Cordova left legacy of mentorship

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By Henry Sanchez

It’s amazing — the older we get, the more we appreciate the Good Old Days and the people that made them that way for us. As the years have passed like the wind, I have come to appreciate more my education at St. Joseph’s College and my mentor and coach, Dr. Rudy Cordova.

St. Joseph’s College was a full-time teachers training and liberal arts college under the direction of the Sisters of St. Francis. Originally, it was a girls’ college, and in 1946 it became a co-educational college.
In 1951, a new campus was built on 60 acres of land on the west bank of the Rio Grande overlooking the city of Albuquerque. Today, St. Pius High calls this campus its home.

Coach Cordova was a native New Mexican who graduated from La Joya High in 1940. He then enrolled at the University of New Mexico where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree. He was an athlete and lettered in varsity track and basketball.

In 1942, he entered the armed forces and spent  his four years service time in the South Pacific with the 25th Infantry Division. In the South Pacific, he was a member of the South Pacific All-Star Basketball Team.

In 1946, he was discharged from the service with the rank of technical sergeant. He then accepted the job of athletic director and head basketball coach at Joseph’s where he would spend 22 years building a strong intercollegiate athletic program and creating a health, physical education and recreation department. From this program, many of the top educators, coaches and recreational leaders would emerge.

He took a leave of absence to go to UCLA to earn his Ph.D. While at UCLA,  he became a friend of legendary coach John Wooden and even helped in his program.

He returned to St. Joseph’s, which had changed its name to the University of Albuquerque. In the fall of 1968, a great shortage in funds forced the cancellation of sports programs.

In 1971 he joined the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. as a deputy director. In 1982, he returned and joined the University of New Mexico as a faculty member in the department of education.

In 1989, he retired and continued with his life of helping others and giving in all aspects of his life. In 1994, he died suddenly, leaving a great void in the lives of his students, athletes and in general everyone that knew him.

In 2000, he was inducted into the Albuquerque Sports Hall of Fame.

Remembering those great and happy days I often wonder what was it that made Rudy Cordova such a great teacher and coach? His teams were not great winners from the standpoint of wins and losses. Yet the players and students under him would go on to very successful lives and careers.

I think we didn’t realize what a great teacher he was, not only in the classroom but also in the way to live life. Fifty years later many of us consider him the best teacher we ever had, which is the highest compliment a teacher can ever earn.

He recruited from within the state of New Mexico, especially from within the Albuquerque area. The legendary coach Jim Hulsman once wrote an article about Coach Cordova’s team and how the athletes graduated and went on to do great things within our state. He called his program a model of what college programs should be like.
Coach Cordova has been gone since 1994, but what he left on this earth cannot be measured and expressed by mere words.

Coach Rudy Cordova, you may be gone but never forgotten by your athletes and students.
Henry Sanchez is former National High School Basketball Coach of the Year and has more than 700 wins. He coached at Our Lady of Sorrows High, Bernalillo High, Highlands University and Robertson High. He also served three terms as the mayor of Las Vegas. He currently teaches sports performance at Luna Community College.