Sunday, October 17, 2021
Oct. 17, 2021

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Athletic directors change at Heritage, Prairie high schools

One vacancy created carousel effect

By , Columbian sports reporter

When Heritage athletic director Erik Gonzalez announced his departure from the Timberwolves’ program, it triggered a carousel of sorts in Clark County high school sports.

Jason Castro, who has helmed Prairie athletics for the past five years, accepted the Heritage AD position and will start on July 1. Battle Ground boys basketball coach Manny Melo took his first administrative role and becomes Prairie’s athletic director.

Gonzalez heads east

Gonzalez spent the past year 800 miles away from his family. His son, Israel, his daughter, Elena, and his wife, Angela, moved to Utah for the 2020-21 school year and they fell in love with it.

Gonzalez was compelled to join them, even though it meant departing as wrestling coach and athletic director at Heritage. He was the AD for the past two years and wrestling coach the past six.

He will coach wrestling and freshman football as well as teach history and geography at 5A Cedar Valley High School in Eagle Mountain, Utah.

“It’s like starting all over,” Gonzalez said during a phone interview from his new house in the Beehive State. “It’s exciting, weird, scary, all of the above.”

Israel Gonzalez, a two-time Mat Classic participant, finished fourth in the 6A 120-pound bracket in Utah while helping his school, Pleasant Grove, to a state championship.

“As tough as it was (being away), it was also educational,” Gonzalez said. “I became a better coach … and he grew immensely.”

But Gonzalez’s primary reason for leaving was his daughter, Elena, who found a dance studio she enjoyed and is entering her freshman year of high school.

“If it was just (Israel), I would have gutted it out (at Heritage) another year,” Gonzalez said. “But (Elena) loves it here and is thriving.”

Castro turns focus to athletics

While Castro hated to leave Prairie, the Heritage position offered him more flexibility to be with his family. At Prairie, he was an assistant principal and athletic director. With Heritage, he will exclusively be an athletic director.

“This was a more sustainable job with two young kids and a family,” Castro said. “I’m looking forward to being able to concentrate on what I love.”

In Heritage athletics, Castro saw a hidden gem positioned to take off, he said.

“There’s a lot of building blocks in place,” Castro said. “I’m excited to get involved and build upon it.”

Despite the new confines — and change from red and gold to purple and silver — Castro is already familiar with the league, fellow admins and coaches.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Gonzalez said of Castro’s hire. “It’s the best possible hire we could have got. He’s already hitting the ground running.”

Melo departs Battle Ground

Melo grew up in Battle Ground, played sports in Battle Ground and eventually coached and taught physical education for four years in Battle Ground. He’ll always have Tiger roots.

But after receiving his final administrative credentials through Concordia University, the 32-year-old was eager to use his schooling. When a spot opened up at Prairie, Melo seized the opportunity.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Melo, who got a masters degree in athletic administration from Central Washington University. “It’s a weird feeling being a Prairie Falcon, but I couldn’t be more excited.”

Melo led the Tigers boys basketball team to a pair of state appearances — including the team’s first Tacoma Dome appearance in two decades.

“As a coach that was really cool and special. I never got that opportunity as a player,” Melo said.

At Prairie, Melo hopes to continue a rich sports tradition while putting his own spin on things.

“Manny is going to do a great job,” Castro said of Melo. “He’ll definitely need to bring a good pair of running shoes and be ready to go from day one.”