Former Stallion graduates with honors


For The Madera Tribune

Madera South 2016 graduate Jonnie Montano celebrates her graduation from Fresno Pacific University, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in liberal studies with an emphasis in conflict and peacemaking. Montano was a four-year cross country and track standout for the Stallions.

Former Madera South Stallions cross country and track standout Jonnie Montano continued to uphold the recruiting line to Fresno Pacific University and gradauted from the college this year.

Montano, who was a four-year CIF State Championship Cross Country participant and 2016 graduate, ran for two years at Fresno Pacific before hanging up her spikes to pursue her education.

By being able to pack more than 20 units a semester, Montano achieved her goal of graduating from FPU in four years. Not only that, Montano graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in liberal studies with an emphasis in conflict and peacemaking.

“I’m really excited about that,” she said. “My goal is to go into administration. I thought emphasizing in something like that would benefit me more than math or literature. It’s not a typical emphasis to do. I had to take a few courses and I’m a certified mediator.”

With the social injustice platform in today’s environment, it plays right into what Montano was going to school for.

“I feel like some of the things going on is right up my alley,” she said. “You’re trained in a specific study. You learn about specific struggles. I had to take a cultural studies class and mediation class to work with individuals. I focused on restorative justice. Instead of getting inmates into the system, you work on finding ways to mediate between the victim and criminal. You settle conflicts and it’s relevant to what is going on right now.”

Montano wants to begin teaching elementary school before heading to administration. While teaching, she said she will also volunteer to help start Matilda Torres High School’s cross country team with a former teammate.

“I want to go into teaching elementary school,” she said. “Since I wasn’t able to take the CSET and CBEST, all my credentials are conditional. I am applying in the spring to Fresno State and I want to do my credential program there. I’m planning to attend in spring. I want to teach for a couple of years. One of my Fresno Pacific teammates is coaching at Matilda Torres so I plan on helping him there.”

New Torres head coach Connor Nolan reached out to Montano to see if she had any interest in helping out.

“He ran at Clovis North and ran at Fresno Pacific,” she said. “He was my captain when I was at Fresno Pacific. He reached out to me because I had a lot of ties. I was happy to help out. I’m subbing and working two jobs so I can’t commit to be an official coach, but I’ll be out there volunteering whenever I can. Eventually, this opportunity with Torres, I feel I have been called to be a coach. I had my time as an athlete.”

While graduated, Montano still doesn’t have the graduated ‘feeling,’ although she is way less busy than she was while going to school.

“It’s a big adjustment to being so busy to now I feel like I have so much free time,” he said. “Things are going good. Because of the COVID-stuff, we’re not having a ceremony until December. It feels like I’m done, but not really done. Once the ceremony happens, I think I’ll feel like I’m done. Even my diploma hasn’t come in yet, so it doesn’t feel like a reality, yet.”

Montano, a 2016 graduate from Madera South, couldn’t think of where she would be without cross country and track.

“I was always academically involved in the school,” she said. “I felt sports was the backbone of the opportunities I got. I’m also a first generation college grad. I feel like I would have struggled a lot more if I didn’t have that athletic background. Definitely, sports has brought me to my success.

“It also gave me a lot of skills I wouldn’t have had. Just the discipline of showing up to practice, being at races all day long and make a lot of sacrifices along the way. I feel like a lot of the leadership skills I gained while I was running is coming back now that I am going into teach. It’s skills I learned while I was on the team.”

Montano says she can point to almost the exact time where her life changed from one track to another and it happened during her freshman year.

“I was just this freshman girl that had a friend try out for the cross country team and I went with her,” she said. “Coach (Rich) Parris said I had a talent for this. I was a cheerleader my freshman year. Parris said I was going to do big things. I made the varsity team after my first race. He took me to an overnight race, the Woodbridge. Me and Cristal (Rivera) ended up making it to state my freshman year so I was there with my senior captain. I thought, okay, I am going to pursue this. It’s crazy that it was something to do as fun, it turns out to be a four-year state qualifier, earning a scholarship and becoming a first generation college graduate. I know all of that was because of that freshman decision to join the team. It’s really amazing to look at that. It changed my whole life.”

After Madera South, Montano signed a National Letter of Intent to Fresno Pacific University to continue the pipeline of Madera South runners to the school, which included Benny Madrigal before her and Seth Garcia and Veronica Ortega most recently.

“I knew there was a lot of Madera kids that went there,” she said. “There was a personal thing I felt that I wanted to represent Madera the way I wanted to. It wasn’t just athletically. My coach told me that the athletes he gets from Madera are leaders, hard working and fulfill those leadership roles even though they weren’t named captain. Immediately, when I came in as a freshman, he put me in some of those leadership roles like being in charge of tutoring, in charge of making sure the freshmen made it to practice on time. He did that because he knew the type of athlete he got from Madera from people he had from the past.”

That run of Madera South runners continued this year with the commitment from Luis Ortega, Veronica Ortega’s brother.

“It’s pretty awesome to continue that tradition,” she said. “I was really excited Veronica Ortega wanted to go there. She is a huge inspiration to me even though she was younger than me. I’ve always looked up to her because she’s a hard worker. Her brother is going there, too. That is so exciting. I plan to go and be involved. It really is a Madera pride to see those athletes going there.”

Initially Montano went to FPU to become a pharmacist. However, she didn’t feel like that’s what she wanted during her sophomore year.

“I was going into my upper-division classes and I felt like this wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she said. “I don’t feel like it was calling me. I had taken an intro to liberal studies class and I immediately fell in love with it. So, it was junior year to change to liberal studies. It was so hard because I was so behind. I was taking 24 units and 21 units because I was set on graduating in 2020. I was glad to say I graduated on time even though I switched my major.”

Montano hung up her spikes after her junior cross country season to concentrate on her academics.

“I wasn’t in love with it the way I used to be,” she said. “It felt more like a chore. I love my teammates and I felt like I was put into position to where I wasn’t into the positive leadership role I wanted to be. I switched my major and set on graduating on time. I also started working and taking on a lot of different things like joining an honor society. I was doing a lot of workshops for students and different things on campus. I felt like that’s where I was called to be. I also started to be a volunteer for Madera Unified. I was working with kindergarten class and felt like this was where I wanted to be.”

Montano doesn’t regret her decisions. She was still close friends to a number of girls on the team and even lived in a house with a few of them.

“Even though I wasn’t on the team, I still had that connection,” she said. “I saw it from a different perspective like on their senior night. It was sad to see I wasn’t there with them on the track or on the course. I felt I made the right decision for me.”

Now, Montano said, it’s time for her to give back to the community that has supported her throughout her athletics career at Madera South and at Fresno Pacific.

“It was time for me to move on and impact other peoples’ lives,” she said. “I learned all these skills and got these opportunities. I will always be grateful for them. I had a serious talk with my coach and told him my heart wasn’t in it. I was one of the higher scholarship recipients on the team and I felt selfish for not utilizing it. I felt he could have used it to bring in someone that would have been more focused. He said he was sad and I was going to be captain next year. He said he was glad I was honest. He contacted me to help out with track and cross country races. We still have that relationship. He said I will always be a Sunbird. It was a positive thing. I’ve always been someone that finishes what I start. But, I felt it was just time for me to move on.

“I wouldn’t have any of the opportunities I had if it wasn’t for running and Madera,” she said.

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