Riverdale Ridge softball coach Ray Garza thought that a 100-win career in a given sport meant a coach had been around for a long time.
Thing is, Garza won his 100th game as the Ravens’ coach just two games into his sixth – and the school’s sixth – season.
“I didn’t even know it was the 100th win,” Garza said. “I had no idea. I never paid much attention. I paid more attention to the program’s success. Some people think that’s what every coach says. It’s the truth. It takes a village of people.”
His assistant coaches told him about the milestone.
“They calculated the wins and losses,” Garza said. “Next thing you know, I’m getting text messages right and left. I thought, ‘I’m going to relay it to people who have supported me.’ I’ve got to appreciate the people who are responsible for this.”
Humble personal beginnings
Garza was a three-sport athlete at Eaton High School. His original goal was to be a major-league pitcher. Then came reconstructive surgery and a change in plans.
“It was by default,” Garza said of his venture into coaching. “I had a lot of success in high school. I had a lot of success in college as an athlete. When that opportunity (to be a pro baseball player) was taken away, that’s when I realized, ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ My passion was the people who put me where I am today.”
Garza grew up with a single mom. There were days when he didn’t attend elementary school; rather, he helped pick vegetables in the fields.
“We didn’t have much money to play sports. But the people in Eaton supported our family and gave us a major opportunity to do those things,” Garza said. “My athletic director, Dennis Herzberg, those kinds of people? That’s what I remember. And I thought it would be fun to guide youth, to lead youth. You’re showing a lot of care for kids.
But it wasn’t that easy to give up his pitching days.
“The day my doctor said I’d never be able to pitch again? That hit me hard,” Garza added. “I took a coaching job at Roosevelt (High School) and a basketball coaching job at Platte Valley (High School). I was off and running.”
Garza said he was nervous, but super excited to get started at Roosevelt.
“That first day at Roosevelt (Joe Chacon was the head coach), I was so excited,” Garza continued. “I had seven practice plans written up. And I was like, ‘No, I don’t like that, nah, I don’t like that one.’ Coach saw everything. It was amazing. He and Jeff Rockwell (who worked in the Greeley Public Schools) were almost at the same time. Jeff said he could use a varsity assistant at Platte Valley in 1999. We ended up winning state. We went to the final four a few times.”
His first head coaching assignments (softball, basketball, and baseball) were at Fort Lupton High School. He coached baseball at Brighton High School, was let go, and then started the Ravens’ softball program.
He wound up in a conversation with the Ravens’ first athletic director and former assistant commissioner with the Colorado High School Activities Association, Harry Waterman. The conversation led to jobs as the head baseball and softball coach for Riverdale Ridge.
“He took a chance,” Garza said. “We sat on those bleachers. The field wasn’t even done yet. He says, ‘You’re my guy. I know you’re going to do amazing things on these fields.’ I don’t want to let him down. He took a lot of heat for it. I had a little luck, and I was given a chance. I try not to burn the people who gave me opportunities.”
Humble program beginnings
When the Ravens’ softball program began, there were more coaches (nine) than players (six).
“That’s what I remember most. The coaches looked at each other and were like, ‘Well, it’s time to start recruiting’” Garza laughed. “Then we trickled into 21 or 22 (players). Half of those girls had never played before.”
The Ravens made it to the playoffs in that first season, the first school to do so with only two grades (ninth- and 10th-graders) of students playing a varsity schedule. Riverdale Ridge advanced to the state tournament that year as well.
“What an amazing feat from point A (six players) to 100 wins,” Garza said “I used to say when you have a lot of wins, you’ve been around a long time. One hundred wins in five years? That’s pretty good. But it speaks volumes about the kids we have here. I’ve been very blessed to be part of this. These girls are very competitive. I’m not responsible for the abilities that have been placed on my lap.”
Garza had eyes on another career if coaching didn’t work out.
“I always wanted to be a detective,” Garza said. “I don’t watch much TV. But when I do, it’s ‘Criminal Minds,’ ‘48 Hours.’ It’s not a detective to arrest people. It’s a detective to help people, how can I help people through my title as a detective? I’m on the other side. I try to instill in the kids ‘Share your passion early.’ Everyone knows what they want to do. I backed into it (coaching). I started late. It fell in my lap. It’s weird how things happen.”
Garza said his accolades come from trying his best and knowing he did the best he could.
“I don’t remember players of the year, the all-Americans. I can tell you who helped me get to where I am today” Garza said. “I remember my high-school baseball coach, Jim Danley, who went through a horrible ending (to his coaching career at Eaton High School). He was always fighting for his job every year. What people don’t understand is he also provided for our family. He gave us a little apartment we rented from him. Dennis Herzberg gave me a job so I could help mom put food on the table. Those types of things, you can’t thank people enough. But I remember them.
“I’m this far in my education as a teacher and as a coach because of them.”