Posts Tagged ‘El Paso’

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.


El Paso Media Helps Pick 2015 Best in Sports

by Ray Sanchez 12.27.15

Following are El Paso’s Best in Sports for 2015. Making the athletes and coaches selections more substantial is the fact they were selected by a seven-man panel of El Paso media. The panel included Kevin Lovell of KVIA-TV, Beau Bagley of KTSM-TV, Steve Kaplowitz of KROD radio, Bob Nitzburg of Entravision, former sportscaster Tom Ciaburri, UTEP statistician/analyst Charles Hill and your friendly sports columnist (me).

The winners:

SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR – Anthony Rotich of UTEP. He was a unanimous

UTEP Track and Field Mugs for 2013-2014. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre

UTEP Track and Field Mugs for 2013-2014. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre

choice of the panel. The cross country star was so outstanding during the year that he was also the unanimous choice of Conference USA cross country coaches as Conference US Cross Country Athlete of the Year. Rotich led the Miners to victories at five meets during the season. On Oct. 2 at the Notre Dame Invitational, he took gold and helped UTEP knock off five men’s teams on their way to capturing the team title. His storybook career ended with a whopping 63 races won (track and field and cross country combined), 19 individual conference titles, 11 All-America honors and four national titles.

COLLEGE ATHLETE of the Year – Anthony Rotich.

COLLEGE COACH of the Year – Not surprisingly, it’s Rotich’s coach, Paul Ereng, who was also a unanimous choice. Every athlete needs a good coach to help him, shape him and develop him. A former Olympic gold medalist, Ereng’s men’s team reached a ranking as high as seventh in the country prior to the NCAA Championships. In the fall of 2015, Ereng led the men’s cross country team to its first team conference title since 2009.

HIGH SCHOOL Athlete of the Year — Paulo Benavides of Franklin High School, who set a national high school indoor record of 17 feet, ll inches. He won the state 6A UIL meet each of the past two years and represented the U.S. in the World Youth Championships in Ukraine.  He is attending Kansas on scholarship and almost surely has a future as a U.S. Olympic pole vaulter. The son of a pole vaulter father, Paul, young Benavides was described by Mile Split Magazine as “one of the greatest high school pole vaulters of all time.”

HIGH SCHOOL Coach of the Year – Tony Carter, Hanks High School wrestling coach. He has built Hanks into a state power. Four of his girls reached the state finals and two, Daniela Flores at 128 pounds and Adrienne Holguin at 148 pounds, won state titles.

The following are selections of El Paso Inc.:

RADIO SPORTSCASTER of the Year –Tim Hagerty of the El Paso Chihuahuas, whose radio reports of the games were not only delightful but his deep knowledge of the goings-on with the entire Pacific Coast League conference kept us informed.

TV SPORTSCASTER of the Year – Beau Bagley of KTSM-TV who seems to be everywhere covering every sport. His nightly reports are exceptional in every way.

SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHER of the Year – Mark Lambie of the El Paso Times. Year after year he comes up with exceptional images in sports that leave readers agog. This year was no different.

SPORTSWRITERS of the Year – The entire crew of the sports department of the El Paso Times. They keep us informed on UTEP, high schools and other sports and editor Bob Moore gives them so much space to do it that it’s a delight to pick up the morning paper each day.

SPORTS INFORMATION Director of the Year – Jeff Darby of UTEP. He not only turns out information, he goes beyond the call of duty and gives us special stories, like the Q&A piece on Gerina Spiller. Not only that, his reports of games are so good and informative they could appear in local news outlets.

OTHERS RECEIVING votes and thus getting honorable mention status were: Basketball coach Jim Forbes of Andress High School, Chapin High wrestler Andy O’Brien, Cathedral High swimming coach Jack White and San Elizario Cross Country and track star Michael Johnson.

How El Paso, Las Cruces Old Time Golfers Got Together

by Ray Sanchez 07.12.15sam gillett

There aren’t many sights more heartwarming to an old duffer like me than seeing a bunch of other oldtimers swinging away on a golf course.

I’ve had that privilege often the past 35 years, thanks to one of the most unforgettable persons I’ve ever known, the late Sam Gillett.

I met Sam in 1960 when I heard he was building a golf course just outside of El Paso.

In Anthony, New Mexico., to be exact.

I was golf editor at the El Paso Herald-Post at the time and went there to write about the new course and there was Sam, right in the middle of the action with stogie in mouth and a happy smile on his face.

We struck up a friendship that was to last until his death in 2000.


HIS COURSE, named Dos Lagos because if its two small lakes on the property, started out as a 9-hole course but would later expand to a full 18-hole layout. And what a boost it was to golfers on the west side of El Paso. There was only one other municipal golf course in El Paso then and now here was an alternative to driving across town.

And inexpensive, too.

Sam would later boast, with that playful smile of his, that he saved El Paso millions of dollars because now it wouldn’t have to build a municipal course of its own on the west side of El Paso.


AT ITS START, other bigger courses in New Mexico, looked down on this little upstart of a course.  When Dos Lagos golfers tried to join other golf groups in New Mexico they were turned down.

What did Sam do? He simply started a golf group of his own. Then, in 1981, he started one for “old timers.” And it boomed.

In fact, it was so successful that it was accepted by other New Mexico courses and today there’s an organization known as the El Paso/Las Cruces Old Timers Golf Group.


AND WHAT FUN it is. It currently has approximately 150 members ranging in ages from 55 to 95 and with handicaps from 5 to 36 plus.

Competitions are usually team scrambles or team “shambles” tournaments and attendance usually ranges from 60 to 100 players each month.


MEMBERSHIP requirements are simple. A member must be 55 or older or turn 55 anytime during the year.

It’s truly a great way to enjoy the sport and meet other golfers.

Of course, to compete a member must join the Sun Country Amateur Golf Associaton and have an active GHIN handicap.

GHIN handicaps can be obtained at any of the participating golf courses, which besides Dos Lagos, include Painted Dunes, Anthony Country Club, Ascarate Golf Course, Underwood at Fort Bliss, Lone Star, Coronado Country Club, El Paso Country Club, Vista Hills, Horizon, White Sands, New Mexico State, Picacho Hills, Sonoma Ranch and Red Hawk.

Yes, you get to play all those courses in tournaments if a member.


ANNUAL DUES are $25 and for that you receive an annual luncheon, a golf shirt or jacket, towel, cap and other goodies.

Each of the 15 participating courses has an Old Timers Group director that coordinates memberships and schedules. The monthly tournaments are on a rotating basis on participating courses

To join, contact one of the pro shops.

Or better yet, call either Jim Rewis, jim rewisone of the friendliest guys you’d ever want to meet, in El Paso at 915-833-3849 or 915-539-0589 or group president Tom Bartlett in Las Cruces Tom Bartlettat 575-521-3166. They’ll be more than happy to help you join.

Think of the fun you’ll have.

And something else I like about all this:

The memory of Sam Gillett lives on.

EL Paso Hall of Fame to Shine Again

by Ray Sanchez 04.26.15

Sports Halls of Fame have been very much in the news lately. The Texas Sports Hall of Famebpolphoto finally inducted our Nolan Richardson, the El Paso Baseball Hall of Fame held its induction banquet not so long ago and is already taking nominations for next year, the UTEP Athletic Hall of Fame has started planning for its fall induction banquet and is also already taking nominations.

And now comes the biggie so far as El Pasoans are concerned: The El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame.

I call it the “biggie” because the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame doesn’t involve just one sport or one organization but all of them. Being inducted into the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame means you’ll be among the best of the best in all-around sports in El Paso.

This year’s induction banquet will be held this coming Wednesday, April 29, in the glamorous Signature Room at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino.


I’VE BEEN involved with many of the local athletic halls of fame and I’ve been amazed at how many outstanding El Pasoans are willing to chip in and help. Barnard Polk, who has served as president of the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame on two different occasions, including the last two years, is a perfect example.

A graduate of Austin High School and UTEP, he has worked in banking, as director of a center that aided transients, was named Austin High’s Outstanding Ex in 2012, has been a a pastoral assistant at First Christian Church and has been active in Jaycees, Sertoma Club and the UTEP Heritage Commission.

He’s added such a touch of class to the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame that it seems to have shined even more under his leadership.


LOOK AT WHAT you can expect at this year’s induction banquet Wednesday:

  • Mingling with eight very special inductees.
  • The introduction of special guests Marina Lee, the daughter of one of the Hall’s first inductees (Andy Cohen) in 1955 and Judy Phelan O’Connor, the daughter of the Hall’s first president, John Phelan.
  • A silent auction of some very valuable historical items.
  • A chance to thank Mr. Polk for his invaluable service to the Hall. He’ll be stepping down as president this year.
  • And, of course, a delicious meal.

Officially, the festivities will start at 4 p.m. with a press conference for inductees. There will be a social hour at 5:30 p.m. and dinner will be served at 6:30 p.m. You can start bidding for some of the auction items as early as 4 p.m. Kevin Lovell will again serves as Master of Ceremonies. Admission is only $30 per person.


INDUCTEES this year as reported before are long distance runner Ruben Dominguez, official Bob Geske, photographer Brian Kanof, Coronado High School tennis coach Jerry Pippin, long distance runner Paul Pearson, former UTEP football coach Mike Price and all-around athlete Ed Stansbury.

The programs at the banquet will have full resumes and photos of their accomplishments.

It’s going to be a whingdinger of a party. You really should be there.


LET ME ADD a bit about the two aforementioned El Paso sports halls of fame. They, too, have dedicated and accomplished leaders.

El Paso businessman Fernie Grado did a whale of a job as president of the El Paso Baseball Hall of Fame last year and has passed the baton this year to another dedicated and hard-working gentleman, longtime and highly successful Montwood High baseball coach Tom Carrillo. He’s already set the dates for accepting nominations for this year.

And then there’s Jeff Darby, who handles the UTEP Athletic Hall of Fame. One can only imagine what a difficult job he has as sports information director at the school but he is busy now taking nominations and setting up a meeting of the board of directors for the fall induction banquet.

El Paso has so much talent in sports that I’m forever in awe.


Albers: A Titan in El Paso Sports Media

by Ray Sanchez 04.12.15

I’ve always believed that anyone who lives and works in El Paso should contribute in other ways than their job to albersphototheir hometown.

That includes members of the media.

I have tried to live up to that belief. I’ve helped start several organizations and have served on so many boards that I like to kid that I’ve got splinters in my behind.

Three past examples of those who became an integral part of El Paso and helped it grow are El Paso Herald-Post sports editor Bob Ingram, El Paso Times sports editor Chuck Whitlock and KTSM sportscaster John Phelan. They’re deceased now but they set the standard for what I’m talking about.

I call them The Titans of the El Paso Sports Media.

They were everywhere helping, encouraging, suggesting and attending meetings that made things happen in the city, like the building of the Sun Bowl, the growth of UTEP, keeping professional baseball alive, helping build organizations like the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame.


ADD A NEW name to that list of Titans: Former KTSM-TV sports director Fred Albers.

Like the other Titans he wasn’t just great at his craft but he got deeply involved in the community. It seems like every meeting I attended, every board I sat on, every organizational program I was in on, there he was. And what a presence he made. One could feel his genius fill the room. He was articulate, knowledgeable and full of ideas.

Albers, a native of St. Louis and a journalism graduate of the University of Missouri, came to El Paso in 1980 as a sportscaster at KVIA-TV. He was an immediate hit with his strong, clear, insightful delivery and in 1992 he became sports director at KTSM-TV.


HOW GOOD a sportscaster was he? So good that a few years ago he put El Paso on the world map by becoming a play by play announcer for the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour Network on Sirius XM radio. He became one of the sport’s best-known announcers, traveling throughout the world while still working as KTSM-TV sport director.

The PGA position eventually cost him his job at KTSM-TV. His PGA work took him away from El Paso as much as 25 weeks out of the year. There was a change of ownership at KTSM-TV recently and his absence was just too much. The station let him go last month.

Albers took the decision well. “I understand,” he says without rancor.


HIS ABSENCE will leave quite a hole in local TV sportscasting but not to worry. Albers is well paid by his PGA job and says he will continue to make El Paso his home. “I love El Paso and its people,” he says. “I’ll keep doing PGA radio and maybe I can find an administrative job at some local station when I’m not on the PGA Tour.”

If I owned a local station, I’d jump at hiring him.

Until then, we can keep enjoying Albers’ great PGA coverage on Sirius Radio station 202.

And keep enjoying just having him, his wife Kristi and their son living here.

Kristi, like Fred, is an icon in El Paso sports. She’s the only El Paso woman to win an LPGA Tour event and started the First Tee program for El Paso youths.

One can only wish them the best.


TRIVIA QUESTION: Can you name the player who won the Jim Thorpe Trophy as the NFL Most Valuable Player three years in a row? Answer at end of column.


HAVE YOU purchased your tickets to the induction banquet of the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame? It’ll be held April 29 in the Signature Room at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino.

Don’t be left out. It’s going to be a dandy event with seven outstanding El Pasoans honored.

For tickets, call 915-490-8156.


ANSWER to trivia question: Earl Campbell of Houston in 1978, 1979 and 1980-.


El Paso Swimmer Wins Two NCAA Crowns

By Ray Sanchez 04.05.15

Meet El Paso’s latest super star: William Licon.

Oh, you may have heard of him before if you’re a swimming enthusiast. He never swam for a high school licon photohere but instead opted to join local clubs like the West Texas Typhoon Swim Club in El Paso.

He took to swimming like a fish.

He quickly became a Swimming Junior National Team member and represented the U.S. in the 2012 Junior Pan Pac Swimming Championships. At the Junior Pan Pac meet, he tied for sixth place in the 100m breaststroke. And he qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials held in Omaha, Neb. He swam in the 200m breaststroke, finishing 19th, and missed qualifying for the semi-final by three places.

SWIMMING coaches Kris Kubik and Eddie Reese of the University of Texas at Austin, one of the most successful NCAA swimming schools in the country, knew a good thing when they saw it and came calling.

Smart move. It wasn’t long before Licon started raising eyebrows and breaking Texas school records.

As a freshman at the 2014 NCAA Championships he placed fifth in the 400 IM (Individual Medley) in school record-setting time. In addition he finished 12th in the 200 breaststroke as well as 14th in the 200 IM. Prior to the NCAA Championships Licon was the Big 12 champion in the 400 IM and the 200 breaststroke.

AND THERE he was last weekend as a sophomore, all 6 feet 4 inches of him, helping the Longhorns win their 11th NCAA team championship, and doing it in record times.

On Friday, Licon became UT’s first champion in the 400-yard individual medley while beating the event’s American record holder, Georgia’s Chase Kalisz, in 3:36.37.He now ranks as the fourth-fastest swimmer ever in the 400-yard individual medley.

The next day, Licon matched up against the American record holder in the 200 breaststroke, Arizona’s Kevin Cordes, and edged Cordes by five one-hundredths of a second.

So in two days, the El Paso native won two individual NCAA national swimming championships.

Which helped the Longhorns handily claim the team title with 528 points. California, the 2014 NCAA champion, took second with 399 points while Michigan placed third with 312 points.

LICON, WHO had set other school records previously, has already been designated All-American. He holds the Big 12 title in the 200 IM with a conference record time of one minute, 41.67, which beat the time of Olympic gold medalist Ricky Berens of 1:41.92 set in 2009.

Licon is taking his successes humbly. After setting the Big 12 record, he said, “It’s kind of hard for me to soak it in right now. It feels awesome and I’m just thrilled to be up there ln the company of names on that (school records) board.”

And oh, how much more thrilled he must be today with two NCAA titles.

TRIVIA QUESTION: Who was known as “The Galloping Ghost” and what number did he wear? Answer at end.

ANOTHER El Paso super star, Nolan Richardson, will be inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame this coming Thursday, April 9, in Waco. Kevin Lovell, general manager of KVIA-TV, and I will be there representing El Paso in general and the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame in particular.

I don’t do much traveling anymore but this is one trip I have to make. I mean, I not only gave Richardson his first writeup in 1950 when he was playing Little League baseball as a 9-year-old and hit a homerun but I’ve watched him grow into one of El Paso’s greatest athletes and one of the country’s greatest coaches.

As for Lovell, he helped get Richardson elected with letters and other forms of communication and he should be there, too. Expect some great video.

ANSWER to trivia question: Red Grange, who wore number 77

The 81st Sun Bowl Game One of Best Ever

sunbowllogo by Ray Sanchez 01.04.15

A game for the ages.

How else can you describe last week’s 81st Sun Bowl game? This was Ali vs. Frazier duking it out and Affirmed and Alydar battling nose and nose down the stretch in Triple Crown races.

And the finish was as stunning as Bobby Thompson’s last inning homerun in 1951for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers or Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary last-second winning touchdown pass for Boston College in 1984 against University of Miami.

This year’s Sun Bowl didn’t end with an offensive play but with a spectacular defensive one that was just as emotional. Arizona State’s Kweishi Brown intercepted Duke quarterback Anthony Boone’s pass in the farthest corner of the end zone with just seconds on the clock to give Arizona State a 36-31 victory.

The entire game was such a back and forth battle with neither team giving up that many of us felt it was a shame for either side to lose.

The game is certainly one of the greatest in Sun Bowl history.


CONGRATULIONS to El Paso Times photographer Rudy Gutierrez, who caught the game-winning interception on his camera for posterity. What tremendous timing it must have taken. The photo shows the ball in the interceptor’s hands and is so clear you can see the two players’ faces.

It has to go down as one of football’s greatest sports photos.


SPECIAL NOTE: Demario Richard of Arizona State scored four touchdowns in the game to tie a Sun Bowl record for most points scored by a player. But El Paso’s Jesse Whittenton, who played for Ysleta High School before joining UTEP, still holds the record for most points accounted for by a player. He accounted for 35 points with three touchdowns passes, two rushing touchdowns and five extra points in the 21st Sun Bowl against Florida State in 1955. Such a performance may never be duplicated.


AND A SPECIAL thanks again to all the people who volunteer to make the Sun Bowl game so attractive. Scores of El Pasoans give much of their time without pay to make visitors welcome, help the media and direct folks to the proper places. It makes one’s heart throb with pride. I especially missed Mr. and Mrs. Charles Garcia, who had been media hosts for years at the Hawthorn Suites. Mr. Hernandez, 58, died of a heart attack. I was happy to see his memory honored at this year’s game.


TRIVIA QUESTION: Paul Bryant won 323 games as a coach. Can you name the four colleges with which he won those games? Answer at end of column.


HERE’S WHAT I’m looking forward to in 2015:

  • UTEP winning the Conference USA basketball championship and going into the NCAA playoffs. I think there’s a good chance.
  • The resumption of play by the El Paso Chihuahuas. What fun that will be.
  • Watching Sean Kugler coach the UTEP football team next fall. He did so well this season.
  • The addition of Major League soccer to the El Paso sports scene. We can dream, can’t we?


A RESIDENT of Santa Teresa Country Club came rushing up to me the other day happy as a lark. He said it’s almost a sure thing that Santa Teresa will be declared a village and thus won’t be annexed by the city of Sunland Park.

Oh, yes, and did you know “Taco Night” is still being held on Wednesdays in the Santa Teresa clubhouse? Yessir. What’s more, the bar is open at night.

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