In yet another chapter in the Questa High School sports saga, the cast of characters has changed again.

Five of its nine coaches weren't rehired by the district, and a new pair of leaders were appointed in the athletic department only weeks before the start of school and of the 2018-19 sports season.

Students and parents learned of the upheaval through a mass text and "robocall" from the Questa athletic department sent Monday (July 23), by tech supervisor Rona Ortega.

The message said: "Hello, this is the Questa Schools staff, student, and parent notification system. This is a robocall correction. The Questa athletic department is pleased to announce the selection of Dale Cisneros, girls basketball coach; Mr. Daniel Gallegos boys basketball coach; Miguel Romero, boys track coach; Deluvina Sanchez, girls track coach; and Levi Curry, boys baseball. Thank you, Rona."

The message did not include Bill McDonald as soccer coach, Kathy Gonzales as cheer coach and Diane Leon as volleyball coach. It also did not mention Daniel Gallegos as the head football coach.

The changes mean that 10 coaches have parted ways with Questa in the last two years. Of those coaches who are no longer at their respective helms, five left on their own accord, and five were essentially fired from the district because they did not obtain a recommendation for rehire from one school year to the next. Under the district's policy, all coaches must submit a letter of intent to be considered for their jobs every year - thus competing for a position that is open to the public.

According to two coaches who no longer work for the district, but asked to remain anonymous, no formal performance evaluations were ever conducted during their respective tenures. So, the first and only indication that they may not be doing their job well (or well enough) was when they learned they had been replaced by another applicant.

Since Questa coaches are classified as "at-will" employees, no reason is needed to replace them.

The most blatant example of this posture came last year when boys basketball coach Thomas Madrid was abruptly sent packing for unknown reasons. Repeated requests by The Taos News as to the reason for Madrid's expulsion were met with simple blanket responses by then superintendent David Albert, who repeatedly cited an administrative prerogative to do so.

Maes slips away

Much of the turmoil can be traced to an event that took place in June 2016 when then athletic director and head football coach Jesus Maes unexpectedly left his posts to take over the football program in Española. Maes had spent four years in Questa and led the Wildcats to an 18-20 record, taking them to consecutive trips to the Class 2A playoffs in 2014 and 2015. He had previously been an assistant with Española from 2005-07.

Given that his departure came so close to the start of the new fall season, the district had to scramble to fill the holes he left. Both 2016 and 2017 football season were shortened due to a lack of personnel and for safety concerns.

Since Maes' departure, the position of athletic director or coordinator has been held by Paul Passino, Mae LaBella, Albert, Kenneth Gallegos, Jake Montoya and Miguel Romero. Currently, the athletic director position is filled by Felipe Blea.

Manuel Gonzales has been appointed the athletic coordinator. For short stints, LaBella served as Questa High School principal and athletic director simultaneously. It was the same for Albert ,who held both superintendent and A.D. positions before he left the district in March.

As of Monday, (July 30), LaBella is no longer with the Questa Independent School district. Her departure comes two weeks before the start of the 2018-19 school year. "I no longer work for Questa," said LaBella in a text message to The Taos News. "I resigned. Due to leadership."

Moving forward

Current superintendent Leanne Salazar has stated that her goals for the future of Questa athletics include creating a more positive environment for student-athletes. "We're trying to move towards more inclusivity and equity," said Salazar in a recent phone conversation, who emphasized that wins and losses are not going to be a priority of this new administration. "It's kids first, and we're going to get there through accountability and transparency."

The Taos News has asked the superintendent for resumes and applications of the new hires. Those have not yet been provided.

An attempt to reach Blea via email was not successful as of press time.

The first day of school is Aug. 13, and the first varsity volleyball game is a home match against the Des Moines Lady Demons slated for Aug. 21.

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