Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera South cross country and track coach Eloy Quintana oversees a boys cross country dynasty at the school while also working to get his athletes to further their education.
Although the Madera South High School boys cross country team has won nine Central Section championships from 2008 to 2016, head coach Eloy Quintana said that he doesn’t consider winning to be the highest priority.
“We want to get them to college, or get them to some technical school or something that will help them to enhance their livelihood,” Quintana said of his athletes.
Quintana served as an assistant coach at Clovis High School for one year, then was an assistant coach at Madera South for two years. He became the head coach in 2014 when former head coach Rich Parris became the athletic director at Chowchilla High School.
Quintana also teaches physical education at Madera South High School. In addition to the boys cross country success, the girls cross country team won a league championship in 2016.
The 31-year-old Clovis native has a long history as a track and cross country competitor. He participated in the sports at Weldon Elementary School and Clark Intermediate School, both in Clovis, as well as Clovis High School.
Quintana said early in his athletic career, he began running because he felt that it would help him improve as a basketball player. Later, he shifted his focus to cross country and track and continued his running career at Fresno Pacific University. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology in 2009 and earned a master’s degree in education and a teaching credential from National University.
“I felt like I was part of something special,” Quintana said on why he enjoyed participating in cross country and track and field.
The belief that sports could be something special has been appreciated by the students who have gone through his programs.
One of Quintana’s former athletes, Eduardo Herrera, graduated from Madera South High School in 2016 and is now on the cross country and track and field teams at the University of Colorado.
Herrera ran a 4:04 mile while in high school and currently holds the Central Section record for the Woodward Park five kilometer course with a time of 14:48.8. He also competed at Nike Cross Nationals, a national cross country race in Oregon, in 2013 and 2015.
“Coach Eloy is, like, very smart with what he does with his runners. He knows what kind of runner you are. He knows their strengths, he knows their weaknesses,” Herrera said. “He’s more than just a coach.”
Quintana takes his athletes to Santa Monica Beach during the weekend they travel to compete in the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic, continuing Parris’ tradition. Quintana does so because he feels it is a fulfilling experience for some of the athletes who don’t travel to beaches often, if ever.
Quintana said that once his athletes jumped into the ocean, even though the water was cold that day.
“Their eyes were huge,” Quintana said.
Quintana feels that it is important for the individuals he coaches to excel as students as well as athletes. “I’ll get an email from a teacher that may have some concerns,” Quintana said. “We, as a coaching staff, will get on that. And then, we’ll find the proper help to make sure that student-athlete does not fall through the cracks.”
Herrera said Quintana believed in him and told him that succeeding athletically will help him also excel in other realms, including academics.
Seth Garcia, a junior at Madera South High School who is on the cross country and track and field teams, said that Quintana cares about the students he coaches outside of their athletic careers.
“He’s very personable,” Garcia said. “You can say, ‘I have an issue at home, I need someone to talk to about it,’ and he will listen to you.”
Quintana’s athletes are teammates as well as friends. He said that he has seen them spend time with each other outside of practice.
“We think of ourselves as a family,” Quintana said.
Quintana feels that for some of his athletes, cross country and track and field serve a greater purpose than just being sports.
“Not too many of them get to grow up in a situation where mom and dad are there every day,” said Quintana. “This gives them stability in life.”
Garcia said that Quintana resembles a father figure.
“God said this is your path and purpose — through running — for your life to change, but also for you to change other lives,” Quintana said.
Bineet Kaur is a student in Gary Rice’s community journalism class at California State University, Fresno.