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A homecoming for coach Ortiz

BARSTOW • “It’s not my first coaching job, but this is the one I really wanted.”

Those are the words of Jimmy Ortiz, one of the new coaches at Barstow High School. Ortiz has already run practices, as his cross country squad will begin competing the first week of September. He’ll also serve as the new Aztecs track & field coach next spring.

There are several new coaches at the high school this year, but none are likely as eager to get started as Ortiz. He grew up in Barstow, and ran for some highly-achieving Aztecs teams in the ‘80s; in his senior year, the cross country squad was tops in the state. After graduating, he went to UCLA and has since lived and coached in various locales, currently living in Ventura. Though that coastal city is some distance from the high desert, when the opportunity to coach at Barstow arose, Ortiz was right there to answer the call.

Actually, the chance to coach the Aztecs first came Ortiz’s way six years ago. Barstow athletic director Vince Williams got in touch to let him know the job was open, but the timing wasn’t right at that point.

“A few years ago I heard about it, but my children were too young to commit to it then,” said Ortiz this week. “But I kept in contact with the athletic department, I kept checking in. The kids are older now, and when this chance came along again, my family was very supportive. I talked it over with them, and the wife and kids gave me the thumbs up.”

That means some wicked commutes. Ortiz won’t be going back and forth between Barstow and Ventura on a daily basis, however, as he still has roots in town.

“My parents are longtime residents of Barstow,” said the coach. “Like everyone else, they’ve been tremendously supportive.”

Ortiz began practices with the cross country squad this week. Around 40 kids showed up at the first practice, and he was pleased with the turnout.

“That’s very good for a first workout. I’d love to have 60 or 70 a month from now,” he said. “Getting kids to come out for the team is my first priority.”

Putting those priorities in order is the first step for Ortiz.

“I know there are a lot of kids who are motivated and want to do well, and getting them together is my first step. Then there’s assessing where the kids are in terms of their abilities, and then we can start strategizing,” said the coach. “By midseason we’ll start implementing strategies and targeting where we want to go.”

Not such a tall order for a coach who has been planning for this job for years.

“We have such a great tradition of cross country here, a great tradition of distance runners. To be part of that as a coach, I really wanted to seize that challenge,” Ortiz said. “It’s been my dream to coach at my high school. I’m super excited to get started, a bit more than your typical coach. It’s very personal for me.”

Keeping that great tradition of running alive and passing it on to the next generation of runners in town is a high priority.

“My goals are realistic. I want to get as many kids as possible to come out for the team, and have them improve their times. It would be great to finish in the top two or three in the league,” said Ortiz. “I love to see kids drop their minutes and grow in confidence. I have no doubt it will happen.”

Since the area is rife with “some of the best trails you’ll find”, the new coach has been out in various places with his harriers. The season begins with a meet at Hesperia on Sept. 4.

“I’m grateful to my family for their support, and to Mr. Denton and Mr. Williams and the staff at the high school. I’ve gotten overwhelmingly positive support,” said Ortiz. “Everyone’s made me feel extremely welcome and happy to be here. There are some great track minds here and I’ve reached out to a few people.

“Barstow High School has been really good to me, I have great memories of the teams and coaches. There’s a lot of untapped talent here; there’s a lot of work to be done, but I look at it as an opportunity.”

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