Archive for the ‘UTEP’ Category

Why UTEP Not a Consistent Winner In Football

Ray Sanchez© 10.16.16

I sort of feel sorry for UTEP athletic director Bob Stull. Just about every coaching selection he’s made for football or basketball since he took his present job in 1998 has been hailed as brilliant.
Charlie Bailey was the football coach when Stull took over. Stull’s first hire in football was Gary Nord, who was an instant success. In 2000, he won eight games, tied for the Western Athletic Conference championship, took the team to a bowl game and was hailed throughout the city.
Nord followed his first-year success with three straight two-win seasons.

ENTER MIKE PRICE. He, too, was an instant hit and hiring him was considered a great feather in UTEP’s hat. After all, he had been a national College Coach of the Year at Washington State and had been hired by Alabama. In his first two years, he won eight games each season and was the toast of the town.
He followed that up with six straight losing seasons.

THEN CAME Sean Kugler in 2013 with a resume that would make any college athletic director’s mouth water. Not only had he been a star player with the Miners but he had wide experience in the National Football League. He had been an assistant coach with the Detroit Lions, the Buffalo Bills and even the Pittsburgh Steelers. A sure-to-be winner with the Miners, right? Wrong.
He had a 7-6 season in 2014 but losing seasons in 2013 and 2015 and is off to a 1-4 start this year.

NO, IT’S NOT the fault of football coaches Stull has hired that has made the Miners losers on the gridiron. It’s the situation UTEP finds itself in and that is, isolation.
We are so far removed from major cities, major markets and major news centers that few of the better athletes want to come here. Which means that our football teams are going against bigger, stronger and faster players in game after game.
Oh, we’ve had some good players, like running back Aaron Jones this year, but not enough of them. And we’ve had some good teams, but not enough to sustain a winning program.

THE SOLUTION? Some say we should have stayed at our same level of competition and never left the Western Athletic Conference.
But I can’t blame Stull for wanting to improve the school’s status and competition and moving the Miners into Conference USA. It means more and better exposure for our players and our teams – and more money for UTEP.

THE OTHER major sport at UTEP, basketball, has been competitive but that’s a different story. It takes much fewer players to fill a team and means more good players are available.
And Stull has had much success in finding good coaches for that sport, too. That they haven’t stuck around long is not his fault. He’s lost most of them to those bigger and better paying schools.
Stull’s first hire in basketball was Jason Rabedeaux. Then came Billy Gillespie, Doc Sadler and Tony Barbee. The latter three produced outstanding teams and each took the Miners to the NCAA Tournament.
And finally, there’s the present coach, Tim Floyd. You couldn’t have asked for a better resume. He had been late UTEP coach Don Haskins’ assistant and had even coached the Chicago Bulls, for goodness sake.
He hasn’t made it to the NCAA Tournament yet but has produced winning teams.

ALL IN ALL, Bob Stull has been quite an asset to the University of Texas at El Paso. Before he took over as athletic director he coached the football team to its winningest football season ever, 10-3. And as athletic director he has not only hired highly qualified football and basketball coaches but has hired some good coaches for all the other sports.
In addition to all that, he’s greatly improved the athletic facilities to heights not even imagined before.
I highly admire the man.


 History of El Paso Sports Continues to Spread

© by Ray Sanchez  10.09.16

And El Paso’s sports fame continues to spread. A display of the 1966 Texas Western twjersy College championship team is now part of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture which opened on Sept. 24. The Miners started and played only African American players in the NCAA championship game that year for the first time and beat University of Kentucky. The display incudes photos of the team, a Texas Western College jersey and a bio of the team. Participants in the opening ceremony included President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton, Rep. John Lewis and Lonnie G. Bunch III, the museum’s founding director.
ON ANOTHER front, the book about the Bowie High School football team which overcame adversity and discrimination but finished first in the district in 1950 and 1953, has been included in the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the histories, culture and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The book, titled batybook“Champion of the Barrio” and written by R. Gaines Baty, the son of then football coach Buryl Baty, wrote how his father was an early pioneer in the fight against bigotry. He added, “In 1950, Baty became head football coach at Bowie High School in El Paso and quickly inspired his athletes, all Mexican Americans from the Segundo Barrio, with his winning ways and his personal stand against the era’s deep-seated bigotry to which they were subjected.”
TRIVIA QUESTION: Jim Brown led the National Football League in rushing from 1957 to 1965 except for one year. Who broke the streak? Answer at end of column.
THIS FROM Vincent C. Kemendo of New Braunfels, Texas: “I grew up in Kern Place in the 1940s and 1950s and at that time Harry Phillips had a Texaco service station at the southwest corner of North Mesa Street and Baltimore Street near where the Don Haskins Center is now. Many residents of Kern Place. including my parents, were customers of Phillips at his service station. My father told me that Phillips had been a football star at University of Texas. Phillips was Jewish and the sports reporters referred to him as ‘The Galloping Jew from Texas U’. Have you heard of Harry Phillips and know anything concerning his football playing days?”
YES, INDEED, I’ve heard of Harry Phillips. He was such a big backer of UTEP athletics he became somewhat of a legend around El Paso. And he, indeed, played football for University of Texas as a running back. He lettered and was a starter on the team in 1927 and 1928. He was so admired in El Paso he was inducted into the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame in 1969.
TIM HAGERTY made the El Paso Chihuahuas’ march to the Pacific Coast League championship this year even more enjoyable with his broadcasts – and his news reports. I looked forward every day to his latest written posts on the internet. He not only gave concise reports on the games with his stories but kept us up with transactions. He seemed to enjoy the season as much as anyone else. He writes: “It was a great thrill to call a championship. I have friends who have been broadcasting games for more than 25 years without ever announcing a championship-winning game. Also, for it to happen in an 11-inning suspenseful game added to the moment. Game 4 of the championship was an intense contest.” Thanks, Tim. Your fine work did not go unnoticed.
TRIVIA ANSWER: Jim Taylor of Green Bay in 1962.

El Paso’s Chihuahuas Deserved to Get a Parade

Ray Sanchez 09.25.16©

Nothing but kudos for the El Paso Chihuahuas who won the Pacific Coast League championship.To think they rose to the top of the 114-year-old Triple A league in only their third year of existence is all astonishing.
It has to go down as one of the greatest sports accomplishments in the history of El Paso.
And what a testament to the owners (Mountain Star Sports headed by Paul Foster), president Alan Ledford, general manager Brad Taylor, field manager Rod Barajas, the players and all the staff who have made going to Southwest University Park such a delight.
El Pasoans got to honor them at a game against the International League champions, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, last Tuesday, but I wish we could have paraded them all through town and thrown flowers at them. Maybe we still can. They’re certainly the toast of the town.

TRIVIA QUESTION: There was a heavyweight fighter who won the gold medal three times at the Olympics. Who was it? Answer at end of column.

HELP! EL PASO High School’s attempt to set a world record for high school reunions is in jeopardy. With only two weeks to go the list of those who have signed up is still a few hundred short of the 3300 needed for the homecoming game on Oct. 8.
GECU, a sponsor of the event, sent out this urgent message:
“El Paso is celebrating 100 years of providing education to our community. For more information on the event and other Centennial Celebration activities visit the El Paso High School Centennial Celebration site.
“Register today and help celebrate a 100 year old tradition of education in our community!”
But Michael Montes, president of the El Paso High School Alumni Association, is confident the Tigers will reach their goal. He says, “I strongly feel we will get to the magic number because I believe in the Tiger Spirit; that’s why I pushed for us to go after this record. I wanted to show the world how much the ‘Lady on the Hill’ means to her Alumni and community.”

WHAT’S WITH our UTEP golf teams? All of a sudden they look like winners. The men’s team went out and tied for first in the Gene Miranda Invitational in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the women, who were in first going into the final round, finished second in the Payne Stewart Memorial meet in Springfield, Mo. Is this a mirage or for real? We’ll know more when the men compete this weekend in the William Tucker tournament in Albuquerque and the women play in the Bob Hurley Shootout beginning Sept. 26 in Tulsa, Okla.

MORE AND MORE readers are calling for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to retire. He’s 37 years old and, as one reader put it, “He should get out before he gets even more serious injuries.” Good observation. Too many former players wind up so broken up they suffer horrific pain the rest of their lives. Local example: Jesse Whittenton, former Ysleta High, UTEP and Green Bay Packers star.

I MARVEL at the dedication of Kristi Albers’ efforts to help kids with the game of golf. Her First Tee of Greater El Paso program is currently in its fall sessions at Ascarate Golf Course. The next session will be held Oct. 11 through Nov. 15. There are even classes for “wee ones” (ages 3 through 6). If you have a kid starting out and need some golf clubs Kristi can get you a discount from U.S. Kids Golf. You can contact her at Ascarate Golf Course or at

AND HOW COULD Army have crushed UTEP at the Sun Bowl so easily (66-14) last Saturday? One former coach whom I admire highly says the Miners were over-coached. He says, “Army’s option offense was three-dimensional. The Miners should have stacked up the middle and it would have been only two-dimensional.” Hey, second guessing is fun.

ANSWER to trivia question: Teofilo Stevenson of Cuba in 1972, 1976 and 1980.

Old Photo, New Watches Latest On ’66 Miners

© by Ray Sanchez  04.17.16

The celebration of the 50th anniversary of Texas Western College winning the 1966 NCAA basketball championship goes on.
And naturally, we sports journalists are always looking for something new to write about. In that regard I ran into a photo of the championship team that has never appeared in print in an American newspaper before.
The photo, shown here, was taken by a female member of the Spanish language newspaper, El Fronterizo, shortly after the Miners won the title. The little items at the feet of the players are piñatas, those little jugs filled with goodies that are hung up so kids can try to break them. They were a gift from El Fronterizo newspaper.
The photo eventually wound up in the hands of Leon Blevins, a professor at El Paso Community College. How did he wind up with it? Here’s a news release, in part:

“ACCORDING TO Eddie Mullens, longtime Miners Sports Information Director, the black and white photograph without citations and autographs was taken in 1966 by a female photographer from Juarez, Mexico. The photograph originally appeared in a newspaper that is no longer in existence 50 years later. That’s the 50th anniversary of the championship game of March 19, 1966.
“Professor Leon Blevins of the Government Department of El Paso Community College was given a copy of the photograph by a man that he met who traded in coins, photographs and other collectibles. In February, professor Blevins hosted a weekly interview television show on EPCC-TV and on KCOS-TV, the El Paso affiliate of the Public Broadcasting System. He and his television assistant, Claire Rodriguez, placed the citations on the bottom of the original photograph …

“LEON BLEVINS was teaching and studying at Texas Western College between 1965 and 1967.He received a Masters degree in political science during the summer of 1967.
“In the fall semester of 1966, after the national championship game, one of the African-American starters on the championship team was a student in a class taught by Leon Blevins. Last February 4, for a short period of time, Leon Blevins was able to visit with Orsten Artis, his former student from 50 years before. Orsten Artis is shown as No. 20 in the 1966 photograph.”

THE CELEBRATION of the 1966 Miners will continue in another venue, this year’s “Dinner with the Miners.”
This year’s banquet, sponsored by the El Paso Downtown Lions Club and the University of Texas at El Paso, is scheduled for Tuesday, May 3, at the Wyndham Hotel-Airport.
Here’s a little history of the event as told by Jlm Peak, who has worked on the project for 42 years and is the former chief fundraiser for UTEP and director of Alumni Affairs and Community Relations. He writes:

“THE DINNER with the Miners was started by John Phelan, famous El Paso sportscaster, in 1974 for the football team and later would include all sports, both men and women. After paying for all meals of guests, athletes and coaches, the proceeds provide athletic scholarships from two endowment funds valued over $536,000.
“This year the Downtown Lions will also honor all past members of the 1966 basketball championship team from Texas Western College with a special designed watch for their 50 years anniversary. The watches will be presented by Lion President Armando Medrano.
“Miner fans can purchase a table for $500 to seat SIC table sponsors and four athletes or coaches. A half table with three seats is available for $275. Tables are assigned by first checks received.”
I know you’ll want to participate, so contact Lion Past District Governor Jim Peak at 915-581-0490 for information and reservations.

UTEP Basketball Was a Lot of Fun This Season

by Ray Sanchez© 04.03.16

What fun! I’m talking about the women’s and men’s 2015-2016 UTEP basketball season.keithadams

The Miners’ women’s team had a much better record. It won the Conference USA championship, finished with a 29-5 record and made it to the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament.

The women players were a delight to watch. Their greatest strength was quickness, which enabled them to create turnovers and go flying down the court for layups. They piled up victory after thrilling victory as El Pasoans cheered them on.

They met their Waterloo last Monday in the Don Haskins Center against University of Oregon, an exceptionally good shooting team that didn’t rattle and won 71-67.

Bouquets to Miners coach Keitha Adams, who has notched out a special niche in UTEP coaching lore.


BUT HEY, the men’s team was also fun to watch. In fact, the men mirrored the women’s players in quickness. They had a little of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in them. They’d go on a winning streak then hit a string of losses.

Still, when they were on they, too, were a delight to watch. And their performance when the school honored the school’s 1966 championship team will be long remembered. They came from behind, thanks to that quickness, and beat two good opponents.

Overall, the men’s team finished with a 19-14 record and gave opponents that beat them plenty of fits.

Bouquets, too, to Miners coach Tim Floyd.


TRIVIA QUESTION: The 1966 Texas Western College team that won the NCAA championship wound up with a record of 28-1. The only regular season loss was to Seattle. But there was another team that beat the Miners in pre-season play. Who was it and what was the score? Answer at end.


THE RESPONSE to the legacy series celebrating sports at El Paso High School on March 24 was, to say the least, outstanding. Hundreds of El Pasoans showed up to cheer the school’s former sports stars.

Unfortunately, the school has had so many athletic stars there was no way there was time to mention them all. I introduced the male athletes and I felt sad that I couldn’t also mention other EPHS exes like the following:

  • Jim Paul, who did so much for baseball.
  • Ron Gillett, a former basketball star who ran Dos Lagos Golf Course so many years.
  • Dolph Quijano, one of our greatest boxers.
  • Football greats like Jim DeGroat, Ernest Keily, Bill Chesak, Neal Franklin.
  • Bert Williams, an all-around athlete who became our mayor.
  • Jimmy Rogers, who has done so much for our Sun Bowl.
  • Junior Ruiz, a four-sport star of the 1950s who has been seriously ill of late.
  • Baseball stars Manny Ponsford, Mike Barrueta, Sergio Guerrero, Joey Pennies.
  • Henry Masterson, a former tennis great.
  • And so many others.


THE PROGRAM ended at the 1960s so also there was no time to mention that at the state track meet Tony Zuniga won the mile in the 1970s, Gilbert Contreras won a cross country title in the 1980s and Juan Buendia won a cross country title in the 1990s.

I hope mentioning them now helps a little.

All in all, it was a happy event. I thanked the Tiger athletes for helping make my career as a sportswriter a joyous one. I’ve had offers from other cities through the years but, like Don Haskins and others who chose to stay put in El Paso, I’m glad I didn’t leave. Now we have many more superb high school athletes at El Paso High and other high schools to write about and cheer.

And so many other sports blessings I thank my lucky stars.


Answer to trivia question: The Phillips 66 Oilers who at the time were considered a professional team. Nevertheless, the Miners lost by only 68-59.

The Story Behind the 1966 Miner Maverick

Ray Sanchez 02.28.16©palacio-1966

People keep asking why David Palacio doesn’t attend any of the events celebrating Texas Western College’s 1966 NCAA basketball championship. After all, Palacio was an integral part of the team and helped win what coach Don Haskins once called “the greatest game in which he had been involved.” El Pasoans who were at that particular game or watched it on television called it simply the greatest comeback they had ever seen.

Exaggeration? Maybe. But the Miners’ 67-64 overtime victory over University of New Mexico in 1966 certainly ranks as the greatest comeback in the school’s history considering the importance of it.


HERE’S HOW the game was described in the book, “Basketball’s Biggest Upset:”

“… The Miners started out colder than a refrigerator in a meat packing plant … They missed jump shots, layups and free throws, partly because of New Mexico’s Mel Daniels, who seemed to be intimidating them … The Miners wound up the first half with a miserable 29 percent field goal shooting percentage and trailing by 16 points.

“… Things didn’t start out much better in the second half. The Miners continued cold and the Lobos led by as much as 20 points twice, the last time with 14 minutes, three seconds remaining in the game.”


PALACIO WAS only a sophomore at the time, but Haskins decided to put him in the game at that point. The book describes what happened:

“…Palacio and Hill put on one of the most amazing defensive shows of the season. Palacio quickly stole a ball and went in for a layup. Then Hill stole a ball and went in for a layup. Then Palacio stole a ball, and another. Then Hill stole a couple more.

“The Lobos went into shock and the Miners rallied to win the game.”

Palacio, 6 feet 2, scored only two points in the game but helped to completely change the momentum of the game.

He became a starter the following season (1967) and was a big factor in the Miners’ 22-8 season. He didn’t play his senior year but finished his schooling.


FINE, BUT why did Palacio stop attending celebrations of the championship team? When I interviewed him, he made no bones about not liking Haskins’ intimidating style of coaching. But heck, none of the other players liked Haskins’ style either – at least not until he had made them champions.

No, there had to be another reason, so when Moe Iba, Haskins’ assistant coach during the championship season, came to the 50th celebration of the ’66 Miners’ victory this month, I pointedly asked him if there was another reason.

He said yes, and that it had to do with Tony Harper.


ACCORDING TO Iba, Palacio and Harper had become close friends while participating in sports at Austin High School. Harper could have been on the championship Texas Western College basketball team in 1966 but opted to play baseball. He did join the team in 1967 and lettered two years.

Moe Iba says Palacio thought Harper should be invited to the festivities following the Miners’ 1966 championship and asked it be so.

It didn’t happen. Palacio allegedly decided that if Harper wouldn’t be invited, he wouldn’t attend either.

It was, according to Iba, a matter of friendship and Palacio to this day has held to his vow.


TONY HARPER went on to become one of the most successful high school basketball coaches not only in El Paso, but all of Texas, while Palacio, after graduating from UTEP in 1968 with a business degree, moved to Los Angeles. He worked in the music industry for 36 years before retiring in 2008 as executive vice president for Univision Music Group.

Both Palacio and Harper have had little to say about the incident.

Palacio has missed out on a lot of fun by being a maverick, but no one can question his commitment to friendship.

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