Nogales will take a moment of silence before Tuesday night’s home game. Then, the Apaches will go out and play the way the man whose name is on the gym would want them to play: with passion and fearlessness.
Ray Molera, who led Nogales to state championships in 1976, 1981 and ’82, died early Monday morning after suffering a massive stroke. He was 77.
Several years ago, the Nogales gym was renamed after Molera, who coached until 1993.
“We lost a legend,” said current Nogales coach Ricardo “Bambi” De La Riva, whose team plays host to Tucson Catalina Foothills on Tuesday. “He changed a lot of our kids’ lives. He was a very humble and a very great man.”
De La Riva, who guided Nogales to its last state championship in 2011, played on Molera’s 1971 team at Nogales.
“He was the reason I started coaching,” De La Riva said. “He motivated in so many ways. He was old school. He was always there for you. The guy was my mentor. His legacy is going to be there forever.”
When Nogales moved into a new campus in early 1980s, Tempe Corona del Sol played Nogales in its first game in the new gym. Coach Sam Duane Sr., would later take Corona del Sol to the 1981 state final, where his Aztecs beat Nogales. The next season, Nogales, featuring future NFL lineman Danny Villa, beat Corona del Sol in the state championship rematch.
Nogales reached the state final five times between 1976 and ’83 under Molera.
“We had some really good games with them,” Duane said. “He was really a nice gentleman. His teams always were very competitive. We weren’t close friends but we had some really good games.”
There have been only three head coaches at Nogales since Molera stepped down in 1992. His nephew, Rudy Molera, took over from his uncle in ’92, realizing the big shoes he was trying to fill.
“It was tough,” Rudy said. “When he left, they bumped us up to the highest division. It was real competitive.”
Rudy took that competitive zeal he learned from his uncle, playing for him. Ray Molera also got him into tennis.
“He was everything,” Rudy said. “He was my mentor, coachingwise. I played a lot of tennis with him. I enjoyed that relationship. He was a real fun guy to be around. He was always joking and laughing. He was the most competitive person I’ve ever been around. We’d play horse shoes, and he’d go nuts if he was losing.”
Jorge Leon, who was part of Nogales’ early-80s teams, is now an assistant coach at Tucson Sunnyside, where he has taken what he learned from Molera.
He remembered players from the 1976 state championship team playing them in summer games in the early ’80s to toughen them up for the seasons.
“Discipline was his No. 1 thing,” Leon said. “Discipline and respect came before everything else. Our physical style of play, if you didn’t have that, you weren’t part of the team. We grew up with that mentality. I’m a coach at Sunnyside now. I carry that with me.”
Molera was living with his wife in Green Valley, which is about 40 miles north of Nogales.
“He always told me that you structure the way you’re going to play with the type of kids you have,” said De La Riva, who is in his 15th season leading Nogales. “He would tell me, ‘If you have quickness, then press. If they stop you, then run some plays. If you have big kids, just fall back and wait.’ He gave me a lot of good advice that made me successful in what I do.
“I remember the good times I spent with him, playing HORSE with him, having a beer with him. Me and Rudy (Molera, Ray’s nephew) would take him out to lunch. He was an awesome man.”
The family is in the process of arranging the funeral. Services are pending.
Suggest human interest stories to Richard Obert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-316-8827. Follow him at azc_obert