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Wagon Mound’s Romero: Old-school hoops icon

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Editor’s note: This is the fifth of a series of articles written on old-school athletics by Luna Community College sports performance instructor Henry Sanchez.

By Henry Sanchez
Special to the Optic

It is important to know and remember our past because it reflects where we have been, where we are today and where we are going.

Alfred Romero was born and raised in the beautiful village of Wagon Mound, which got its name because it was an important landmark in the history of the Santa Fe Trail, where the line between the new territory and the states was marked. The name came from a giant hill that towers over the village and looks like a covered wagon. You must remember that the covered wagons traveled a distance of 15 miles per day, so when the sight of the wagon mound appeared they knew how many days it would take to get to Las Vegas and other destinations.

In the early 20th century, Wagon Mound had a population of over 1,000 people. Today 100 families and 314 people make up the village. (The student population for the Wagon Mound Schools, kindergarten to 12th grade, is 70 students today.)

Alfred Romero attended Wagon Mound High (the mascot is Trojans) and played all the sports offered. After he graduated from high school in 1941, he went up the road 40 miles to Las Vegas and attended New Mexico Highlands University. But as was the case in those hectic years of war, he signed up with the United States Army and spent four years (1942-46) in service of his country.

In the school year of 1946, he returned from the service and again signed up at New Mexico Highlands University and completed work for his bachelor’s degree.

In 1950, he started his outstanding teaching and coaching career at Wagon Mound High, coaching basketball and baseball, and still found time to earn his master’s degree at Highlands.

From 1950 to 1985, he was the coach and athletic director who put Wagon Mound on the sports map (a career that lasted an outstanding 35 years).

His career in basketball at Wagon Mound speaks for itself with a total of 566 wins and 271 losses. His teams won two state championships, six regional championships and 10 district titles.

In 1954, Wagon Mound defeated Maxwell 46-44 for the state championship.

Gil Montoya made the game’s winning basket with three seconds left to play. This was Wagon Mound’s first state title, and the irony is that they had defeated Maxwell in the regional tourney by the same 46-44 score. This was New Mexico’s first small-school basketball state championship (Class B), which was played in Tucumcari. Wagon Mound had one starter, Joe Chavez, at 6-2, and the rest of the starters were 5-9 and under. They relied on uptempo (fast break) style, which brought much joy to the northern population of the state. Coach Romero would run and train with his teams and employed the old style of love and discipline that had great results.

Gilbert Montoya, who sank that basket 58 years ago to win the first state championship for Wagon Mound in 1954, said: “I believe with coach Alfred Romero we had certain advantages because the cooperation of the community, school board, teaching staffs, administration and parents was great.”

I wonder if that statement can be  said today anywhere in the state? To emphasize how important this was to the players and coach, Wagon Mound was honored in 2004 at the state tourney, and nine of 10 players and the coach showed up to be honored.

In 1976, Wagon Mound won its second state basketball title by defeating Navajo Mission High 67-57. In the state final, Danny Gray, Paul Romero and Alfred Romero were too much for the Navajo Mission team. Wagon Mound finished with 26 wins and one loss. The loss was to Springer High. Wagon Mound beat Springer three of four games that year.

In 1975, Wagon Mound finished second at the state tourney, losing to Jal High 70-49 in the state championship game. That year, the Trojans’ record was 27-3. In 1955, they finished third at the state tourney by defeating Lordsburg 77-49 in the quarterfinals, then losing to Santa Rosa 72-53 in the semifinals. In the game for third place, they defeated Roy 59-52.

In baseball, Wagon Mound under coach Romero was very successful, winning several district, regional championships and making it to the state playoffs twice.

Coach Alfred Romero has been married for 55 years to the love of his life Pauline, and they have four grown children, Susan, Anita, Mary and Alfred.

Tom Herrera (senior recruiter at Luna Community College) played for Coach Romero from 1973 to ‘76. When asked about the coach he said: “What impressed me the most was how prepared he was and had us prepared for all games.

He started us in the fourth and fifth grades. He was the only coach and handled all the teams with complete dedication and devotion.”

His complete dedication to his family, community, school and students are a great example for the rest of us to model after. Thank you, coach Alfred Romero, for living the life you have and giving to so many others.

A lifetime of accomplishments and successes:
· Married to his wife Pauline for 55 years
· Coached in one school for 35 years
· National Region 8 Coach of the Year in 1977 and 1983 (This award included New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California and Hawaii)
· New Mexico High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year in Class A for 1956 and 1974.
· Coached New Mexico North/South All-Star Basketball Game in 1955 and 1976
· Member of the New Mexico High School Coaches Association Board of Directors
· Chairman of District 1A Basketball
· Member of North-South Selection Committees
· Mayor, Village of Wagon Mound
· Inducted into the New Mexico High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor in 1991

Coach Alfred Romero remains an icon not only in Wagon Mound but also throughout New Mexico.