Pepe Alvarado works with athletes on the girls basketball team during practice on Monday. Alvarado was recently named the new head coach for the program. Caitie Ihrig | El Defensor Chieftain

After being named the softball coach for Socorro High School last year, Pepe Alvarado will now be taking over for the girls basketball program.

Alvarado started his career at Hatch Valley, which is where he graduated from. During his time at Hatch, he coached many sports in both the assistant and head coach position.

“In those small schools, we learn how to coach football, more than one sport,” he said. “I was coaching football, basketball, softball, baseball. I would stay busy year-round. It has been a great experience.”

Since his coaching career began in 1988, Alvarado has also coached in El Paso, Los Cruces, Deming and Pojoaque Valley. He spent most of his time going back-and-forth coaching in Hatch Valley and Deming. Alvarado’s most recent stint, before Socorro, was in Deming.

“I spent 11, 12 years in the 5A, 6A school districts and they really don’t appreciate you,” he said. “They don’t appreciate what you do for them. I said I was going to take my knowledge, my professionalism to the lower levels. They are the ones that want it the most. They appreciate it at the same time.”

When Alvarado began to work with the Socorro softball team, he noticed quickly how different the players are compared to the ones he’s worked with in the past.

“Those are hard-working girls,” Alvarado said. “They never say no. They never question you. Whatever your command is, they attack it, they go after it. That is what I like about it. They are very coachable. They listen. The way I say it, the way I demonstrate it, there is never a question about it.”

Their season was cut short though due to the coronavirus pandemic that began in March. Alvarado said the team played three JV games against Bernalillo and then he had to tell them the bad news.

“After how hard they had worked to get prepared for the season and then all of a sudden the pandemic hit us, the girls and a lot of them were crying. All of them were,” he said. “We had to continue going forward and it’s for our lives. You have to make those encouraging words and go from there.”

Soon after, Alvarado found out about the girls basketball head coaching opportunity and said he “threw his name on the list.” Once he found out that the position was his, Alvarado said that people reached out to him saying they were glad he was named the coach.

On Nov. 16, Alvarado had his first meeting with the team where roughly 26 athletes showed up.

“I don’t turn nobody down,” he said. “They have to show me what they got, but we always have a place for them whether it’s from a manager to taking stats or anything.”

Since then, more players have reached out to him about joining the team because the softball players are spreading the word about Alvarado being the coach. He has also started practice already, even though he is unsure if there will be a season.

During practice, the team is working on skills and fundamentals, along with conditioning since most athletes have not played an organized sport since March.

“Conditioning, you don’t have to think about it because I do everything with a basketball so they don’t even think about it,” he said. “They think they are dribbling, but at the same time working and conditioning, but it’s hard with a face mask.”

Alvarado said he had to adjust all of his practices because the athletes are required to be in pods and have to wear a mask while working out.

Before Alvarado started coaching at the high school level, he played Division II baseball for Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. After graduating, he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds placed him on the A team and he practiced in Ft. Laudordale for four months.

Alvarado was paid $500 a month and decided to quit because he couldn’t live off of the paycheck as he would have made more money working on the farm in New Mexico.

When leaving Ft. Laudordale, the Reds general manager approached him about playing in Mexico instead of quitting baseball all together. Alvarado spent the next four years playing for the Mexico City Tigers.

“When you are out there, you are on another pedestal, you’re in another world,” he said. “You’re accomplishments, to step out onto that field, to walk the streets, to come to your community and the respect you’re getting from all the people around here, it’s tremendous. It’s awesome. You have to keep that role model going because there’s no room to go wrong.”

The Tigers made the playoffs his first year on the team. After their playoff run ended in August, Alvarado returned to New Mexico until the season started up the following year. The following weekend, Mexico suffered a major earthquake. Alvarado had been staying at the hotel that collapsed during the earthquake and Mexico used the Tiger’s field to put the bodies.

He played for the next three years, making $2,500 a month and decided to quit and return to New Mexico for good when the Peso Exchange happened. Alvarado said that playing in Mexico was an honor and he had a great time playing in a different country.

“There are a lot of families and kids who are out there cheering you on and for you,” he said. “I was one of those kids at one time. When they approach you for a picture or an autograph, never turn them down. People were great. The support was tremendous. The experience was excellent.”