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Prep basketballMartinez’s brother opens practice in Española

November 1, 2016 GMT

ESPAÑOLA — It was Halloween, a day reserved for costumes and candy, but nary an Española Valley Sundevil dressed up for the occasion.

Monday was the first day of basketball practice for the upcoming 2016-17 season, and the players for the boys basketball team showed up dressed up in their practice uniforms or in street clothes with uniforms in tow as they walked into Edward Medina Gymnasium under the stars of a slowly fading night sky.

The doors to the gym were open well before the 6 a.m. start time, and players slowly drifted in — waiting to see who would be the coach to guide them through the opening practice. A player who did not want to be identified who was in the gym early said he didn’t know if Richard Martinez, the embattled head coach of the program, was going to be there — only that practice was at 6 a.m.

While Martinez still holds the job title, he is embroiled in a controversy with the state’s Public Education Department in which the agency claims an investigation revealed he engaged in a pattern of abusive behavior by bullying and intimidating players, parents and staff members in order to keep his jobs as a teacher and head coach. The department filed 24 charges against Martinez, and its spokesman, Robert McEntrye, reiterated over the weekend it intends to revoke Martinez’s coaching and teaching license.

All the while, the Española Public Schools district retains Martinez as a full-time employee and coach. Much of that can be attributed to the overall success during his 14-year tenure. Martinez has a 252-133 record in that time and led the Sundevils to two state titles, including one in March. Overall, Martinez has a 334-165 mark and he led Mora to a state championship in his first year as a head coach in 1994-95.

Within minutes, though, the answer as to who was running practice became clear: Eric Martinez, Richard’s brother and a long-time assistant coach, showed up with a bag full of basketballs and a clipboard to identify and mark the players who showed up for practice. Eric Martinez also spent much of his time prior to practice chasing down completed physical forms required for players to participate in practice.

He declined any comment and later closed practice to the public as he gathered the players together to talk. Española athletic director Eric Vigil said coach Eric Martinez wanted to keep the players’ focus on practice and indicated that Eric Martinez might maintain closed practices as the program goes through tryouts for the first few practices.

“It will be up to him to keep that up long term in terms of practice,” Vigil said.

As for Richard Martinez’s role with the program, Vigil reiterated that Superintendent Eric Martinez, no relation to the Martinez brothers, is handling all inquiries regarding his status. Eileen Gutierrez, executive administrative assistant to Superintendent Martinez, said on Monday morning he was out of the office for the next couple of days.

Richard Martinez’s time at the school has been peppered with controversy. He has been fired four times only to regain control of his position before the next season began. In 2014, the school district placed Richard Martinez on leave as it investigated allegations of verbal and mental abuse of players. He was cleared within days and never missed a game.

The head coach was fired again in April by then-Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez after a district investigation unearthed allegations that he verbally, mentally and physically abused players and students. Richard Martinez regained his teaching and coaching jobs in July when he reached a settlement with Superintendent Eric Martinez.