Kenny Gonzales

Socorro's Kenny Gonzales; coach, student, military and law enforcement officer.

You’re obviously a well-known figure in the community. What keeps you in Socorro? What makes you want to be here?

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You know, I went to college for two years. Then I joined the Marine Corps. I was there for three years, and I got injured. I blew out my knee and I got an honorable discharge. I was in California with my last duty station in Oceanside. I thought about staying there, but I also thought about that I wanted to start a family someday. This is home, and I didn’t think California was a place to raise a family. I thought I would love to do it here at home. I thought, my parents are here and that was the opportunity. That’s where I was born and raised and I loved it here.

You had a very illustrious career in law enforcement. I’m sure maybe some people didn’t like you sometimes.

That goes with the job. I was with the (Socorro) city police on the DEA task force. The best advice I ever got when I went into law enforcement was from my dad. My dad told me, “Treat others like you would like to be treated.” And also, give a break when you can. If you can’t you do your job. So I always took that to heart. I think that helped with my career. I loved begin in narcotics, I had a drug dog, I worked with the DEA task force. I got an award from them. Mary Ann Chavez put me in for an award for the housing authority for my work with the people there and my work with the kids in schools. We were COPS in Schools back then.

So I got a couple national awards I was pretty proud of. I left the city as a police captain, then went and worked at the sheriff’s department, and my last year was in Magdalena. So altogether, 21 years.

Was that sense of community and wanting to help kids that helped get you into coaching?

It did. I coached my when he was little and all of my buddy’s kids. I played a little bit of college baseball, and I was talking with Alan Edmonson one day and I started umpiring to help out. He offered me a coaching position, and I’ll always give him that credit. He’s the one that got me involved in that. It was exciting. I got to help put with middle school football also. When he left I took over as head coach, and I also took over as head coach at the middle school and I got to work with Damien Ocampo. You can’t beat those mentors.

That’s a heck of a coaching tree in both sports.

When you’ve got those kinds of mentors and you get to work with guys like Julio Peguero (former Major League Baseball player) who played professional baseball, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

There has to be some humility involved there. Just being around you my first couple of years in Socorro and being around Julio, you would never know he played in the bigs. I think when you’re involved with a program like Socorro where you may not have the resources, you may not have the money and you have to tend to your own field, was the humbling for you and the kids in a good way?

I think it was in a good way. It teaches the kids good work ethic. For me it was just the love of the game, and you wanted everything to always look good. I wanted teams that came from out of town to be able to see “Hey, these guys have got good facilities even though they’re a small school.”

I don’t want to get too personal, but in regard to the path you’ve been on for the past few years and going through the Paws and Stripes program, then going to the welding program and CNM, how has that changed your mind set?

It really has. Without saying too too much, with being a combat veteran and being in law enforcement, you deal with a lot of trauma. I was the person when I was in law enforcement who was like you’re kidding me. What is PTSD? How do you get that? It’s BS.

I think they used to call it shell-shocked?

Yeah. It was like I moved on, why can’t you? Then I get out of law enforcement and I’m having nightmares. I’m having anxiety and depression. And it was actually my son who directed me to Paws and Stripes. Here’s a 19-year-old kid who said dad, you need to go and do this. If it wasn’t for him, who knows where I would be?

The exciting part about that is that it’s a new world. The machismo thing has to go away.

Yeah. You grow up in a Hispanic family it’s hey, don’t cry. Don’t show weakness.

I grew up in a Hispanic and Irish family. If you cry it’s like dude, you’re in the wrong hood.

Oh yeah. But Paws and Stripes, it brought me back out of isolation. I wasn’t going very many places. I didn’t want to see people. I was able to go through Paws and Stripes and I get a call from George Funkhouser to help him out with a football game on the radio. I had been doing the public service announcements for years when I was coaching. George gave me a great opportunity and I was able to do that.

I keep doing these games now basically bringing them to you live through Facebook and NFHS. I’m not always coaching, but getting to be up there and being part of the program and just helping kids maybe getting seen. But I don’t think without Paws and Stripes and my PTSD group at the VA clinic in Truth or Consequences … that’s what has turned me around and actually led me going to welding school.

With you calling games, it takes a special personality type to sit up there, and you really put yourself out there. Is that a way for you to be able to stay close to the kids and maybe have a little bit of say in what should be a really good part of their lives?

There’s a part of me, to be able to stay a pat of Socorro sports and be able to promote our kids … I got to do some recruiting for college along the way and Socorro doesn’t get seen very often. It’s tough because if you’re not competing for a state championship every year your kid may never get seen. Now with this, I’ve been talking with (Eastern New Mexico University) coach (David) Gomez, he was able to watch our games. He was able to go back on NFHS (NMAA network) and pick up some of those games. And if he saw a kid that was standing out he had an opportunity to get them down to his campus. If I can help a kid love their dream, hey it’s that much better.

Isn’t that kind of the fun part, and I can attest to this personally, is being a part of the media in a small town in saying ‘Let’s make sure some of these kids get seen?’ Because what that does is inspire other kids to work hard, get good grades and get seen.

That’s exactly it. You go into Albuquerque; these kids specialize in one sport and they get really, really good. We’re got some great athletes here and every sport taps them. We’ve got kids doing football, basketball, baseball and track.

That’s part of the deal in Socorro. You play all of the sports.

I remember we had kids who were coming home from a soccer game and they come on a kick a winning field goal.

I believe you’re referring to Josh Walsh.

We watched him do that. We watched him in a soccer game and come kick a winning field goal.

That’s the kind of kids Socorro produces.

We’ve got some kids that are just hard workers. Right now with COVID I know it’s tough. They’re having to learn the discipline to keep their grades intact. We hope through all of this they’re able to keep that.

We’ve talked about how you don’t necessarily have to go to UNM or NMSU or Colorado and get a 4-year degree. You’re in welding school right now. Why is that a good option for some kids?

I went to New Mexico State for two years and I did enough to get by. School wasn’t for me. At that point in my life I couldn’t sit in a classroom and I couldn’t focus. One of my classes had 300 students in it. How do you focus in a class like that?

When I chose CNM, and my son went there, and here I am now at 50 years old in a classroom with kids who are 25 years old and they’re doing a program with Albuquerque schools where they’re taking a class at CNM. I thought Oh man, this is amazing. Some of these kids are walking out with an associate’s degree at the same time they’re walking out with a high school diploma. It’s neat to see because college isn’t for everybody. At the same time if you can go and pick up a trade … there are just so many trades available and it’s not expensive.

What do you tell Socorro kids who think they might not have as many options as Albuquerque or Las Cruces kids?

I would tell them look a little bit beyond your circle. Don’t be afraid to step outside the box. There are so many different options for these kids.