Mike Argraves was a great man.

I write those words having never met him. But I was there in the gym. I witnessed the size of the crowd. I saw the tears. I heard the stories.

Like the time Argraves had a middle school guidance counselor summon a young lady into the office. He told her he had an opening ready on his high school basketball team should she choose to continue her education and enroll. He told her about his team. About how they were a family. Family, he stressed. It was all she needed to hear.

When she did enroll, her faith in her new head coach was rewarded. He was a man true to his word. A man who didn’t just care about her as a basketball player but also as a person. A man who pressed her not just about running the offense but about running her life. When she struggled in math, Argraves made sure to get her a tutor. He did what he could to help her graduate. To move on. To become a productive member of society.

She proclaimed that the best decision she ever made was choosing to play for Argraves.

“He really cared about his players,” she said. “It was very special. He was very special.”

Argraves was a man of strong faith, strong convictions and strong character. He was, as the young lady and so many others pointed out, a family man. Not just to his wife and only son Justin but also to the countless number of women who found a spot on his roster.

He could coach, that much was certain. Over 200 victories over the course of a 32 year career – many of which came from Cholla High School located in an area that was, as one local scribe Jose Roman Jr. wrote,  “largely known for their crime rate.” He continued that the student body, “were considered a product of their environment. Never really expected to achieve anything of real significance.”

Argraves changed that perception. He taught his athletes the value of self-worth. Among the few lines he’d use to inspire his team before heading onto the court: “Ladies, let’s show them who we are.”

“We had so many people who didn’t believe in us,” said another former player who graduated in 2000. “He showed us that he believed in us.”

They, in turn, believed in him and rode that belief to a region championship during a season that included the road upset of a local powerhouse that had been sitting on a 55-game win streak.

Still, according to those who knew him best, it was never about the wins.

“It was about all the girls that he coached,” Justin told me. “Helping them move forward in life and then being tremendous young adults. That’s what he took most pride in. He just wanted to see everyone succeed.”

Argraves passed away due to complications from a surgery two days before Christmas, twenty days after the birth of his only grandchild – a beautiful baby girl. He was 60 years old.

One week later that crowd gathered inside Cholla High School’s gym for nearly two hours paying tribute. In between the hugs and the sobs, there was plenty of laughter. Plenty of smiles. It was equal parts mourning and celebration. Fitting for a man who seemed to celebrate life by celebrating others.

“I believe God was calling Mike to serve an even greater purpose,” said one speaker. “Even greater than his body of work here on earth.”

When you entered the gym, there were three clean white Under Armour basketballs lined up on a table. A sign instructed any former player to sign one the balls. By the ceremony’s end, the basketballs were covered in ink.

Stephanie Molina wrote, “Thank you Mike for touching all of our lives in the most incredible ways. We love you.”

My New Years resolution is to work on instilling that value of self-belief in my kids. Work on ensuring they know I believe in them. That the world is theirs for the taking.

In other words, be like Mike.

Copyright 2016 Damien Alameda. All Rights Reserved.

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