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.


What Nolan Richardson Has Meant to El Paso

by Ray Sanchez© 10.02.16

Have you ever wondered what former athlete/coach Nolan Richardson has meant tonolanalone Bowie High School and El Paso? You should have attended last Saturday’s ceremony naming the Bowie High School gym in his honor.
I mean, besides bringing untold positive attention to his alma mater and our city, he has dug deep into his pockets through his foundation to provide hard cash to help young people. How much hard cash? More than $2.5 million. That’s what one of the speakers at last Saturday’s event, Susan Oliva, executive director for the Children’s Advocacy Center and one of the beneficiaries of Richardson’s generosity, estimated. That sum includes scholarships for Bowie students and donations to various other young people’s groups.

WHAT’S MORE, his foundation, named for his late daughter, Yvonne, will continue donating each year to the school and El Paso’s youth.
No wonder then, that Richardson, who after being an outstanding athlete went on to become one of basketball’s greatest college coaches, was so well received by the many well-wishers last Saturday.
Richardson has been inducted into 13 different Halls of Fame, including the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, but he seemed to enjoy the naming of the Bowie gym for him just as much. “After all,” he reiterated, “Bowie is where I got my start.”

NOLAN AND I go back a long, long way. In fact, we started our respective careers the same year, he as an athlete and I as a sportswriter. That was in 1950, the same year Little League opened in El Paso. I gave him his very first writeup in 1950 when he was only nine years old. I happened to cover Little League baseball the night he hit a homerun and wrote about it.
Little did I know that little kid would grow up to be an El Paso, and national, treasure.

TRIVIA QUESTION: What was the real name of Rocky Marciano? Answer at end of column.

UP NEXT: The UTEP Athletic Hall of Fame induction banquet on Oct. 7 and El Paso High School’s homecoming football game where the school hopes to set a world record for homecoming reunions on Oct. 8.
Gerina Piller, the former UTEP star who performed so well at this year’s Olympics, will be inducted into the UTEP Hall of Fame dinner Friday. I can hardly wait to shake her hand. And to honor other inductees. They’re Orsten Artis of the 1966 national championship team, Harrington Jackson of the 1970-72 track team, Brian Natkin of the UTEP football team from 1997-2000 and the Miners’ winningest football coach of all-time, Mack Saxon.

AS FOR EL PASO High School’s attempt to set a world record for reunions, good luck. The school is confident the Tigers will make the 3300 target but they were still a bit short at this writing.
The homecoming game will be against Austin High School, the Tigers’ biggest rival through the years.
By the way, a gathering of exes from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s classes will be held on Oct. 7 at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, the same night as the UTEP Athletic Hall of Fame dinner. Wish I could split myself in two.

AND WHAT I remember most about Arnold Palmer, who passed away at the age of 87 last week, is his charisma. He had a strange swing that worked for him but he was all man. It’s said he was so tough that while other players pulled a blade of grass from the ground to throw up in the air to check which way the wind was blowing he would pluck a piece of hair from his chest to do that. And I’ll never forget the piece of advice he once gave and which I’ve followed to this day. He said, “If you’re just barely off the green, putt the ball. Your worst putt is better than your best chip.”
I mourn.

TRIVIA ANSWER: Rocco Francis Marchegiano.

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 tftgreaterelpaso@clubmailer.memfirst.net.

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.

‘The Power and the Pathos Of The Olympics’

© by Ray Sanchez  09.18.16

Did you feel bad when former UTEP star Gerina Piller started playing poorly in the final round of the gerina2016 Olympics women’s golf tournament? Think how she must have felt. Actually, you don’t have to think about it. The New York Times was so touched by her feelings she was actually featured in a story about the tournament.
For those of you who haven’t read the story, following is an excerpt. It was written by Karen Crouse:
“GERINA PILLER’S tear ducts sprang a leak on the 18th green when she tapped in for a par after missing her fourth birdie attempt in four holes. She cried as she left the green and cried as she left the scoring area.
“On her way to the locker room, Piller cried as she signed autographs for the South Korean fans, who were exultant over their countrywoman Inbee Park’s gold medal victory and quickly converged on her.
“Smiling through tears, Piller signed everything thrust in front of her and posed with every fan who jumped in her path for a photograph. At one point, Brazilian player Victoria Lovelady waded into the tide of people and embraced Piller, whose shoulders shook as she sobbed in her arms.

“THIS IS THE POWER and the pathos of the Olympics. It can take an athlete like Piller, who did not expect to qualify for the Olympics two months ago, and turn her into an emotional wreck because she fell short of the medal podium.
“Piller, 31, was not on the U.S. team until she tied for eighth at the U.S. Women’s Open in July and squeezed into the top 15 in the world rankings. After three solid rounds, she began Saturday’s final 18 holes two strokes behind the leader, Park, who closed with a 5-under-par 66 for a 72-hole total of 16-under-par at Reserva de Marapendi. Piller posted a 74 to finish 10 strokes back, tied for 11th in the field of 60 …

“PILLER IS A LATE bloomer who did not take up golf until she was 15, the same age as runnerup Lydia Ko was when she won her first LPGA title in 2012. With eight top-10 finishes, Piller has been circling her first LPGA victory all year. Fueled by patriotism, Piller envisioned rocketing onto the sporting world’s radar with a breakthrough performance. ‘I think Gerina still had a fantastic week, and I think she made the whole of the U.S. proud,’ Ko said, adding: ‘Sometimes I think we can get carried away by just the results, but I said the Olympics is about celebrating each and every player, celebrating obviously the medalists at the end of the tournament. But I think Gerina, when she looks back, she’ll say, Wow, that was a great week.’

“ON THE OLYMPIC stage, every result, for better or worse, is magnified. After Piller broke free from the pack of autograph seekers, her mother and stepfather caught up and were walking on either side of her. Piller slipped her hand into her stepfather’s, and her mother put her arm protectively around Piller’s back as the three continued walking in silence. ‘We’re heartbroken with her,’ Piller’s stepfather, Alan Stevenson, said.
“What will he tell Piller? ‘You keep working, you keep playing, you keep competing, you keep showing up,’ he said.

“PILLER EMERGED from the locker room. Wiping tears from her face, she said: ‘I think I’ll cherish this week forever. Just taking a lot of positives away from it.’
“She added: ‘I didn’t even think I had a chance to be here, so to come and to be in contention is all I can really ask for. Just going to learn from it and move on.’
“… Finding herself marching alongside the best athletes in the world would have been unthinkable at the start of the year. But on Saturday afternoon, that was small consolation to Piller, whose post-round interview ended in tears.”

Richardson to Get a ‘Special’ Honor at Bowie

© by Ray Sanchez  09.10.16

nolannow.jpg It’s official. The gym at Bowie High School will be named for Nolan Richardson.
Ceremonies are scheduled to be held Saturday, Sept. 24, at 11 a.m. at Bowie High School with a visitation to follow in the school cafeteria.
What a fitting gesture. Richardson is one of Bowie’s, and El Paso’s, greatest treasures. He excelled both as an athlete and a coach.
Following is a quick glimpse at his career:
• He was outstanding in Little League baseball then earned all-district honors at Bowie High School in baseball, football and basketball.
• He played basketball for UTEP when it was known as Texas Western College and was a standout there, too.
• He took over the basketball coaching reins at his high school alma mater, Bowie, in 1968 and won 190 games and lost only 80.
• He coached at Western Texas Junior College and won the national junior college championship in 1980 with a 37-0 record.
• Tulsa University beckoned in 1981 and he became the first coach to win the National Invitation Tournament in his first year.
• In the 1990s he took the University of Arkansas to the Final Four three times and won the NCAA championship in 1994 against Duke.
• He was named National Coach of the Year in 1994 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.
• He was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
• He is the only head coach in the country to win a Junior College national championship, the NIT and the NCAA Tournament.

RICHARDSON HAS received many other honors but he says he appreciates the one at Bowie High for what he calls a special reason. “After all,” he says, “Bowie High is where I got my start.”
He told me that he’ll definitely be at the Bowie High event in his honor but that it will be a short visit. His said his wife is suffering from spinal problems and he wants to stay close to her. He’ll be arriving in El Paso the day before the Sept. 24 event and leave back to his home in Arkansas the day after the event.

TRIVIA QUESTION: Man O’War lost only one horse race during his legendary career. What was the name of the horse that beat him? Answer at end.

LAST WEEK I told you about one of El Paso’s most beloved high school principals, R.R. Jones at El Paso High School.
There’s another late principal who belongs in that same category, Jefferson High School’s H. R. Moye. He was so loved by his students that they named a golf benefit golf tournament in his honor after his death. It’s the Moye’s Boys Foundation Golf Tournament that raises money to help elementary, middle school and high school students in the Jefferson High School area. This year the tournament is scheduled for Oct. 14 at Underwood Golf Course.

AND DID YOU know that there will be a party for El Paso High School classes of the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s on Friday, Oct. 7, at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino from 6 to 10 p.m.? Wow, right up my alley. I attended El Paso High School in the 1940s and then I covered high school sports for the El Paso Herald-Post in the 1950s and 1960s. What great memories I have of those years.
The party is part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the school’s present building.
Price is $25 per person. You can contact Sandy Aaronson for more information at sandyaaronson@gmail.com

TRIVIA ANSWER: Believe it or not, it was a horse by the name of Upset.

When R.R. Jones Gave the Shirt Off His Back

© by Ray Sanchez  09.05.16

When I think of the late R.R. Jones, for whom the El Paso High School stadium was named, I feel love inrr-jones my heart.
He was the principal at El Paso High School when I went there in the early 1940s. He was such a kind, gentle and caring man that it’s easy to say he is one of the most beloved principals in the history of El Paso schools.
And I can prove it.
I was a bit brash when I was in high school. One day when I was a sophomore, we crossed paths in the hall outside his office. He had on a pretty striped shirt and I walked up to him and complimented him on it. A couple of days later, I was stunned when he approached me with a gift. It was the shirt I had complimented him on, washed and neatly folded. He presented it to me with the sweetest little smile I had ever seen.
We were about the same size at the time and it fit perfectly. I don’t know what kind of shirt I had on when we first crossed paths but he probably noticed that I wasn’t exactly from a rich family.
Whatever, he literally gave me the shirt off his back. It’s one of the sweetest memories of my high school days.

HAVE YOU ANY memories of him? I sure would like to read them. As you no doubt know by now, El Paso High School is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the present building which was built in 1916 for a whopping half million dollars.
As part of the celebration, the latest in a Centennial Legacy Series, this one titled “100 Years of Excellence in the Arts,” will be held Thursday, Sept. 8, at 6:15 p.m. at El Paso High School.
The evening will begin with a reception in the El Paso High School main hall and will feature the Alumni Art Sale and Show. Following will be the Legacy Series production in the auditorium.
By the way, do you know when the El Paso High School stadium was named for R.R. Jones? Sandy Aaronson would like to know for her records. She’s one of the members of the committee trying to break the world record for reunions this year. You can contact Sandy at sandyaaronson@gmail.com.

TRIVIA QUESTION: Did you know that Major League umpires weren’t permitted to wear glasses before a certain year? What was the year? Answer at end.

DID YOU CRY? I almost did when I saw former UTEP star Gerina Piller’s short game desert her in the final round of the Olympics golf tournament. Matt Sloan, who has followed her career, writes:
“Ray, we know that Gerina is very disappointed in her final round of the Olympics, but we should offer her some encouragement with an open letter endorsed by everyone in El Paso.
“Dear Gerina: Congratulations on being selected to represent the United States in the Olympics. That team and the Solheim Cup team recognize excellence. You did a wonderful job, tied for the lead at one point and posting a lower score than 50 of the 60 participants, including your teammate Lexi Thompson.
“We love to read the results of the tournaments you play in and see how much prize money you earn. You have mastered the game to produce at least a million dollars in winnings compared to many of us who have spent what seems like a million dollars trying to do what you do. Very few of us can hit a 275 yard drive. We don’t have a lot of birdies or even birdie putts. We almost never play 18 holes without a bogey.
“These are just a few of the reasons why we are proud of you and wish the best for you. You are our hero.
“Signed: El Paso golfers and friends.”

TRIVIA ANSWER: Not until 1974.

Crystal Ball Dreams of a Billy Stevens at UTEP

© by Ray Sanchez  08.28.16

Are you ready for the football? You should be.
What a schedule the UTEP Miners came up with this season. They open at the Sun Bowl ray's crystal ballwith rival New Mexico State next Saturday at 6 p.m. then play the Texas Longhorns at Austin and then return to the Sun Bowl to host the Black Knights of Army and Southern Mississippi.
That kind of start is enough to make any football nut’s mouth water.
And how will the Miners do this year? I took my crystal ball out of its drawer and put the question to it. I thought it might be happy what with the great schedule and all but it was its usual obnoxious self.

“WHAT TOOK you so long?” it snarled. “Don’t you know readers have been anxiously awaiting my predictions?”
I gulped. “Waiting anxiously?” I wanted to say. “You’re lucky if anyone gives a hoot.”
But I held my temper. I knew arguing would only delay the outcome.
“Sorry,” I lied. “But how do you see the Miners doing this football season?”
The orb straightened up, cleared its throat in its usual obnoxious official manner and said.

“WELL, LET ME see. The Miners have been looking pretty good in workouts. They’ve come up with a new three-four defense, some new assistant coaches, some promising players in key positions and they have a great running back in Aaron Jones. Then there’s head coach Sean Kugler. He’s in his fourth year at the helm and should know what to do with the talent on hand.
“The question, as is usually the case on every team, is at quarterback. I keep dreaming that someday the Miners will come up with another Billy Stevens. Remember him? He set the team on fire in the 1960s and even led the Miners to two Sun Bowl victories against topnotch opposition. The Miners beat TCU after the 1965 season with Stevens as a sophomore then beat University of Mississippi after the 1967 season with Stevens as a senior. The Miners haven’t
won a bowl game since.”

I STARTED to say that I remembered Billy Stevens well, but the crystal ball growled, “Don’t interrupt. I’m talking.”
I held my temper and the crystal ball went on. “The Miners had three quarterbacks trying out for the starting job this summer, including a newcomer. The newcomer, Zack Greenlee, has shown signs and has earned the starting position but who knows? I don’t take the pre-season hype seriously. I have to see what happens in an actual game.
“There’s no telling what’s out there so far as competition goes. The Miners may be looking great in scrimmage but I’m sure other teams in Conference USA are, too. One never knows what’s going to happen.

“STILL, I HAVE a lot of confidence in coach Kugler. He’s been in the big time of professional football and he seems to have the devotion of his players. That’s important.
“All in all, I think the Miners will have a winning season and go to a bowl game. They’ll surely beat New Mexico State in the opener and might even beat Army at home. Of course, they’ll lose at Texas but they’ll hopefully beat Southern Miss.
“They’ll be 3-1 by the end of September and they’ll go on to be competitive in Conference USA.

“NOW CAN I go back to sleep?” it said. “You have no consideration for my welfare, always asking for my predictions. Don’t you know I get tired?”
I felt like saying, “Tired? You sleep in your drawer all year long except for a couple of interruptions.” But I held back. I’m going to need its predictions again for basketball season. I really hate to say this, but the obnoxious orb is right sometimes.
I gently put it back in its drawer and muttered a few unkind words that I hope the crystal ball didn’t hear.

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