By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
He was there along with much of the town of Fort Sumner when the school grabbed a high school state volleyball championship in mid-November. Less than a week later, he was on the field as a football title was handed out in Eastern New Mexico.
But, no, it wasn’t quite the same this time around for Mario Martinez.
The former Foxes’ football coach was representing the New Mexico Activities Association as the fall sports season wrapped up. His move from coaching to administration ranks as the Clovis News Journal’s seventh biggest local sports story of the year.
Still, Martinez betrayed no anguish in his new role, saying he had not got the urge to return to the sideline — even during the heart of the gridiron season.
So maybe the little 5-foot-something, cigarette-smoking leader of the Foxes knew what he was talking about back when he took the NMAA job.
“I really think I’m done,” said Martinez in late-May. “I told some people if I ever coach again, I hope it’s my grandson or granddaughter’s Little League team. I’ve been extremely fortunate, but there’s a time to step away.”
While with the school, Martinez guided the Fort Sumner football team to five state championships — the only football titles in the school’s history. He also coached the boys track team to five titles and also held the position of athletic director at the high school.
A native of Springer, Martinez got coaching experience at his old school as well as Moriarty and Carlsbad before coming to Fort Sumner. While at the helm of the Foxes football program, Martinez grabbed state titles in 1995, 1997, 1998, 2001 and 2002.
The most frequent victim for the Foxes in those championship games was Texico, which Martinez-led teams beat four times in the final contest of the year.
“I’m certainly not leaving because of any reason other than I have a real good opportunity (with the NMAA),” said Martinez of his decision to move away. “I knew there would come a time when I needed a new challenge. Even if I hadn’t gotten the NMAA job, I probably would be looking at doing something else.”
As an associate director to new NMAA executive director Gary Tripp, Martinez has been in the middle of a whirlwind of change surrounding New Mexico prep athletics. Those changes include district alignments for the larger classifications; expansion of state tournaments; seeding of tournaments; and more difficult requirements for transfers.
Fort Sumner Superintendent Lecil Richards had little doubt that the NMAA’s most recent addition would flourish.
“His organizational skills are impeccable,” Richards said. “Not many people can do what he does. He’s not only a program builder, he’s shown he can maintain a program.”