaching), boos its own team in the middle of a state semifinal game (that was more directed to then-head coach Richard Martinez) and now is searching for its fourth head coach over the last five years? The drama that clings to the community like a frightened child to a parent is becoming exhausting.

Branch certainly had to deal with some drama this season, what with the dismissal of a key player early in the year and the grumblings over how he coached the Class 5A championship game against Belen in 2018. But are those really reasons to fire a guy after two seasons?

Heck, the Española Public Schools district gave Martinez chance after chance. And let’s be honest, if he wasn’t such a success, he wouldn’t have lasted anywhere near as long as he did. While the coaches and the players have changed over the last several years, two things that have been a constant over this time have been the power structure at the school district and the community as a whole.

And the fault for what is happening now lies directly at its feet.

Who is going to apply for a job, not knowing who to please? How can a coach be effective in implementing a system and a philosophy if it upsets the wrong people? And when they get upset, what means will they use to express their displeasure? Remember, Joe Estrada, the head girls coach, had to fill a restraining order against a parent.

Above all, though, who is really running the athletic programs at Española Valley? If you think it’s new hire Theresa Flores, ask Branch or former volleyball coach Damon Salazar.

Surely, once this column hits the stands, the phone calls will come offering a different side of the story and the reasons for these changes and how the administration is trying to fix what was broken. Yet, what the public sees is a system that still functions poorly and no one is really explaining why.

These are the challenges the next head coach will encounter, and hopefully it won’t upset the machine that is Sundevils basketball. When it’s on point, the machine churns out good players, great excitement and an atmosphere that is second to none in this state.

When it’s not, it resembles a family fight during a wedding. If you’re new to the family, you might wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. The rest of us don’t even bother to look up from our plates.

We’ve seen it before.