In 1998, Rio Mimbres Golf Pro James Williams was offered the head coaching job for golf at Deming High School. His initial thought was to take the program for one year and walk away.
Twenty-six years later, Williams will finally step aside as head coach of his high school alma mater.
Back on June 1, 1979, Williams replaced Pat McIntyre as pro at Rio Mimbres. Forty-four years have passed and now he will step aside for a new pro at Rio Mimbres. His dual retirement is expected to leave a huge void where golfers played under the Kingdom of the Sun and high school state champions were made.
His office in the current pro shop was a one-room structure that also served as showroom and sales counter when he first took the job.
“Midway through my senior year at Eastern, I got to thinking I’m going to graduate here in a while and I don’t have a job,” Williams said with a grin. “Shortly after, this job opened — and with golf and my degree in business — this might work.”
Williams earned his degree at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, where he played golf for the Greyhounds.
Coach James Williams, right, is seen on June 1, 2023. (Headlight staff photo by Billy Armendariz)
Williams came to Rio Mimbres during a time of transition. The course and country club thrived in Deming despite the fact that golf was played here on a nine-hole course. “Hosting the Rio Mimbres Invitational was controlled chaos on a nine-hole course over four days,” Williams said.
The invitational is renowned across the state, drawing 144 amateur golfers annually to the city. This year will be the 69th year for the tournament. It is a 72-hole, four-day event that features match and stroke play.
In 1990, the city and the country club came to an agreement for the construction of transforming the golf course into an 18-hole course. “The work began in 1993 and the city paid for the construction. They actually added 10 holes,” Williams noted.
Williams said during that period in time, golfing communities were growing across the nation. The city of Deming recognized that 18 holes would draw tourists, business and health care professionals. It changed the complexion of golfing in Deming and neighboring communities.
“I saw an increase in the volume of play here and membership grew until about 2008 when the housing crunch hit,” Williams said. “It is of more value to the community to have an 18-hole course.”
The course continued to add amenities and Williams also saw his one-room pro shop add a cart shed, restrooms, expanded showroom, porch and storage space.
His career as high school golf coach began in 1998 when Rodger Clark stepped aside from the Wildcat program.
“We struggled my first two years,” Williams coyly said, pointing to his start as a Wildcat varsity coach. “Coaching was never on the radar for me — not even a little bit,” Williams explained. “I had been at Rio Mimbres for 20 years and it never entered my mind.”
Williams remembers a terrible first year as head coach. As a matter of fact, he didn’t have enough girls to field a full varsity team (five are required). “At one point I thought they are going to get rid of me,” he said.
A parent of a Lady ‘Cat player wrote a letter to the school board and requested that Williams be allowed to continue coaching, based on the structure and discipline he had brought to the program.
The power of the pen may have led to the next 25 years, and with that came 10 team state championships, countless district titles and 15 players who were offered scholarships to play at the collegiate level.
“I have played for the golf program for the past five years and I can proudly say that I have improved tremendously and this is all because of coach Williams,” said 2023 Early College High School graduate Rheganne Cabrera. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without him teaching me about the golf game and mental game along with it.
“He is truly one of the best men I know and I wish him well on his new adventures outside of the pro shop.”
The struggle continued for five seasons before the program began to find a pin at the end of the fairway. Williams pointed to structure and teaching that the athletes were able to grasp and apply.
Success began to grow the program and more athletes were drawn to play Wildcat and Lady ‘Cat golf.
The program began to see a greater measure of success with the 2002 boys’ team. “They were good,” Williams stated. “We hosted district that year and Academy was in our district. We beat them. The boys finished second at state.”
James Williams is seen at the Rio Mimbres golf course on June 1, 2023. (Headlight staff photo by Billy Armendariz)
The following year, the Lady ‘Cats claimed their first district team championship under coach Williams. For the next 20 years, the Lady ‘Cats have never missed a trip to state and the Wildcat boys were absent only three times.
“That’s where I think we got it rolling,” Williams said.
Special to Williams is the 2012 golf season. That was the year both boys’ and girls’ teams pulled off the rare dual state championships. Loaded with college material, the two teams dominated Class 4A all season long.
“That was the bicentennial year for New Mexico. They gave us special turquoise trophies,” Williams said. “This happened in Socorro and it was truly a rare feat to have both state championship teams come from the same school,” Williams noted.
The Lady ‘Cats actually caught fire in 2009. They were in the midst of winning seven straight state titles (2009-2015) when they were part of the rare dual titles of 2012.
The coaching had to cross over three different teams during that stretch.
Yvonne Perales is the mother of three Wildcats golfers who played for Coach Williams.
“Having my three sons go through the golf program under coach Williams was so rewarding, because he has always been a man of integrity and faith. My sons really looked up to him as a mentor and his passion for the game is unwavering,” Perales commented.
“He has always been so positive and was willing to help others at any skill level. My sons learned many valuable life lessons from his teachings, and throughout the years they still reflect upon them. It has been such an honor for our family to have such a great connection to a legendary coach and friend.”
Richard Perales, her husband, worked with Williams for 23 years as his assistant.
“As a family, we hold Coach Williams in very high regard and thank him for all the support and love he has shown our family,” Yvonne Perales continued. “He has touched many lives and has been a true leader of the golf program.”
Williams is leaving the head coaching post on top, with the Wildcat boys claiming the 2023 state title with back-to-back titles under his tutelage.
“To be really good at golf, it has to be a year-round thing,” Williams said of his student athletes. “The game is that hard. It’s not just playing during the season. It’s playing tournaments in the summer and practicing on your own during the fall. There are other things to do, but golf has to be a priority.”
There is a standard for DHS Golf that stands alone without having to remind the players and coaches of the program’s past accomplishments.
“What’s been so gratifying is that Deming hasn’t gotten a whole lot of respect, particularly from the northern part of the state.,” Williams said. “For us to go there and kick some butt really makes you feel good.”
Tyler Jackson, a 2023 DHS graduate, helped guide the Wildcats to this year’s state championship. Jackson has signed to play golf at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell.
“Playing for Coach Williams was truly an honor. I consider myself very lucky to be one of the kids who were coached by him. He was not only an amazing swing coach, but also gave great mental game advice,” Jackson said.
“I’ve never heard him say one negative thing. No matter how good or bad I played, he always gave helpful advice. He was proud of me no matter what. High school golf is all about having fun. Some coaches and golfers didn’t understand that, but he did. When I had a bad round of golf or just a bad day in general, I would talk to him and he would really try to listen and understand. I respect that a lot.
“I aspire to be the kind, hardworking and trustworthy man that he is. Overall, to be able to play for him was a blast. He is part of the reason I have grown to be the man I am today.”
In closing, Williams said serving as golf pro and coach has been “an incredible honor and privilege.”
“I hear people say I’ve impacted a lot of lives,” he said, “but I am so blessed by how many people have impacted my life.”
Billy Armendariz is the Headlight sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.