DOUGLAS — For the second time in two months, Douglas High School is saying goodbye to a legendary coach.
A familiar face that had been in the Douglas Bulldogs baseball dugout for the past 19 years will be missing this year. Less than 24 hours after the Douglas School Board approved the start of the spring athletic season at Douglas High School, Gilbert “Buck” Rojas announced he would not be returning to the dugout this year.
This would have been Rojas’ 20th year as skipper of the Bulldogs. He took over in December 2001, six months after the Bulldogs won the 4A state baseball championship and coach Jaime Tadeo announced he was stepping down. Rojas was an assistant coach on that state championship team.
During a special meeting on Tuesday the Douglas School Board accepted Rojas’ resignation and thanked him for his years of service to the baseball program.
DUSD board president Ray Borane stated there has been some confusion about whether or not Rojas retired or resigned.
“Because these are year-to year-contracts you can’t retire from an athletic position,” he said. “The proper and official language for the record is resignation.”
In his 19 years as head coach, Rojas’ teams have made state 13 times, unfortunately never getting past the second round. He won four regional titles, was named the conference coach of the year three times and in 2008 was an assistant coach for the South in the 4A North vs. South All-Star game. He has also helped countless players achieve their dream of playing ball at the collegiate level.
Last year’s team was 7-1 when COVID-19 intervened and brought the season to a screeching halt.
Rojas graduated from DHS in 1979, days after his team lost a state championship to Canyon del Oro, the same team the Bulldogs, coached by Manny Valenzuela, had beaten the year before for the state title behind Rojas, who was on the mound. After high school Rojas played two years at Eastern Arizona College for Bo Hall. He then played one year at New Mexico State University before concluding his collegiate baseball career at Western New Mexico University.
In 1985 he became a teacher’s aid doing his student teaching at DHS and immediately began volunteer coaching football and baseball working alongside Alan Gordan, Bill Nicolaus and George Montano. In 1986 he began working as a long-term sub at Sarah Marley before joining the business department at DHS later that year where he continues to teach. He states he has no plans to retire from teaching at the moment.
“Prior to the head coaching position opening up for baseball I had been an assistant coach for approximately 15 years,” he said. “Being born and raised here I saw this as a dream job and a way to give back to the program, and to the school that gave me the opportunity to move on. Looking back I never thought I’d be in this position as long as I was. I just took it year by year.”
Rojas said being a head coach of a program he once played for and was proud to be a part of has been everything he thought it would be.
“It’s a great feeling knowing I have helped some of my athletes go on to the next level,” he said. “Obviously somebody did it for me. My job here was to get their skills developed where they did have that opportunity to play at the next level. Being down here on the border sometimes our kids do get overlooked. Seeing those kids play at the next level is very rewarding.”
The coach states having last season interrupted the way it was by COVID was heartbreaking for the team but especially the seniors.
“That was one of our better groups of players,” he said. “We were off to a good start and expecting great things from that team when everything stopped. To not see those seniors be allowed to finish their season was tough.”
While the country was dealing with the pandemic Rojas was experiencing it as well personally. He lost several family members to COVID, one of those being his father, Gilbert Sr.
Since their passing he has turned his focus more toward helping his family and when the board announced spring sports were resuming, during a pandemic that had impacted him personally, he felt it was best to leave.
“I’ve been thinking about retiring since last year,” he said. “I didn’t feel comfortable coaching with all this COVID stuff that is happening. I felt it was best to retire and focus more on helping my mom and my family.”
Rojas gets choked up when he thinks back to seeing his dad sitting in the stands at Copper King Stadium watching him not only play, but also coach.
“I can still see him sitting there smiling,” he said tears welling up in his eyes.
The coach says he has many special memories when looking back at his career and adds each year is different and there are different memories about different teams.
“I remember our region championships, playoff runs and the kids, and seeing them compete at the state level is worth all the time and effort we put in as coaches,” he said. “But the best memories are what would often happen here at practice, the laughs we had, the tears we shared with the players and coaches.”
His most cherished moment, however, was being able to coach his son, Fernando, all four years he was in high school and then have him serve as a volunteer coach on some of his staffs.
“That was a very special time for me,” he said. “I don’t know if he knows how much I enjoyed our time together on the ball field. I was hard on him at times, probably harder than I should have been but there was a fine line there between him and the rest of the team. I consider myself fortunate when I say I saw every moment of his career.
“I do regret missing some of those moments when as a parent I could cheer for what he did instead of having to think about what we were going to try and execute next. Being able to coach him was a pleasure.”
The coach said he’s had other fathers assisting him over the years whose sons were on the team.
“We kind of had that rule where ‘you coach my kid and I’ll coach your kid’ kind of thing,” he said.
Patty, Rojas’ wife of 36 years, has been there every step of the way.
“None of this happens without her,” he said, again fighting off the tears. “She was with me the whole time. Without her love and support I would not have been able to do what I did for as long as I did.”
Rojas said his one regret was not being able to bring a state championship to Douglas.
“I say that because from a players standpoint where we won it in 1978 and were runner-up in ‘79 and to be a part of the 2001 team was special,” he said. “From the time I began playing baseball we all played to win and I wish I could have brought a state championship to Douglas the way we were able to when I was a player and assistant coach.”
Now that he’s retired Rojas plans on becoming a fan and watching some of the games. He jokes he may even take up golfing.
“I’m just going to take things one day at a time and see what happens,” he said.
Rojas wanted to thank his many assistant coaches over the years who have worked alongside him both during the season as well as during the summer trying to get the players developed and ready for the upcoming season.
“David Rose and myself spent about 10 years together coaching his three sons,” Rojas said. “Coach Hall was always there for me.”
“He always worked very hard and prepared himself,” Hall said of Rojas. “He was always asking questions so I thought he wanted to coach someday. Him and I have a great relationship not only as player/coach but as friends. Buck’s a quality person who I am glad to have coached and know him.”