Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat

Tending to four Northern California ranches, Columbia resident Joe Pimentel is widely known as "Cowboy Joe." But many kids in the Mother Lode also know him as "Coach Joe."

If the Tuolumne County native isn't working on one of his family's ranches, he's swapped his cowboy hat for a baseball cap and headed out to a field or gymnasium.

Pimentel, 45, coaches Columbia Elementary eighth-grade basketball, Mighty Mites football, Woods Creek Little League major and minor teams and recreational basketball leagues at Sonora Sports and Fitness Center.

Pimentel comes from a long line of athletes - his dad played minor league baseball for the Oakland A's - and draws from a lifetime of experience.

"I played every sport there was," he said.

At Sonora High School, from freshman year to senior year, he played sports year-round - football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring.

At Sonora High's 1985 homecoming game, he became the first player in seven years to score as many as three touchdowns in a single game.

He went on to play two years of football at Butte College and three years of rugby at California State University, Chico.

"Sports are what gave me an education," Pimentel said. "If someone's going to give you a chance to play a game which you love to play, you've got to take advantage of your ability ... and give back to them everything you've got."

He graduated from CSU, Chico with a bachelor's degree in physical education. He then returned to Tuolumne County to take over the family ranching business, he said as he leaned against the bed of his pickup truck, clad in a plaid button-up and blue jeans.

Pimentel grew up on his 12-acre Columbia ranch, which his family has owned since the early 1930s.

Pimentel, his wife, Danese, and his sons, Colton and Chance, eventually outgrew the ranch house and moved to a condo nearby.

His 87-year-old grandmother, born and raised in Columbia, still lives on the ranch.

Pimentel's ancestors ran saloons and worked at a dry goods store in Columbia during the Gold Rush, he said.

Nestled in a sea of oak and pine trees on a peaceful back road, the ranch is home to cattle, bulls, two 4-H pigs named Ricky Bobby and Chip, and 11 horses. His favorite horses are two American quarter horses named Woody and Pepper.

He also mans ranches in Jamestown, Mariposa and Sierraville.

"It's a blast," he said. "It's a great way to raise a family."

In May, he'll ship his cattle to Sierraville where they'll remain until winter. For about a month this summer, he and his family plan to stay in their Sierraville cabin and spend their free time hunting and fishing.

Pimentel's ranching business has perks for his players, too.

"If you get a chance to be on one of my teams, you get a lot of home-raised beef," he said.

Pimentel coaches kids and teens, building their character as well as their skills.

For the younger kids, it's all about establishing the fundamentals, he said.

"I like to set them up for success through a good foundation ... and make sure they're having a good time," he said.

Pimentel measures his players' success by their work ethic rather than how many games they win.

"I have a saying that before you become a winner, you have to know what it is to lose," he said.

Pimentel teaches his older players responsibility, respect and teamwork.

"Sports are a great way to learn about life because you're gonna have your ups and downs and you're gonna have to battle through adversity, and not all the time you're gonna come out on top," he said.

In between coaching and ranching, Pimentel manages to chauffeur his kids between school, extracurriculars and dentist appointments. In those moments, he's just known as "dad."