The New Mexico High School Coaches Association (NMHSCA) Hall of Honor is an exclusive club. In total, there have been only 131 inductees.
For women, the club is even more exclusive.
Since Flo Valdez’s induction in 1998, only seven other women have been inducted to the Hall of Honor.
One of those women is Valencia County’s own Joanne Romero. During the NMHSCA All Star festivities in early June, she was given the opportunity to coach the Northeast volleyball all star team and was recognized with the other seven inductees.
“That was pretty nice,” said Romero.
“I was inducted in the year 2000. You don’t expect these things to come in later years, so this was a surprise and humbling.”
Romero’s coaching career began in the early 1970s. Growing up in a time when women’s sports were not mainstream, her athletic opportunities were limited. She picked the hobby of running while attending Adams State (Colo.) and brought it with her to New Mexico when she began teach physical education at Belen Junior High School.
Some of her female students saw her running and eventually asked for help in starting a track team. Romero petitioned the school board for a team, and thus began her coaching journey.
Three years later, the junior high students were attending Belen High School. The Eagles needed a girls track team and Romero stepped up, transferring to BHS. They took home the state title soon after in 1977.
“I was so lucky to have talented girls,” said Romero.
“They were awesome. It was like a fairy-tale.”
Track and field is, perhaps, what Romero is most recognized for. But she stretched her coaching talents into volleyball when she became an assistant coach for the Lady Eagles’ first volleyball team in the mid-1970s.
She went on to serve two stints as the head coach, at one point coaching her daughter — current Belen volleyball and swimming head coach Andrea Montaño. Romero stepped down from coaching when she became an assistant principal at BHS, leaving behind a coaching legacy of 25 years.
Notably, she inspired and influenced Montaño and her son, Dominick Romero, to follow her path.
“My mom was all about the athlete as a person,” said Montaño.
“She genuinely cared about each of them. I think this has been her biggest influence on me as a coach. I love all of my students and athletes.”
Dominick Romero went on to coach volleyball at various schools in the Albuquerque area, including one year at Belen. He agreed with Montaño regarding his mother’s influence on his coaching philosophy.
“My mom has influenced my coaching with her input and observations every season,” said Romero.
“Teaching morals, character and skills has always been her focus. She has influenced my focus on priorities and coaching throughout my career.”
Joanne Romero said she would only coach the Northeast All-Star team if her daughter and son would help her.
When the NMHSCA approved that request, the three of them went to Albuquerque and blew away their competition, eventually coming home with the crown.
“The game has changed so much,” said Romero. “Coaching and spectating are two different things, so I was very happy when they said I could have an assistant.”
Romero said she hopes to see more women inducted into the Hall of Honor, but she was grateful for the recognition at the All Star games.
As she reflected on her career, her most cherished memories were of the kids she helped grow over the years.
“I never saw myself as a coach,” said Romero.
“I’m proud of all of the girls who ran track when I did coach. I enjoyed the heck out of it. And my children, of course.”