Written by MIKE COOK Photography courtesy LAS CRUCES PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Las Cruces Public Schools Athletic Department Executive Director Ernie Viramontes has spent 35 years as a role model for youth in our community.
“Compete with class” is a sportsmanship program sponsored by the New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA). It’s also the perfect way to describe NMAA Commission Chair Ernie Viramontes, who is also Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS) executive director of athletics.
Ernie is about to begin his 35th year with LCPS. He began as a PE teacher at Central and Fairacres elementary schools, was a coach and teacher at Picacho Middle School; a coach, counselor, and assistant principal at Sierra Middle School; academic dean and athletic director at Las Cruces High School, assistant athletic director and, since 2005, athletic director for the entire school district.
“I’ve gained a really good understanding of how kids grow up and how different they are at every level,” notes Ernie, who has a BA in health and physical education and an MA in bilingual counseling, both from NMSU.
His career as a teacher, coach and administrator includes dozens of state championships in everything from football and basketball to soccer and cheer. As a mentor, surrogate parent, and champion for children, “Mr. V.” or “Ernie V.,” as he is known, has impacted the lives of thousands of student athletes, parents, co-workers, and others.
“I’ve always admired Ernie for thinking about athletes from the educational viewpoint,” says Jo Galvan, who retired last May after 30 years as the school district’s chief spokesperson. “He’s always placed an athlete’s education and safety above all else. A terrific role model to students, for sure!”
Ernie built his career on the strong discipline he learned from his father, long-time Luna County Commissioner P.O. Viramontes, and from his Deming High School basketball coach, Frank Dooley. He also inherited his mother’s (Flora Gómez Viramontes) sense of humor and compassion and blended them with the thing he’s proudest of in his long career: “All the decisions that I made that were right for kids. Family background is huge,” Ernie adds. “I learned the results of hard work and discipline.”
By getting up at 4am to get his chores done on the family’s 250-acre farm 13 miles west of Deming, Ernie, the youngest of six children, earned the right to stay after school and play football and basketball. That meant more hard work for him personally, but it also made the young Ernie part of a team and helped him learn to “always treat people with class and respect.”
With “kids, adults, coaches, co-workers, you always start off by asking how they’re doing,” Ernie says. “It’s how you treat people. Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. There’s not a little ‘I’ in the word team.”
He also reminds coaches that the field and the court are extension of the classroom. “These kids look up to you,” he says. “You are role models. What you permit is what you promote.”
Remembering with gratitude the “people who went to all my games when I played,” Ernie tries to make it to as many Las Cruces school athletic events as he can, covering four high schools, eight middle schools, and more than a dozen different sports.
At every game he goes to, Ernie says there’s a sense of family, and “so many people involved that you forget about the crazy world around us for a couple of hours.
Sports is a great way to teach life’s lessons. The goal is to get to that other side and score the basket. There are a lot of obstacles to get there. If you make it or not, you’re still a winner. Win or lose, show class. Losing is not the end of the world. Get up and go again.”