Gallup native finds perfect fit at Pine Hill
By Santiago Ramos Jr.
Special to the Times
First-year Pine Hill athletic director/girls basketball head coach Patricia Chavez has brought new life to the remote BIA school that’s located on the Ramah Navajo Nation Reservation.
The Gallup native, who coached the Lady Braves at Santa Fe Indian School before moving closer to her hometown, took over as the new Pine Hill AD/girls basketball coach after Carlett (Danny) Daniels left for Magdalena High School where he’s an assistant girls basketball coach.
Chavez admitted that she’s pleased with her move and taking on a new job with new responsibilities.
Chavez says it was a perfect fit.
“From many years of experience as a coach in many capacities, the AD position fit me like a glove,” Chavez said. “What was a learning curve was budget and the processes to follow from an administrative standpoint. With the guidance and leadership of my Superintendent David Nez, he guided me through the process and still today he mentors me how to deal with unruly people, how to conduct myself in meetings and how to run a business.”
Chavez said that Nez also lured her to coach again after a two-year break.
“He’s the one who enticed me to coach again as he felt Pine Hill athletes needed a new fresh look. So I obliged and created an atmosphere, a partnership with teachers, administration in all school departments, including cafeteria, security, health and wellness. I scheduled a meet-and-greet with both athletes, community members and board members. It was a bit nerve-racking but I did me, a phrase I like is: just do you!”
Chavez said a former player’s mother, Bailey Nez, got the process into possibly applying at Pine Hill started.
“I had every intention of remaining at SFIS as a Health and PE teacher but Bailey asked me if I would be interested in an Athletic Director position and that I would be a good fit at Pine Hill,” she said. “This stewed inside me and it kept poking at me. A week later I decided to drive to Pine Hill to check out the community. I was familiar with the area as I was born and raised in Gallup.
“Upon entering the Pine Hill housing area and high school it was very desolate and not lively at all,” she said. “After driving around, I spotted two teenagers sitting on a tire at the football field. We chatted and I asked them what they liked about Pine Hill. They responded: “We love the mountains, peacefulness. We just love our community. I smiled, looked around and agreed and went on my way.”
Chavez admitted she wasn’t sure if she wanted to apply for the AD job much less coach again.
“At first I just was not sure,” she said. “My godson Brandon Baca and I spoke and he encouraged me to take a leap of faith and apply for the AD position as he also knew these positions would be a good fit and that it was what I needed to spark the flame inside me once again. I took this to heart and he was right!”
Chavez applied and that very same day she met those two teenagers she handed delivered her application and resume. A week later Chavez was offered an interview.
“I interviewed and accepted the job over the phone,” she said. “It was at this point I knew the value of my worth and what I can offer and bring to the Pine Hill community, After two years of not participating in an athletic program I knew Pine Hill needed me and I needed Pine Hill.
“When I was asked to coach again, I accepted hands down as an educator, one realizes how much students need and crave change,” she said. “They needed something to believe in, to reach, to feel whole and alive again. My mother and father taught their children to give of themselves and never expect anything in return. So this is my purpose, my oath to the communities and schools I worked with and for.
“Pine Hill is a special place and when the sleeping Warriors woke from hibernation more and more people shared in our success this year,” she added. “I truly appreciate all of my coaches and staff for their commitment to Pine Hill athletics.”
Pine Hill Schools Superintendent/Principal Nez agreed.
“Her enthusiasm is contagious,” Nez said. “Her commitment to her job and dedication has affected all of our staff. I used to see an empty parking lot soon after the buses left in the past, now we have teachers staying late into the evening preparing effective lessons. All our departments and programs seem to have an extra pep in their steps. Our student athletes are getting the help they need academically.
“They are not only getting coaches in the sports they participate in, but they are learning about nutrition, about the mental aspects of the game and about life, about not quitting or giving up,” he said. “And how to be self-reliant. We have all joined her in the positive energy, and positive outlook on all things.”
The Pine Hill football team posted one of their best seasons ever this past fall.
“This past season was one of the best years in Pine Hill since being a resident of Pine Hill for nine years,” first-year head football coach Earlson Tso said. “We started off slow but we finished the season 4-4. It was a challenge from the beginning due to the low attendance early in the season. But I continued to recruit and encourage kids to join the football team. Surprisingly most of the students that joined were middle schoolers and players that never played football. “
Pine Hill volleyball coach Benelda Cohoe-Belone guided her team to an 11-9 record and second in the District 1-1A.
The Lady Warriors battled 2A Cloudcroft to a long hard-fought three-set match before losing 25-23, 34-32, 26-24.
“There’s a solid team effort from the coaches in all sports within the Pine Hill athletic program to continue to build and develop the student-athlete on-and-off the court,” Cohoe-Belone said.
Despite not having the turnout at the beginning of the season, cross country coach Tyrell Henio guided his girls team to qualify for the state meet this past fall.
“This past season I started off with three or four runners which is not that many but I managed to recruit more runners halfway through the season,” Henio said. “My boys and girls teams worked hard academically and confidently that helped them qualify for state. We wouldn’t have been there without the help of our new AD Chavez who gave us positive support and got us what we needed for Pine Hill students and pushed us to our limits. I think this past season was the best season the school has had in a long time.”
Under Chavez, the Lady Warrior basketballl team finished 14-14 and finished second in the District 1-1A.
“We had a tough schedule,” Chavez said. “All of our athletic programs were successful. Cross country qualified the girls team for state, football was 4-4 with the most games won in over five years and volleyball was 11-9, 4-2 as the district runner-up. After two years without athletics and without live schooling due to Covid, Pine Hill athletics was successful in 2022-2023.”
The Pine Hill boys basketball team also enjoyed a successful season as regular season district champs, district tournament runner-ups and earned a state seed for the first time since 2014-2015.
When Nez found out that Chavez was looking for a new start in life, he went out and recruited her.
“I learned that Ms. Chavez had become a free agent and was looking for a new place to call home and through my wife Ms. Bobbi Nez,” he said. “Immediately, as a school district, we began recruiting her. It has paid off.”
Nez says he’s also been affected by Chavez.
“I even find myself working late and getting all my reports in on time and smiling and laughing at work,” he said. “Our students are benefiting from our new wholesome sports program that truly is centered on students. It’s not just about winning on the court or field, it’s about winning in the game of life.”
On her second trip to Pine Hill after accepting her new job, Chavez said she felt welcomed.
“Upon arriving the second time to Pine Hill, I was greeted with open arms, people were warm and friendly. I located a teacher home that was simply perfect for my cat Cheeks and I.
“I have also created many positive relationships with people I work with and who have been more than supportive, generous, and fun. They have been very heartwarming, traditional, and giving, which has filled my heart and soul more than anyone can imagine. It brought me back to my roots and what is really important as many of us are simply woven from the same cloth.”