By Kevin Wilson
Thursday afternoon saw Ike Montoya doing the same thing a lot of Portales High alumni were doing in Albuquerque — watching a semifinal win by the Lady Rams.
Today, though, Montoya’s at The Pit on business.
Montoya, the 1982 Greatest Ram, is now calling plays for the Deming Wildcat boys team. The reigning District 3-4A coach takes his 17-7 squad against Kirtland Central in a 10:30 a.m. contest.
“The first year I took over, I met with all of my basketball players at every level,” Montoya said, reminiscing over a time that has seen his Deming teams go 62-35. “This group of seniors were ninth graders at the time. I told them I expected them to be challenging for a state title. They’ve really been able to put it together.”
It’s been a long time coming for Montoya, who ran a season of track at Eastern New Mexico University, then moved on to coaching at a junior high school in Odessa, Texas.
Before too long, though, his coaching career would come back across the border.
“My wife and I wanted to get back into New Mexico and I noticed there was a P.E. job opening up,” Montoya said. “The person I interviewed with (the late George James) had actually been the head coach at Silver City (when we played them in high school). I had a good interview and I was named the freshman football coach.”
He’s been all over the Deming athletic department since then, coaching with football, track and both the girls and boys basketball teams.
That’s exactly what most of his old coaches had expected, since Montoya played three sports throughout his time at PHS.
“It’s good to see those young men do great,” said John Chavez of Portales Junior High, one of Montoya’s many coaches over the years. “I knew that he was going to succeed, he’s just a hard worker. He played everything he could play. (Coaching is) just kind of a natural thing for him.”
So was putting the team first. Nobody expected much from the Wildcats in the 2000-01 season, with Montoya starting fresh and the team losing nine seniors — including all five starters — from the previous season. Still, Deming went 17-7 and came a coin flip away from the top seed in District 3-4A.
Montoya was selected as the district’s coach of the year, but he initially turned it down. He was selected again this season after the Wildcats won their first district title since 1982, and he took the honor this time around.
“I made a promise to my kids that I would not accept an individual honor until we won a district championship,” Montoya said, “but we won it this year and I accepted it.”
He’s hopeful that his team will accept a state title this season, and he feels the Wildcats are good enough to do it. Of Deming’s seven losses, the largest was a seven-point loss to Class 5A semifinalist Alamogordo.
Though Montoya has acclimated himself to Class 4A, he still feels like he is a part of Class 3A Portales — nieces Kassandra and Ashleah Richards are on the Lady Ram basketball team.
“I’m always a Portales boy at heart,” Montoya said. “I love Deming, I’m a Wildcat. But I’m there (for Portales) all the time. We cheer each other on.”