It’s not every day a coach who just led his high school basketball team to a state championship is placed on administrative leave for peaceful reasons, but then again this isn’t an everyday suspension.
When Santa Fe County commissioners honored the Española (N.M.) Valley boys’ basketball team for its Class 5A state title campaign, head coach Richard Martinez was nowhere to be found, suspended from the program for — in part — leading a team prayer before the title game, according to KOAT-TV.
“You’ll see a lot of teams that do have prayer, and if you notice so many of those teams are student-led,” Española Valley principal Leslie Romero Kilmer told the local TV news station. “The adults stand back. They can participate, but they can’t initiate the prayer.”
While Romero Kilmer addressed the prayer, she also told KOAT-TV the coach’s suspension resulted from “several other matters” in addition to the pregame prayer session. The Sante Fe New Mexican cited sources claiming the investigation into Martinez also includes the coach’s disciplinary tactics, his supervision of the team during its state tournament run and the team’s academic issues.
The news comes after years of strange off-the-court stories involving Martinez, who has led the Sundevils to two state championships and a runner-up finish since taking over the program in 2004.
- Martinez missed the opening game of his first state championship campaign in 2010-11 for public comments he made about officials following a 2010 Class AAAA state title game loss.
- Martinez denied a rumor that an angry Española fan shot his dog with a bow and arrow in 2009.
- In January 2010, someone poured gasoline on the front door of Martinez’s home and set it on fire while he was coaching a game, per the Santa Fe New Mexican. His 83-year-old mother had to be rushed to the hospital after suffering lung damage and a heart attack as a result, reports said.
- In March 2012, Martinez was fired by former Española Valley athletic director Lenny Roybal, only to be rehired by erstwhile superintendent Art Blea a week later, according to news reports.
- In February 2014, Martinez — also a physical education teacher at the school — served a paid suspension before being cleared of allegations he bullied players and slapped a female student.
Still, a school board meeting initially scheduled to celebrate the boys’ basketball team’s success — along with the Española Valley girls’ basketball team’s state semifinal appearance — instead became a venting session for community members showing support for Martinez, The New Mexican reported.
“We’re young men, and we’re children,” Arnie Martinez, the coach’s nephew and former player, told the school board, according to The New Mexican. “We should be treated as such and disciplined like everyone. If we mess up, we need to be told. We need to run laps or whatever. That’s how it goes. Basketball is a privilege, it’s not your given right.”
A Facebook page titled “Española Valley Athletics” also pledged its support for the embattled coach.
Martinez has compiled a 334-165 record in his New Mexico high school coaching career, which includes a Class AA state title at Mora High as well. He is 252-133 at Española Valley since 2004.