One of the friendliest faces at the Socorro Rodeo Complex is 36 year old James Chavez. A Socorro native, Chavez has gone through many experiences in life including spending time playing professional rugby in New Zealand before returning home to help maintain the complex. El Defensor Chieftain sat down with him to find out more.
Question: How did you start off working for the Rodeo Complex?
Answer: I was a referee on and off both here and in Albuquerque for more than 13 years. I was refereeing at Finley Gym and was approached by the city if I wanted to help run recreational sports for the kids. After about a year I was looking to transition so I approached Jim Dewey Brown about possibly working here at the complex. They had been open for about a year and even before I was hired I was able to put on a night rugby game here. A team from Albuquerque came down and there was a big crowd. I guess Jim saw my work ethic and passion in what I do so he hired me on full time.
Q: What is your official role?
A: I don’t know if I have one (laughs). I call myself Mike’s (Alderete) assistant. He’s the foreman and between the two of us we run the grounds.
Q: What type of responsibilities do you have here?
A: Everything from mowing, mucking, prepping the grounds, washing
the bleachers, booking stalls and RV’s, helping promoters coming in. It’s a seven day a week job.
Q: Do you enjoy what you do?
A: Definitely. Most people hate going into the office but I don’t. I love what I do and the people I work with are all good friends. We’re still building things up here which can be stressful and I’m here a lot. Plus, we wish there was more manpower, but that’s anywhere. Getting up in the morning and coming here is always fun for me.
Q: Are you born and raised in Socorro?
A: I’ve lived here for most of my life. I was born at a hospital in Albuquerque. Both my parents and grandparents are from here. The family ran a grocery store here known as Mary Jane’s on Spring street for many years.
Q: Did you go to high school here?
A: Yes. I went and played multiple sports such as football, baseball, basketball and track & field. After high school I was tired of it and more interested in hanging out with friends and getting into trouble. At 24 I decided to go to Tech for a general studies degree and also looked into other degrees while I was there. That is when I got into rugby.
Q: What got you into rugby?
A: I was in the weight room and obviously I’m a bigger guy having played football and thrown the shot put. A gentleman from the rugby club came up to me and asked if I would be interested in rugby. I thought why not give it a try. Working with coach Dave Wheelock, who retired, got me to fall in love with the sport. That eventually lead me to play overseas in New Zealand.
Q: How did you end up playing there?
A: That is a funny story. The Tech team played up in Albuquerque at what was called the Desert Classic and a Hall of Fame player from New Zealand was there and the coach from Highland (high school) said that he should check out this club from Socorro. He was there representing the All Blacks team from New Zealand. The scout was watching and he pulled me and another player aside to see if we would be interested in playing overseas. After a few years I ended up playing there in 2012. I consider that experience the most special in my life so far.
Q: What was it like going from Socorro to New Zealand?
A: It was a bit of a culture shock. But I can adapt to any situation. I’ve always been a friendly person. However, there were little things like driving on the other side of the road and not having green chili all the time.
Q: Did your parents support your decision to do that.
A: My father was very supportive. He would send me packaged green chili to remind me of home. My mother unfortunately was killed in the summer of 2010 so she was no longer with me when I made the move. The summer that happened I actually went to a rugby tournament in Las Vegas and just took out my aggressions in the most positive way I could.
Q: How did you end up back here in Socorro?
A: My visa ran out. And to be honest I wasn’t as good as they are. I also received a severe concussion and was diagnosed with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). I also came back because of family. My grandfather was getting up in age. Plus, Socorro is home. The community is great. Hate is a strong word, but I can say there is nobody here that I hate.
Q: A few random questions, what is your favorite movie?
A: I’d have to say “The Shawshank Redemption”. It’s a great film overall. I could watch that movie 100 times and never get bored. You can put on movies and know what is going to happen but with that one it’s always captivating.
Q: What is your favorite type of music?
A: I listen to all different kinds of music. I’ll name the main ones. Rap, it would be Eminem because I’ve listened to him since high school. Country, I would go Aaron Watson because he talks about the rodeo life. Rock, it would be Cold, which I even have a tattoo of. I’ve seen them three times in concert.
Q: What is your favorite book?
A: The Game of Thrones. The actual books. They’re full of action. I hope the writer finishes the books because the last season of the show was awful.
Q: If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
A: New Zealand. Beyond rugby it was the people. The weather was also great. It’s kind of like Socorro. It’s a bigger city but the friendly atmosphere is the same.
Q: If you could change anything about Socorro County, what would it be?
A: I wish that we could find a way to attract more people from all over to visit the town. Even if it’s just for two or three nights. My sister just moved to Ruidoso and on the weekends that place is packed. People up and down the main street. If we had more things for visitors especially to do that would really help.
James is all over the Rodeo Complex grounds during the week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and also at special events. If you’re looking for information or in a hurry to get to the other side, hop into his Kubota and trade stories with him.