After a school year filled with great personal tragedy, Socorro baseball coach Raymond Gonzales is stepping down from his coaching duties.

A Socorro native who got his start in his hometown after graduating from New Mexico Highlands University, Gonzales, 64, is a long-time coach for basketball, baseball, softball and even a little bit of football in a career that spanned nearly 40 years and included stops from one end of the state to the other.

“I started off as a seventh-grade basketball coach and an eighth-grade football coach,” he said. “Every year I coached some sport.”

Gonzales said he will remain at Socorro as a Spanish teacher and may return to the sidelines at some point.

“Stepping down as a coach, it was hard for me,” he said. “My wife asked me, ‘Are you sure you want to do it.’ But it’s time for somebody with a little bit more energy. It is time to step down. I still love the game and I love the kids. I enjoy working with them. I don’t know if this is for the rest of my life. Or I may just take a year off.”

Gonzales’ career took him to Gadsden, Las Cruces High, Hot Springs, Deming Cobre, and Cleveland.

It was as a high school freshman, watching his brother play basketball under young coach Ron Becker.

“It was 50 years ago,” Gonzales recalled. “That was the year I decided to, I wanted to coach. I used to watch Ron Becker, he played for the (New Mexico) Lobos and my brother was a senior. I just loved the way he practiced and the way he coached. I wasn’t a great athlete. I was an average athlete. But I just loved the game and that’s what I wanted to do was coach. I’m glad I got to fulfill my dream to coach.”

Gonzales finished his career at Socorro with a 42-50 record over four seasons, twice making the state tournament before being eliminated in the first round both seasons.

This past year’s team went 3-17, but it was a group that he took great pride in and joy from as it helped him cope with the loss of his brother and son.

“It was really difficult, but this group, this was probably, the least successful year that I had, but it was enjoyable. I don’t know if that makes sense,” Gonzales said. “We had a good bunch of student-athletes. They were just fun, and their parents were very good to work with.”

Five years ago when Gonzales first returned to Socorro, he said it was tough turning around a program that had not had much recent success.

“The first two years, it was pretty difficult trying to change the culture of the kids, trying to get them to buy into what we wanted,” he said.

Yet that first season the team won 12 games, which was more than the previous two seasons combined. And the following year, the Warriors went 18-7 and earned a home playoff series.

COVID took its toll from there, wiping out the 2019-20 season and putting a damper on numbers thereafter.

In looking back on his career, Gonzales said one of the names that really stick out is Nicole Pendley, who was still in middle school in Rio Rancho when the coach first saw her. Pendley went on to national recognition as a slugging softball player who was instrumental in helping Oklahoma win two national championships.

“I can’t take any credit for her development, but she was the most naturally gifted athlete I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Locally, Gonzales worked with Tony Valencia – who went on to play DI basketball at Colorado College.

“My first year of coaching here, seventh-graders and to this day, he was probably the best basketball player with the best skill,” he recalled. “I remember the skills he had as a seventh-grader. Can’t take credit for that. He was such a naturally good player and a hard worker.”

He also remembers taking over the freshman basketball team his first year in Gadsden, a group that as seniors became the school’s first playoff squad.

“That’s probably one of the proudest moments I’ve had,” Gonzales said. “I still keep in contact with a lot of those players through Facebook. I’ve had some really good kids that I’ve coached. I wish I could name them all.”

Along the way, Gonzales got to work with such noted coaches as Doc Stanley, his brother, Kenny Gonzales, Chris Paul, Gus Banakis and Mike Medford.

“I’d like to give credit to the people that helped me a lot as a coach,” he said. “These are some of the coaches I worked for and I would like to thank them.”

As for his wanderlust profession, Gonzales said returning to Socorro was important to him.

“Throughout my career, I wanted to finish my coaching career in Socorro,” he said.

Glen Rosales for El Defensor Chieftain