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Former local high school athletes return home to coach

Newly announced Madera Coyote cross country coach Alisha Brown formally introduces herself to her future team at a meeting Thursday at Madera High School. (Tyler Takeda)


For two former Madera Coyotes, returning home and giving back to the community is something they’ve wanted to do ever since they left town to head to college.

Former girls basketball player Ashley Chavira ventured to Santa Ana to play at Santa Ana College and then went to North Carolina to play at Montreat College before she graduated in 2013.

Former cross country and track standout Alisha Brown went to school in University of California, Riverside, before returning last year to help out the Madera South cross country and track teams. Now, both athletes will run their own programs in sports they’ve already made a name for themselves in.

Chavira will head down the road to coach at Liberty High School, while Brown returns home to lead the Coyotes.

“I’ve wanted to come back and help out the community,” Chavira said. “It’s still a Madera school. In the head coaching position, it puts me in a leadership spot to help those kids experience the things that I got the experience when I was in college. I’m very happy about it. It was one of my goals to come back to get a head coaching position. It feels like I accomplished the first stepping stone in my career, coaching-wise.”

“It’s really a humbling opportunity for me,” Brown said. “It’s showing me that these kids need someone to look up to and I’m honored to be able to be the one to mentor them and show them the dos and the don’ts. I want to help them to see they can do whatever it is you want to do. Your dreams are achievable as long as you want to work for it. That’s what’s pushing me to coaching.”

Both coaches will be able to turn to their collegiate athletic experiences to help their athletes along. Both coaches also want to emphasize the importance of playing athletics as a stepping stone to college.

“It feels amazing to give back after everyone has helped me,” Brown said. “I had coaches buy me running shoes. It’s now my turn to give back to these kids and help them. Coach (Richard) Parris pushed me to college. I wasn’t thinking about college until after my freshman year. A lot of these kids don’t think about that. It feels amazing to be able to get into that position for them to look up to me and know that I did it. I’m just another person who worked hard and got some guidance. I’m just like them and where they were. If they want to be successful running, your feet can take you where you want to go.”

For Chavira, leading a program is something she had been looking at since she returned to Madera in 2014. She assisted at Madera South under Teresa Hernandez for two years before finding the opening at Liberty.

“I’ve been ready for a head coaching position since I came back,” Chavira said. “I applied for Madera South when it first came up. I gained college experience and it has given me the experience to build the program. I’ve always wanted to build and program and give back to the girls in Madera.”

Since Madera South has played Liberty the past two years, Chavira has a sense of the players she will be getting at the school, but she knows that she has to start building a solid foundation.

“For me, it’s not about the wins and losses,” she said. “It’s about building the fundamentals and the program to work to get the wins. I know what I want and am driven to get it. It just takes patience. It’s exciting. There’s a lot of nerves. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I have a lot of expectations to meet. It’s exciting and it’s going to be a lot of work.”

Chavira just finished her paperwork this week and is looking forward to the chance to start building her team.

“There’s no secure team,” she said. “I have to go out to recruit. People have told me that it was a good fit for me. I have a lot of people on my side that know I can build a solid program. It’s up to me to create that relationship between the girls and their parents.”

However, Chavira can build on her collegiate experiences to help her in building a program.

“I’ve had a couple of different coaches,” Chavira said. “They’ve given me different outlooks with different philosophies. I was able to pick and choose to what works for me here. Getting that experience and bringing those experiences back has driven me to want this position. Just playing, overall, and seeing the difference of how different basketball is between high school then and now shows me how I want to build the program at Liberty.”

Chavira will open the school year as a substitute teacher at Madera Unified School District.

The timing for Brown couldn’t have been better. Just a couple of weeks after she missed running for the 2016 Olympics, Brown received a couple of phone calls that changed her thinking.

Brown missed the Olympic Trials qualifying time by .02 seconds in the 800 meter run. Shortly after, she got word she was hired by the district to be a special education teacher at Madera High School. Shortly after that phone call, she got a call from MHS athletics director John Fernandez that she was the Coyotes cross country coach.

“Coach (Ernest) Velarde told me he was stepping down,” Brown said. “He told me this would be a great opportunity for me and I was right for the job and the kids. I wasn’t sure what to do with my professional life. The more I sat on it, the more I felt the kids needed me. I couldn’t say no.”

Although one Velarde retired, two other Velardes stayed on staff. Ernest’s son Vincente will be an assistant as well as Vincente’s newlywed wife, Corina, formerly Mendoza.

“That makes the coaching staff so good,” Brown said. “We all know we other. Me and Corina ran on the team together. We have worked together. We all have that level of coaching experience and we all bring something unique to the table. We’ve been there. All of these steps we are showing and are giving the steps we learned to get to the next level. It’s a blueprint in person that we’re giving them. We can show them they can go on this path to go to college.”

Brown began her high school education running for Parris at Madera High, but transferred to Madera South for her junior and senior years. She was a two-time Div. III Central Section individual champion in cross country and was a Tri-River Athletic Conference champion in the 800- and 1,500-meter runs.

“It feels really good to be back,” Brown said. “This is where I wanted to be to begin with. I loved my experience with the Stallions. A new opportunity and a new door opened to bring me back home. I wanted to come here because of the legacy Rich Parris left here when I was a freshman. I want to continue to carry that on. There’s been a plethora of great hard-working, successful runners to come out of Madera High and I just want to help contribute to that.

“Madera, in general, with running, we are really making a difference. I’m not just helping Madera High. I’m helping Madera. We’re really making sure to give Madera kids an opportunity to make something of themselves and do what we did and help the community.”


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