It is a Thursday afternoon, and Kief Johnson has appointments to keep.
Bus drivers have schedules to follow, you know.
Johnson is Ruidoso High School’s athletic director. He also is the Warriors’ varsity football coach. These two jobs fill countless hours in a given week.
But, since the summer of 2021, he also has been a regular bus driver for his school district.
On this particular Thursday, he has a short window to speak before driving the middle school football team to nearby Tularosa for a game.
Occasionally, he also drives routes to collect or drop off students.
And, most incredibly, sometimes he is behind the wheel when the Warriors are traveling for a varsity game.
This season, he’s driven the team to Portales, and to Chaparral.
On Friday he drove Ruidoso to its road game at Cobre. (Another coach drove the bus back.)
When they say educators wear many hats, they are talking about people like Johnson.
“Me and another coach, we saw the writing on the wall,” he said. “We saw we were getting shorter and shorter handed with drivers.”
When Johnson coached in Texas, it was pretty much a requirement, he said, for coaches to do their own bus driving from time to time. It is not, however, a normal protocol in New Mexico. So Johnson got his commercial’s license here and shuttles his team around the state when needed.
“It seems like (this situation) has gotten worse and worse,” Johnson said. “It’s not just our school.”
He got his commercial license in June of last year. Between the driver shortage in Ruidoso and COVID, Johnson’s services were of use beyond being a coach and AD.
“Unfortunately,” he observed, “a lot of our drivers are kind of older, so we’re running short. And we’re not getting any new people to do it.”
Obtaining a commercial license is a laborious process. The driver must first be given a physical through the Department of Transportation, Johnson said. Then they take a series of four tests through the DMV, just to obtain a learner’s permit.
Then comes 30 hours of training.
And now, Johnson experiences first hand the exapseration that school bus drivers regularly encounter with their sometimes rambunctous passengers.
“I had more anxiety driving little elementary kids than I do before a state championship football game,” he said good naturedly.
One time, Johnson said, he had a 12-hour day as a driver, ferrying the boys soccer team to and from Artesia.
“I got back and I was, like, ‘I got paid this much per mile, without any down time.’ … No wonder we have no drivers.”
This driving side gig naturally comes with some ribbing from his players, too.
“They give us a hard time about driving,” Johnson said. “But I’m also the AD, and when there is a need, you have to step up and do things for your district. Things have to get done. And I enjoy helping out. The last thing I want to to is cancel a game because we don’t have a bus driver.”
Yes, but is he any good at this bus driving thing?
“Yes sir,” he said with a chuckle. “I think I’m good.”
FULLERTON: Cal Fullerton left Clovis during the offseason, but he’ll be back coaching against a familiar opponent next week.
Fullerton, who guided the Wildcats for five seasons, and took them to the 2019 Class 6A semifinals — where they were beaten by Cleveland — is the running backs coach and special teams coordinator at Frenship High in West Texas. Frenship hosts Cleveland on Friday night.
SEE THE LIGHT: For the second consecutive season, Albuquerque Academy hosted a night game. Last year, Bernalillo. In Week 4 of this season, Bloomfield.
Academy AD Taryn Bachis said the school may one day add permanent lights to its football/soccer venue, but the time line is uncertain as Academy must first find the money to install them.
STACKING QBS: You can add Cibola’s Aden Chavez to the list of New Mexicans who have been invited to participate in the Blue-Gray All-American Game later this year. The game is Dec. 12 in Arlington, Texas. Two other metro-area QBs also have invites: Cleveland’s Evan Wysong and La Cueva’s Aidan Armenta.