Valley View student-athletes voice frustrations about firings

Valley View's Angela Garcia (23) and McAllen Memorial's Kassandra Gonzalez (23) battle for position in a District 31-5A game at McAllen Memorial High School on Thursday. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

PHARR — During an at-times confrontational and tense Valley View ISD school board meeting Monday evening, several student-athletes and parents voiced their frustrations and displeasure with the school district’s recent decision to terminate all paraprofessionals employed by the district, including several head coaches of Tigers’ basketball and soccer programs in the midst of their seasons.

Valley View girls head basketball coach Arnold Martinz seen March 14, 2020,
(Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

For nearly half an hour, more than a dozen Valley View student-athletes and their parents spoke during the public comments portion of the district’s school board meeting to explain, in English and Spanish, why they disagreed with the district’s decision to fire all paraprofessionals employed by Valley View ISD on Jan. 11.

Among those fired were Valley View boys head soccer coach Damian Magallan, who had spent nearly 20 years working for the district, and girls basketball coach Arnold Martinez, who was named The Monitor’s 2019-20 All-Area Coach of the Year after leading the Tigers to the state playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.

J.C. Prado, junior forward for the girls basketball team, expressed “shock” and said her coach’s termination came at a “devastating time.”

Pleading with the school board to bring back the coach who she believes can once again lead them to a successful playoff run, Prado also said the team has been pained by the news.

“It hurts us not to have him on the bench with us,” she said. “… He’s a good asset to the team and he’s done everything to help provide for us and to improve not only the team but each of us as individuals. We love him so much and we hope that you will take this into consideration.”

Point guard Julie Ponce, one of two seniors on the girls hoops squad, had similar sentiments, noting that Martinez has been her coach throughout her high school career and “all he ever wanted was the best for us.”

Calling his termination something that “was handled inappropriately,” Ponce asked the board to empathize.

“I just want you to put yourself in my shoes: It’s my senior year and this is going to be the very last time that I’m going to be able to play for this school and for him,” Ponce said. “So please, don’t do this for him, do it for me, the community and the people who voted to put you where you’re at right now.”

The girls basketball team had to overcome several hurdles this season before being able to compete and attempt to make a return trip to the postseason.

Valley View’s winter sports programs were not authorized to begin practices or competition until three weeks into the current girls basketball season in the Rio Grande Valley.

Matters were again complicated when several of the Tigers’ District 31-5A opponents were forced to postpone games due to COVID-19 concerns within other programs. An internal email obtained by The Monitor on Dec. 11 showed that Valley View ISD postponed all in-person practices for its winter sports programs until in-person teaching resumed in January.

The Valley View girls basketball team was preparing to play its first rescheduled district game at PSJA Memorial on Jan. 8 when the players were notified that their head coach was being terminated by the school district. The Tigers have gone 3-0 in district competition since receiving that news.

Sophomore forward Brianna Martinez noted a challenging season that started three weeks late, saying although “these interferences never fazed” the team, it’s because of the head girls basketball coach’s leadership.

What’s more, she said her coach’s termination shows the board dismisses the team as “insignificant” and does “not come first.”

“The Valley View school board may not consider Coach Martinez worthy to be our coach, but to us, he is a man of his word who never gave up on his team, so please make us feel heard and wanted by our community leaders and help us get Coach Arnold Martinez back,” she added.

Another sophomore, guard Monica Ortegon, said Martinez was a dedicated coach.

“He has created a bond with us and worked day and night to create a game plan to make us successful,” Ortegon said. “Arnold Martinez built this team up since the girls basketball program was considered a joke. … All these coaches who are no longer coaching have made a difference for Valley View sports. Please let them finish the season and make it memorable for us athletes and the seniors also.”

Several parents of student-athletes within numerous Valley View winter sports programs also expressed their displeasure and disagreement with the timing of the decision with many advocating for the coaches to finish out the ongoing seasons with their respective teams, saying that the situation was handled inappropriately by the district.

“We are moving forward with a new staff after replacing six uncertified head coaches on Monday. We want to continue our success here at Valley View ISD and all new head coaches named are previous assistants and certified teachers,” Valley View athletic director Julio Martinez said. “The new head coaches have been with each program and were promoted to their new assigned positions from within. All coaches will be evaluated at the end of this spring season.”

Valley View’s athletic director said that he was recently informed of the district’s decision to “go in another way” by firing all its paraprofessional head coaches, but stressed that he was not part of the decision-making process and merely executed the district’s directive.

He added that Valley View could have instead chosen to “grandfather in” existing paraprofessional head coaches by waiting until the conclusion of their teams’ respective seasons before making any final decisions, a route that was not taken in the end.

Valley View school board President Claudia Coronado said the decision was made after the district was notified that it was not in compliance with the Texas Department of Labor regarding hours worked by the district’s paraprofessional coaches.

“They told me that once the coaches’ hours were done, they could not coach anymore,” Julio Martinez said. “(The superintendent and the district’s legal counsel) told me that they were going to go in a different direction with certified coaches. I was not aware that there was a formal complaint.”

Valley View ISD previously tracked the hours of its paraprofessional coaches using a system based on a similar one used by Sharyland ISD, which is one of several Valley school districts that permit paraprofessionals to coach its high school varsity athletic teams.

“To me, it just seems like there’s something they overlooked or they overreacted because there are several school districts like Sharyland, PSJA and McAllen at the junior high level that have coaches that are paraprofessionals, and they manage their hours right,” Arnold Martinez said Tuesday. “They were scared that other coaches were probably going over the limit (of their stipend), but there’s no proof of anything.”

“The girls asked me to please not abandon them,” he added. “I’ll stand side by side with them until the end.”

According to Texas’ American Federation of Teachers, which is working with some former Valley View coaches, 27 coaches were stripped of their stipends by the school district.