TWENTYNINE PALMS — After 25 seasons and 155 wins, Ernie Martinez is retiring as a teacher and head football coach of the Twentynine Palms High School varsity football team.
“My first year in the district as an English teacher, I was part of his coaching staff,” Principal Michael Ruggiero said. “It was a wonderful working experience for me.”
He said he learned how to mentor student athletes.
“Ernie has done so much more than coach over the years,” he said.
One of his favorite memories was the night the Wildcats beat Big Bear for the first time in 16 years.
“Those are memories I will have with me for the rest of my life,” Ruggiero said.
“Ernie is a wonderful husband and father, a great educator. We are sad that he won’t be here every day as he has been for over 30 years.”
Under Martinez’s leadership, the Wildcats earned nine league championships and made 19 CIF playoff appearances, nine CIF quarterfinal games, three CIF semifinals games and one CIF championship final game.
His teams have earned nine league championships and 19 Battle of the Bell wins over Yucca Valley, including 15 consecutive wins from 2005 to 2018.
“Before Martinez arrived to Twentynine Palms High School, the school had suffered a 14-year playoff drought, through the 1980s and into the early 1990s,” Athletic Director Jeremy Johnson said.
“In 1995, Martinez opened the season at home against San Jacinto High School. The Wildcats had just come off of a disappointing 2-7 season but looked to benefit from fielding a team with 20 seniors.
“A few weeks later, the Wildcats earned their first victory under Martinez, beating the Mustangs of West Valley 14-3. The same season saw the Wildcats end five years of frustration by winning the Battle of the Bell, beating Yucca Valley 19-16 in a dramatic comeback win in a game that saw the Wildcats trailing by 13 points with two minutes to go.”
Martinez said the decision to retire was difficult. “Thirty-four years goes by pretty quick.
“I had planned to spend time with my family. I had planned that this would be the time I would retire, a couple of years ago,” he said.
He is looking forward to spending more time with his family, including a new grandson.
“I’ll be able to travel and visit my two sons and their families, relax a little bit,” he said.
“Coaching football here has been a great experience. I am so thankful for the community and staff and faculty and students. It has been a great experience.”
He had one piece of advice for whoever takes his place as Wildcats head coach.
“Being a positive mentor is an important thing,” he said.
“Ernie is the most positive guy I know. No matter what the situation or life throws at him, his cup is half full,” Johnson said.
“I have seen him buy countless kids dinners, shoes, gloves, whatever they could not afford. He has affected thousands of athletes throughout his career. Since his first win, the Wildcats under Martinez have amassed an amazing record of accomplishments.”
34 years at TPHS coaching football, baseball and golf
25 years head football coach at Twentynine Palms
155 wins, 122 losses, 3 ties (280 games)
19 CIF playoff appearances
9 quarterfinals, 3 semifinals, 1 championship final
9 league championships
19 Battle of the Bell wins against Yucca Valley — 15 consecutive (2005-2018)