State SB Tuesday Pleasant Valley 03

Pleasant Valley head coach Jose Lara points to senior Rachel Tebbe after she hit a triple in Tuesday's Class 5A state quarterfinal. Lara will become a full-time teacher later this year. 

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette

While coaching his kids as they grew up, Pleasant Valley softball coach Jose Lara discovered he had a knack for something he did not realize — teaching.

So come December when the 40-year-old Lara graduates from St. Ambrose University, he will be doing so as a certified physical education teacher. He'll be student teaching this fall. 

“It took me a while, but I kind of found out what I loved doing,” said Lara, whose Spartans faced sixth-ranked Urbandale in a Class 5A state semifinal at 1 p.m. Thursday in Fort Dodge. 

Lara, in his first season as head coach, is a teacher first, really. 

"I find when I am coaching, I get lost in the moment. I never even keep track of time,” he said. “I don’t know, it became a passion, so I decided to pursue teaching. It was a great opportunity for me when we moved here. You know what, go back to school.”

A Navy veteran who managed a restaurant, worked for Pepsi-Cola for 12 years and later as a buyer in agriculture, Lara and his family came to the Quad-Cities five years ago from Ankeny when his wife, Michele Bennett-Lara, got a job with John Deere.

Last year, he served as a varsity assistant to Lori Duncan at PV and was a volunteer assistant prior to that. A former baseball/fast-pitch softball player in Mexico, San Diego and Iowa, he wasn’t lacking for knowledge or experience in the game.

Lara was there for last year’s heartbreaking loss in the 5A state championship game at Fort Dodge to third-ranked Johnston. The Spartans were just one strike and one out away from their first state title.

But he does not sound negatively affected by it. 

“The atmosphere is pretty awesome,” he said. "I am looking forward to going back.”

Lara does admit to some unfinished business, though, after last year’s 3-2 loss in the state championship game.

“We have to go in there and change history,” he said. “Any loss is heart-breaking. In terms of being so close to it and being ahead and coming tied and losing it ... just the way it happened.  (Johnston) tied (on a bases-loaded walk) and came back and won it on a little blooper.”

But life is full of unique twists, like an ag-buyer becoming a teacher at age 40. He’s already got at least one endorsement that counts, from a standout player, catcher Hannah Mausser.

“He’s a great teacher,” she said. “Everything he says is very constructive. He puts it very nicely but you learn a lot from him.”

After this week's test, he knows bigger tests lie ahead in the classroom. He sounds like a guy ready for the challenge.

“Teaching is teaching,” he said regarding where and what grade level he will end up with his K-through-12 physical education endorsement. “You can’t be picky about it. You’re still helping, whether they are a teenager or junior high or young ones.”