Aaron Chavez’s parents both worked at McCurdy School when he was in middle school - his mother was a teacher, and his father was the junior varsity basketball coach. If a basketball game was on a weeknight, both his parents wanted him in bed early, but he wanted to know what would happen.
“But I loved basketball, and my passion was so great, that I wanted to see how they did,” he said. “And I just loved the Bobcats.”
Chavez remembers sneaking out of his house, which was right next to the campus. He found a pile of rocks on the side of the gym that aligned with a window where he could see the scoreboard. He’d watch the scoreboard, and when the game was ending he would run home before his parents left.
Now, Chavez is the head basketball coach at Bakersfield College in California after spending 15 years as an assistant.
Chavez was only at McCurdy for elementary school through sixth grade, but he developed a strong bond with the area. His sister, Evangeline, graduated from McCurdy in 1993, and both his parents worked at the school.
“It had a big impact on my life,” he said of living in Española. “Those five years of my life, and all the people we met. Just being on a private school campus for so long, you grow very close to people.”
He has a picture of himself with Myriah Spence, a McCurdy graduate who went to play basketball at Old Dominion.
He said he went to practices with his father, and loved watching the players, including Ryan Cordova, now the athletic director and basketball coach at Northern New Mexico College.
“We lived right on campus,” Chavez said. “Probably 35 yards from the front of one of the doors to the gym.”
Chavez’s father was a basketball coach, and he was always in love with the sport. His cousin, Miranda Serna was an assistant women’s basketball coach at Oklahoma State University. Chavez said that Serna was a guide to him until her tragic death in a 2011 plane crash.
In her cousin’s honor, Chavez created the Miranda Serna basketball camp, and went back to New Mexico every summer to host it until this year, when it could not be held because of the pandemic.
But he said that he was always drawn to coaching since elementary school. He watched football practices, and even though he never played, he was drawn to the coach’s perspective.
“I always loved playing, but there was just more of a passion to coach,” he said.
Chavez moved to Mora, where he played basketball and graduated in 2000. He went to New Mexico Highlands University and during that time was an assistant coach at West Las Vegas High School.
After graduating from Highlands, Chavez was an assistant coach for a year at Bard College in upstate New York. Then he became an assistant coach at Bakersfield, where he was an assistant for 15 years before becoming head coach.
Matt Martinez is another Mora graduate and was the Athletic Director at Pojoaque Valley High School when Chavez was in high school, which is how the two became friends. Martinez said that Chavez’s determination helped him succeed as a coach, especially when he began coaching right after high school.
“Aaron’s always been a tenacious, aggressive player,” said Martinez. “He’s just one of those kids that you knew that he wanted to coach, and be a good coach, with the discipline he had.”
Once at Bakersfield, Chavez had to adjust to life in California, which he said has a completely different culture.
“My wife does a good job of trying to make New Mexico dishes here, we bring our chile,” he said. “You can’t replace culture.”
He said that he would like to get back to New Mexico at some point.
Lynn Kennedy was the coach at Highlands during Chavez’s time, who was friends with Rich Hughes, who was the coach at Bakersfield for 15 years before stepping down in July.
“It is exciting, in a sense of, I fulfilled a dream,” Chavez said of becoming head coach. “I can remember, when I got the word from our vice president that they were going to name me the head coach, I can remember going to that window again, in McCurdy, and watching.”
Chavez inherits a Renegades team that finished 16-12 last year but missed out on the postseason. The season is currently planned to take place in the spring due to the pandemic.
But he said that the most important thing is having an impact on the lives of college students.
“Coaching in junior college is just so much different than coaching at a 4-year school,” he said. “You’re dealing with a different student-athlete. You may get a kid that has a 26 on his ACT, and you may get a kid that never took the ACT. And some of them come from troubled homes.”
Chavez said that people from McCurdy were calling to congratulate him when he was named coach.
“I thought of all those people, and the impact that they had on my life, and how, just, caring they were to care for me and my family so much that they wanted us to succeed,” he said. “It was like a sense of relief, for a second, that I could actually make them proud.”