Camp Lejeune -- The offensive and defensive lines clashed just shy of the 10-yard line and quickly melted into a confetti-like sea of red and green jerseys as the two teams battled for the first touchdown.
Each hit came with the hollow crack of pads and helmets familiar to the NFL, but the children knocking helmets weren’t of draft age just yet. It fell to Gunnery Sgt. Jesus M. Melendrez, the operations chief for Combat Logistics Regiment 25, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, to guide his team of young athletes, the Eagles, to a win at Camp Lejeune’s W.P.T. Hill Field, Oct. 20.
They clinched the game in the second half, but the taste of victory is not what drove the Vado, N.M., native to sacrifice his weekend.
“For a lot of these kids, their dads are constantly being deployed,” said Melendrez. “It is every father’s dream to help his kids develop. I just take honor from being able to mentor these kids and help them as much as my own. That is what drives me to be a coach.”
He got his first taste of coaching at Camp Lejeune when he stepped in for one of his son’s coaches.
The experience took place four years ago, but it ruined any illusion Melendez was a sideline participant. He later vowed to coach every team his three sons played for – regardless of the sport.
“It has worked out pretty well, and I have learned a lot,” he said. “It provides a greater understanding of the games, and it adds to the passion for them as well.”
He currently coaches baseball, football and basketball. Every time one of his children picks up a new sport, he picks up the manual on how to coach it.
“I remember one time we started the [baseball] season with warms ups and throwing the ball,” said Melendrez with a chuckle. “I looked around and my facial expression went from happy to worried. I turned to my wife and my other coaches and said, ‘What did I get myself into?’”
He later led the baseball team through an undefeated season and saw the children grow along the way.
“I had one kid who had all the physical abilities of a superstar, but he was uncoordinated and couldn’t throw a baseball to save his life,” recalled Melendrez, who spent several weeks working with the boy and his father. “It was amazing how much he progressed in a year. A lot of the times it just takes talking to the kids and keeping them focused.”
It is a grueling pace for the coach with many hats. His responsibilities fill his schedule with the workload of a Marine during the day and a fresh set of practice drills every evening.
He turns to his family for support.
“I couldn’t do a lot of what I do without my wife,” he said. “She really helps me out through everything she does for the teams. Being the ‘Team Mom’ is every bit as hard as being the coach.”
His wife, Jackeline, helps organize events for the children and keeps Melendrez informed about the parents’ concerns and goals.
“Every kid wants to win,” said Melendrez. “To score a touchdown is the most amazing feeling in the world for an 8 to 10 year old. The moment when everybody is cheering for that kid lets him know he is part of the team and he is special.”
His personal goal is not to win, said Melendrez. Being with his family, mentoring children and seeing them get their own moments in the spotlight drives him to take the field every day.