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Valdez venerated at surprise celebration

IHS coach saluted for 30+ years of work
Longtime Ignacio Boys' Basketball head coach Chris Valdez speaks June 7, at a surprise banquet dinner commemorating his recent decision to retire from coaching after three decades--first leading the girls' program before the boys'--at IHS. The event was held inside Sky Ute Casino Resort Event Center. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

Coming to Sky Ute Casino Resort to eat after a sunny Friday spent golfing, Chris Valdez was kept in the dark regarding the evening’s actual goings-on. Even those in the know weren’t quite fully certain how an event celebrating the recently-retired Ignacio Basketball head coach’s career would go down.

“Actually, a couple days ago Oscar and I were driving and I was like, ‘Man, is Cindy going to want a roast?’” Gina Cosio would say during the June 7 surprise send-off. “We should roast Chris because I know there’s a lot of characters out there that would do a really good job, but more so because I know Chris can laugh at himself and then laugh with you about it.”

After Valdez and wife/party ringleader Cindy entered the venue’s event center banquet hall, with the coach announced over a sound system by Oscar Cosio and greeted by a standing, applauding audience, laughter and tears were the order of the evening as Valdez’s three-plus decades of dedication were justly saluted.

“Well, to tell you the truth I was 100% surprised,” he said, beginning an impromptu speech – bookended by 10- to 15-second ovations – following brother (and former assistant coach) Johnny Valdez’s opening comments, and lasting precisely five minutes.

Valdez then went to speak about how the night shouldn’t be about him but about the kids in the community, what everyone there can do to help them and make their lives better. Valdez said he appreciated the relationships he had with everyone who was in the banquet hall.

After relinquishing the microphone, an impressive 13 more speeches were made, by former players, colleagues, friends and even rivals as all attending settled into their seats following a light but filling dinner.

“Everybody comes first, but your family, when it comes to coaching. And that’s hard to say, because if you want to be good you’ve got to put in the time – and he’s done it for 30 years!” said Matt Lucero, head coach at Blanca-area Sierra Grande (east of Alamosa). “I’m in my 22nd year, and every month of June we’ve given up our family for everyone else; Chris finally hopefully has the time to give his time to his wife, this month of June, and for every June that comes after.”

Lucero then went on to credit Valdez with being a mentor of his and said he learned a lot by watching Valdez. Lucero said he’s looking forward to his talks with Valdez going forward.

“Thirteen, 14 years ago I met Coach Chris and Cindy and …. Ever since then I’ve looked at this man like an older brother [pauses] because I never had one,” former assistant coach Adam Tucson said. “Never had a father figure that cared – you are like a father to me. You took that and I ran with it. When you asked me to become the assistant for you, for four years … you blew my mind. I mean, it’s a culture that you brought; you knew how to talk to these kids, and I grew and I learned from you. You are a true mentor, you are family and I love you.”

Born to be a Bobcat, Valdez graduated IHS in 1986 and his coaching career at his alma mater began in the 1995-96 season after taking over for Jack Riddle (whom he’d spent the previous two years assisting) as the Bobcats’ leader. He remained in that capacity through the 1999-2000 campaign, then replaced Lee Carleton as boys’ boss (assisted by Art Silva and Al Cloud) for the 2000-01 season. Interestingly, Ignacio’s 2001 yearbook was titled ‘From Dreams to Reality.’

“I just want to say thank you for letting me live my dream,” former ’Cat John Valdez said via a recorded phone message. “All I ever wanted was to make you and our community proud; I’ll always be thankful for the lessons learned along the way. I hope I can do even half what you’ve done for the people around you, in my life and in my profession. We were all so blessed to play for you.”