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Work of Art: Small teams slugged it out

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By Art Trujillo

Eighty teams competed in the just-concluded New Mexico high school basketball tournaments for boys and girls. Eighty teams.

Let’s do the math: There are five classes, AAAAA for the behemoth schools, down to class A, for those quintets whose players need to lead cheers, collect tickets and man the concession stand when they’re not on the hardwood.

An Albuquerque Journal sportswriter, James Yodice, recently wrote a piece about having a super championship. The winners of the four smaller classifications would slug it out for the honor of taking on the AAAAA champ.

Sound like a good idea? It’s not original, having been proposed many times, but it’s flawed by the a priori notion that bigger is better: “You smaller teams have to compete for a chance to meet us, the big dawgs in the neighborhood.”

I saw an AA Mora Rangers boys team a few years back that could have whupped a number of AAA and possibly even AAAA schools.

All things being equal — and nothing ever is equal in high school sports — the bigger teams ought to be better, but that’s not always the case. And sportswriters can’t just go around assuming bigger is better, as we all know what happens when we assume.

With 40 boys and 40 girls teams going to state, one wonders whether it’s become too easy for schools to qualify for New Mexico’s big dance. Some of the scores, even for boys’ teams, were in the 20s; some of the winning margins were up to 60 points. The question then becomes: Do all these teams deserve to make it to state?

Way back when, there was only one conference, and the earliest record on the New Mexico Activities Association web site shows Albuquerque defeating Alamogordo 22-20 (this is not a typo) for the state championship in 1921. Menaul, the 1924 state runner-up, scored 11 points to Hagerman’s 15. And in the 20s and 30s, teams from towns like Virden, Forrest and Floyd regularly appeared in the state finals.

Virden? That ghost town is so narrow that village dogs have to wag their tails vertically.

The association’s web site (http://www.nmact.org/) has much information for the sports buff. Some of the highlights:

• Prior to 1954, there was only one classification; in 1954, there were A and B classes; in 1964, two became three; in 1976, there were four classifications, and in 2001, the current setup kicked in.

• In 1954, the Wagon Mound Trojans, under coach Alfred E. Romero, became the first smaller-school state champion, defeating the Maxwell Bears three times, by a three-game total of five points.

• The Springer Red Devils, coached by Eloy Brazil, took state in class A, in 2002 and 2004.

• In 1981, Peñasco scored 155 points against Cimarron; the state record is 176, scored by Hobbs against Roswell in 1978.

• Mora owns five state basketball titles. The Rangers won in 1965 under Doroteo Vigil; in 1979 under Arthur Romero; in 1995 under Richard Martinez and in 1998 and 2005 under Manuel Romero. The leader, far ahead of the others, is Hobbs, with 16.

• Ralph Bowyer, who served as athletic director at Highlands University, won three prep championships while coaching in Carlsbad.

• Alfred Romero won a phenomenal 582 games as coach at Wagon Mound.

• Former Las Vegas mayor and former Highlands basketball coach Henry Sanchez recorded 543 victories while coaching at Our Lady of Sorrows (Bernalillo), Bernalillo High and Robertson High School.

• Mora coach and former Rangers hoop star Mark Cassidy, who later played for the Highlands Cowboys, scored 1,601 points in his high school career from 1973 through 1976. He scored 802 points in his final season at Mora.

• • •

In searching for tournament trivia, I got help from my friends Eddie Groth and Ben Moffett who provided web sites and data on early hoops history. Groth sent a copy of the 1949 District 2 basketball program played in Santa Fe. It contains names of schools where scarcely a town exists today. According to Groth, “There were 21 teams in the tourney, both large and small. The smaller schools (Madrid, Mora, Peñasco, Stanley, Immaculate Conception, etc.) played in the Elimination Round. The losers went home and the winners moved into the regular bracket.

“What happened was the smaller schools would get defeated and then into the consolation bracket. The larger schools were St. Michael’s, Santa Fe High, El Rito, Española, Las Vegas High, Taos.

“In 1949 St. Mike’s defeated Las Vegas High 38-36 in the championship. The consolation was won by McCurdy Mission 41-27 over Costilla. Sorry to report but I.C. beat Chama 44-27 but lost to Tierra Amarilla 39-26.”

The program also included rosters of the three local schools:Las Vegas High — Donald Duran, Gene Fulgenzi, Arthur Monroe, Ben Roybal, Arthur Aragon, Loyd Anderson, Bill Rapp, Jakes Rains, Bill Mangum and Glenn Wicks. Coach Verlon Davis.

West Las Vegas — Manuel Baca, Joe Duran, Leo Segura, Frank Herrera, Frank Montoya, Ernest Abreu, Gene McElroy, Lee Marquez, Paul Herrera, Lorenzo Roybal. Coach Gillie Lopez.

Immaculate Conception — Charlie Aranda, John Silva, Junior Baca, Eddie Groth, Louis Gonzales, Gene Purcell, Henry Aranda. Lorenzo Tapia, John Maloof, Trinnie Sandoval. Coach Father Leo Fay.

• • •

Because girls sports didn’t receive much attention until the enactment of Title IX in 1972, it’s easy to over-emphasize boys athletics. So it’s time to acknowledge the success of the West Las Vegas Lady Dons, who earned second place in the 2010 AAA tournament.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.