Even as the Cleveland High athletic director, Larry Chavez could be seen encouraging city student-athletes.
Photo Gary Herron / Observer

Rio Rancho Public Schools will have another executive director of athletics as it heads into the 2021-22 school year, now that Larry Chavez has set his sights on retiring.

His final day with the district, where he began in 1997 when Rio Rancho High School opened, is June 30.

He said, despite the disappointment and frustration of not seeing the Rams and Storm in action this school year, his decision isn’t the result of the pandemic: “This has been in the cards for a couple years now,” he said, closing a 38-year career in high school athletics.

Now, here’s the kicker — Bruce Carver’s coming back to sit in his old chair.

“Any job has pluses and minuses, but I think I’m up for it,” Carver said, just short of three years since he retired as the district’s A.D.  “I’m all in.”

Carver’s first day will be May 1; he’ll work with Chavez to ensure a smooth transition, or as Carver said, “to keep the programs running at a high level.

“We don’t always expect to win state championships, but we can compete for them,” he said. “It’s high school sports and at the end of the day, we want our coaches teaching core values and life skills — that’s the bigger picture.”

So there won’t need to be many adjustments to that picture: “Larry’s done some good things; we worked together for a long time and I wanted to keep it going in the right direction — I’m in it for the long haul.”

Chavez, a Las Vegas, N.M., native, brought experience from previous coaching jobs in Tucumcari and Santa Rosa when he arrived here, to teach and coach the boys track & field team.

Recalled the RRHS’s first A.D., Gary Hveem, who hired Chavez, “I think, first of all, his genuine enthusiasm and caring for young people came through immediately. And then his willingness, not only to take on the track job, but cross country. ‘I’ll do that,’ he told me.”

Chavez has done a lot of other things since those early days, including a short retirement (2008-09), until he was named to succeed Randy Adrian, the first A.D. at Cleveland High, which opened in 2009.

Chavez guided Storm sports till Carver retired after 10 years at the RRPS helm, and was the natural replacement for Carver.

There’s no chance, Chavez says, of deciding to stay on: There are out-of-state grandchildren to visit, places to visit, the Tennessee Titans to see and golf to be played.

“I have a couple licenses that are running out June of 2021 that I am not going to renew, so there is no hope of me coming back,” he said, chuckling.

Crediting a trio of uncles for their love of sports and coaching, Chavez said, “I always knew I was gonna be a coach.”

Those uncles, George and Leroy Chavez and Dennis Duran, were close enough in age to Chavez that they were practically brothers. “When I was young, (Duran) would get on his knees and play sports with me.”

Chavez speaks during his induction into the RRHS Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 4, 2019.
Photo Gary Herron / Observer

He wanted to be a big-league shortstop

“I come from a very athletic family — the Chavez side and the Duran side,” he said. “Growing up, I was going to be the next Bert ‘Campy’ Campaneris — I played shortstop and had an Oakland A’s cap.

“Lo and behold, I couldn’t hit the curveball, so I needed to change sports,” he said. “I followed sports. I’d stay up after 10:30 to see the UCLA-USC re-broadcast of their basketball game, or I’d stay up late to watch the Los Angeles Lakers’ simulcasts with ‘Chick’ Hearn.”

Basketball was always a love, he said; he coached the Santa Rosa Lions when he was there, and was a C-team coach for former Rams boys coach Brian Smith, when Chavez’s son, Lawrence, was the varsity point guard.

“I’d like to say some of the people I have hired have been excellent choices,” he said. “To put people in a position to succeed, and then support them … I can say the best decision I ever made was to become the Cleveland High School A.D. and then hire Kenny Henry (away from Cibola High) to be my replacement (as the CHS track & field and cross country coach). … That’s one of my best decisions.

“I’ve been so lucky and blessed being here at Rio Rancho.”

He’s a Class of 2019 member of the RRHS Sports Hall of Fame and, among his other accolades, was an inductee of the New Mexico Track and Cross Country Association’s Hall of Distinction.

He said he and his wife of 42 years have seen their parents decline in their quality of life, and his mother, then 81, and Rose’s mother, 80, have passed away in the past two years, and now his father, 84, “has kind of slowed down a lot.

“We thought, we have worked all our lives — we deserve to enjoy our 60s.”

Hveem said Chavez was probably his best hire of all time.

Why? “Obviously, he’s very pleasant and successful, (such as in 1997) when you’re not working with a track — and he laid out a cross country course that is still used in competition,” Hveem said. “I recall his first cross country team. ‘How many girls do you have? He goes, ‘Seven.’ And he wasn’t worried; ‘We’ll get more, and he certainly did.’ … I was so proud when he was named the district A.D.

“He had the unique combination of being a father and best friend to these young people,” Hveem said. “You always got a straight answer from Larry, and there was never anything — anything — he wasn’t prepared for; whether it was budget or transportation, he was weeks ahead — he was a very-well organized coach. He never brought me a problem — ever. He had the experience and the maturity to handle it.”

Experience is the best teacher, it’s been said, but being in position to gain experience is necessary.

I am very appreciative to my predecessors, Gary Hveem and Bruce Carver, in what has been a very stable and successful athletic program they established,” Chavez said. “I am very humbled and happy to have continued in their footsteps.”

Like the district’s previous two A.D.s, Superintendent Sue Cleveland said, “Larry Chavez is a professional in every sense of the word, and a valuable member of the Rio Rancho Public Schools District Leadership Team. During his career, he also played a key role in supporting the work and mission of the NMAA.

“I appreciate his friendship and thank him for his enduring contributions to the school district and Rio Rancho community,” she said.

What’s next?

Hveem has some retirement advice for Chavez:

“Relax, pamper yourself and overcome the loss of a daily routine with friends,” Hveem advised. “The memories and happy things flood you — and it never ends… all the good things.”

Before Chavez, 61, learned last week that Carver would be succeeding him, he said he wasn’t about to make recommendations when it comes to choosing his successor, but, “I am hoping that my successor just continues the success that we’ve had, supporting our coaches and upgrading our facilities.”

With Carver next in line? Check and check.

“We have some of the best facilities in the state for high schools, but at the same time,” Chavez said, “there still needs to be a few upgrades — just continuing upgrading our facilities,” which includes new turf for the two football stadiums.

Carver knows that.

“Once your coaches feel you’re supporting and you’re behind them, these guys will go through the wall for you,” he said. “I was real happy with the way the RRHS coaches accepted me when I took over that position — because I was one of them before I went to Cleveland,” Chavez recalled, chuckling again. “I was viewed as a traitor, but when I took over the executive director’s position, they accepted me as their boss and I have felt support from them. I would let my successor know, just get along with your fellow administrators, treat both schools equally and support your coaches.”

Carver’s happy to be returning to the office he had at RRPS for 10 years, because, “Sports is in my blood — and high school athletics. That’s my passion — it’s never been a job for me. … I miss the Rio Rancho family.”