Hold off on the retirement party for Raul Mendoza, Holbrook.
The school’s veteran boys basketball mentor is stepping down as head coach and counselor, but Mendoza doesn’t plan to walk into the sunset just yet. He’ll continue to help coach Holbrook’s cross country teams after this school year.
However, the Holbrook community still wants to celebrate Mendoza’s successful career with a ceremony at some point before his last day as a fulltime coach. It’s a well-deserved honor for one of the humble giants of boys basketball in the state.
Mendoza finished two games shy of reaching the 1,000-game plateau (642-356 record), but what he’ll be remembered for the most is the impact he made on his players and students throughout his tenure.
“I’ve enjoyed working with the kids (as a basketball coach) and as a counselor the past 20 years,” said Mendoza about his 37 years in education. “When I look back, I won’t do so with any regrets. It (coaching) has brought a lot to my life. It was gratifying to see the kids succeed, and hopefully I made a difference in their lives. I am very happy, and when I leave I’ll do so with good memories.”
One of those good memories came when Holbrook won a championship in 2011, the first Holbrook had claimed in more than 40 years.
“For our kids to accomplish that (in 2011) was very special,” Mendoza said. “Even the community responded well. We had about 16-17,000 fans at Jobing.com Arena for that game. Most of the kids were Native American kids.
“But when I look at my career, my whole career was a highlight. I was very fortunate to get a job just two years out of college.”
Mendoza started his coaching career as an assistant at Window Rock.
He grew up in Eloy along with his parents, who were migrant farm workers, and was the first one in his family to attend college, graduating from Arizona State. The 66 year old fell in love with basketball when he was in junior high and admired coaching legend John Wooden.
If there was a negative about his coaching career, it’s that it took Mendoza away from his family, said Mendoza, who is looking forward to spending as much time as he can now with his family, including his grandkids and wife of 40 years, Marjorie. In 2012, Mendoza received one of the highest honors a in-state basketball coach can receive annually, the Spirit of Cotton Award.
The award is named after former Phoenix Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons and given to a high school basketball coach who demonstrates the best qualities of a coach, educator, mentor, and community leader.
“I can say I had the best job in the world for 37 years,” Mendoza said.