In cities and towns all across our country, there is a pervasive notion about certain neighborhoods and areas which depict them as simply a lost cause. Written off as places that are destined to underachieve or fail. Typically, these are the parts of a metro area that have noticeably fewer resources. They develop a reputation as being an area of town that can seem hopeless to change and destined for hardship for an indefinite amount of time.
When Mike Argraves began coaching at Cholla, he had come from Tucson High and the surrounding areas were largely known for their crime rate. Arizona had among the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country and gang activity plagued our city. The Cholla student body, like many other schools in Tucson, were considered a product of that environment. Never really expected to achieve anything of any real significance. At least, that is how they felt they were looked at.
The impact people like Argraves have on their communities is incalculable. They truly become beacons of their community, one of the neighborhood’s few bright spots, as their work becomes absolutely crucial to the development of young minds. Young men and women who without the “tough love” of a mentor or father figure like Argraves in their lives, face tremendous often life and death challenges outside of school.
Trying to motivate any group of adolescent youth to sacrifice for a greater purpose, to give of themselves for the betterment of a collective and the pursuit of a common goal, is daunting. Argraves, with 32 years of coaching wisdom, was able to galvanize his athletes and put a chip on their shoulder that they could all relate to. In their minds, the world expected nothing but failure from them. Argraves’ teams saw outsiders not taking them seriously as truly a disrespect. Whether that disrespect the Chargers felt was real or perceived, Argraves used it. To this day, Charger athletes going back as far as the mid 1990’s, whether they played together under Argraves or not, call each other family.
Coach Mike didn’t have to give epic pregame speeches. He would send them out onto the floor after simply saying, “Ladies, lets show them who we are.”
“Family on 3…”
A group of roughly 70 of Argraves’s former athletes were gracious enough to make themselves available for questions. The following, is a sample of those questions and answers.
Tell us the story behind, “Ladies, lets show them who we are.”
Monica Chana, girls basketball (98-00): “Cholla’s reputation in past years was not so (great). We were always looked at as underdogs.”
Veronica Ramirez, girls baskbetball (96-00): “We were always the underdog girls from Cholla who were not supposed to win a game. With hard work, dedication and our coaches, we proved everyone wrong. Winning tournaments. Going to state. We smashed teams.”
Can you describe Coach Mike’s coaching style?
Chana: “Passionate! Very much (focused) on good sportsmanship, never showing your emotions on the court. He expected you to be a student first before an athlete. He welcomed anyone to play as long as you showed him you wanted to be a part of a family. Coach wanted to see us succeed. If it was you becoming the first generation to graduate, he pushed you to go to college. If he knew you couldn’t make it to practice because you didn’t have a ride, he picked you up and took you home. He was persistent in making sure you did your work and went to class. Mike pushed us hard and pushed us to never give up.”
Lucianna Mendoza, girls basketball (01-04): “Hard core! But he had a big heart.”
Dawn Alvarez, girls basketball (96-98): “He cared about each and every one of us as if we were his own children and he never gave up on us.
Felicia “Flea” Macias, girls basketball (02-05): “Coach Mike would make us play as a team. If one person didn’t touch the line when running, then we all had to run again. We learned to encourage each other and push each other so we succeeded at tasks put in front of us. When you spend 5-6 days a week with the same people you form a bond that others wouldn’t understand. He was more than a coach. He was our father figure and friend. He genuinely cared for us all. He wanted to know what was going in your life and always was there to listen.”
Angelica Granillo, girls volleyball: “I never played basketball for Coach Mike, but I played volleyball for him as a freshman and continuing through my senior year. That was my very first experience playing the sport and he helped shape me into the athlete I (became). He was amazing and I will never forget the passion and drive that he brought to the court.”
Celina Ramirez, girls basketball (99-03): “There are actually a handful of girls that have stuck around after they graduated to help him coach. A lot of the girls would also come back and scrimmage against his newest Varsity team. He really did create a wonderful basketball family, that welcomed and sometimes combined with the other sports. Majority of the girls were just great student Athletes. Our basketball season (on and off) was the foundation for building a superb Cholla Athlete. What we learned and gained from coach Mike, carried on into whatever other sport we played in.”
Ramirez continued, “He was very encouraging, and kind hearted, but got on ya if you needed it. I’ve never once seen him turn away a girl because they didn’t know how to play or they weren’t “good enough” to play. He taught us how to hustle, play with heart and leave it all on the court. To this day I tell stories about Mike or about our teams. He created so many opportunities for us to better ourselves individually and as a team. With all the practices and tournaments, a special bond and memories were created with the girls. As you could see in the group message. Nothing but love for each other. We were his kids. We’re so thankful to Randy & Justin for all those hours he spent away from home, to coach us. My Step-Daughter came into my life going into 8th grade. Ever since then, I have tried to encourage her to tryout for a sports team. I’ve told her how fun being part of a team. It’s all because of him.
Can you tell us if you recall a when Coach Mike’s coaching skills shined most?
Monica Montez, girls basketball (95-99): “When we were the underdog, he always made us feel we had a chance.”
Felicia “Flea” Macias: “Coach Mike was always prepared for who we were playing against. As point guard he would shout plays for me to call. When we go in a bind he would call a time out and make a play for us to get around the defender. He has made up a few plays while I was there that were great. It’s been so long. If you would have asked me years ago I could explain them in depth.”
Veronica Ramirez: “I remember (in 2000) we were playing Saguaro and he called time out because we were not playing hard enough. He looked at everyone and said, ‘Why is Vero the shortest one in there and getting the most rebounds?'”
Angelica Munoz, girls basketball (97-01): “The Saguaro game was a big game for us. We broke their 55 game win streak.”
Cristina “Styxx” Ramirez, girls basketball (02-06): “I didn’t want to play senior ball. I got hired at a fast food joint. He said he needed me. The girls needed me. Thank God I listened to him.”
Ramirez also recalled a volleyball memory, “He was the one who told me there was a college scout (in attendance). Not the head volleyball coach, he (Coach Argraves) was the one who pulled me aside.”
If you could say one final thing to Coach Argraves what would it be?
For this question most of the women we spoke with all immediately responded with a collective, “Thank you! I love you coach!” And many acknowledged that had Argraves not given them a chance to be a part of something big, that early in their lives, life could have taken some pretty drastic turns.
One response to this last question that stood out was from Argraves’ former point guard Macias:
“We had an in depth conversation when I got my bachelors degree three years ago. He called me to say he was proud and to congratulate me. He asked when he was going to meet my son. I apologized for not being able to keep in touch as much. He understood. He knew that all of us girls loved him even when life got crazy. If I didn’t personally talk to him, I would tell one of the girls to tell him I said hi and I miss him.”
Macias finished her statement by saying, “If I had 15 more minutes with Coach,
I would again thank him for being more than a coach. I would let him know how much I appreciated being part of his family. Thank him for believing in me and encouraging me.”
The loss of these tremendous figures in a young person’s life is devastating. Over the course of 32 years, Mike Argraves coached and mentored generations of Tucsonans. In 2014, he started coaching at Santa Rita and has an entire family of Eagles that we weren’t able to get in touch with. He coached almost any sport from basketball, to track, volleyball and softball. As an adaptive physical education teacher, he impacted even more lives.
When friends, players, coaches and colleagues learned of the passing of Mike Argraves on Christmas Eve, it sent shock waves nationwide. Cholla alumni from as far as Ohio and Florida came to pay respects and celebrate the life of their beloved coach at a ceremony held at Cholla this morning. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to a college fund for Mike’s granddaughter, Blakely Faith, at Chase Bank account number 3306190090.
AllSportsTucson.com is proud to name our annual Girls Basketball Coach of the Year Award in Mike Argraves honor.
In March, we, along with our partners at Frog & Firkin, will award the inaugural Michael Argraves Girls High School Basketball Coach of the Year Award.
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Born a Wildcat fan, lifetime fanhood was solidified when he was able to meet Tedy Bruschi, Sean Harris, Brandon Sanders, Chuck Levy and Ontiwaun Carter as a sixth grader. Having served 10 years in the armed forces and having been deployed all over the world, he’s still managed to make it to every Arizona home football game, bowl game and at least one away game for the last 12 years. Now combining his love of writing with his love of all things sports, Jose is proud and honored to join AllSportsTucson.com as a writer.