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MSU Profiles

Watkins gives back, learns from community

When Nicole Thom-Arens approached Ray Watkins about coaching her son, Liam, in YMCA basketball, Watkins wasn’t sure he wanted to work with third graders.

But his answer, recalls Thom-Arens, was an immediate yes.

“I knew Ray from my Comp 2 class in the fall of 2015 and you could tell right away that he was a student that knew what he wanted when he was done here at Minot State,” Thom-Arens said. “He was here with a purpose.”

Watkins coached the basketball team and then signed up to work with the youth baseball program. While it isn’t his long-term goal to work with players of that age – he admits that he would like to eventually coach at a higher level – the chance to give back and learn was too great to pass up.

“I did this because I want to be an educator – a physical educator,” he said. “I knew that there might be tough times and it would be a lot of work, third grade kids are really just getting to the age where they are forming an opinion. I did a lot of research on what to teach third graders and what they should be taught as far as fundamentals and the basics. It was challenging, but I learned so much from them.”

While he accepted the summer work as a way to further his career, Watkins, a senior from Melbourne, Fla., also felt he needed to give back to the community of Minot. He’s not sure when that trait developed, or even where he learned it from, but giving back has always been important.

“I’ve always had a drive to do a little more,” Watkins said. “In this, doing a little more is giving back to a community that has done so much for me. I was born in California and grew up in Florida and I never had a community I could call home. Minot has felt like home for me.”

Giving back to the overall community isn’t his only motivation, however. Watkins was raised by his grandparents Ed and Denise Branquinho and didn’t have the constant role model early in his life. While he credits Ed and Minot State grad and Major League Umpire Gary Cederstrom (78), who was a family friend and neighbor, as role models, there was a void that shaped him.

“I didn’t have a father and father figure until Grandpa or Gary,” he said. “I know how important that is for kids and I’m hoping to be that figure for someone.”

Thom-Arens believes he is already fulfilling that.

“There is something unique watching Ray coach, he really likes the kids and enjoys practice,” she said. “I don’t know if he knows how important of a role model he is for those kids. He has the command of the kids and delivers great structure. I had things I did with the team and Tim (Thom-Arens’ husband Tim Arens) had things he did, but Ray was the coach. Coach Ray.”

Watkins will finish up with his elementary education degree this year and will begin his student teaching in the spring. After graduating from Minot State, he plans to continue his education and coaching experience at the graduate assistant level next fall.