by Mike Magers
Rocky Arroyo was born in 1925 to Mexican immigrant parents then living in El Paso, Texas. He was an exceptional student, and skipping grades allowed him to enter El Paso High School at the age of 12. There he continued to excel with his academic and athletic skills. He played on the Texas state championship team that defeated Abilene High for the title. He graduated from El Paso High at age 16 and first attended the Texas School of Mines and Metallurgy, now known as University of Texas at El Paso, for one summer before transferring to University of New Mexico.
At University of New Mexico, Arroyo competed on basketball teams that were to win Border Conference championships in 1943-1944 and 1944-1945, the only two championships ever won by UNM. While attending, Arroyo played varsity football, baseball and basketball and earned an electrical engineering degree at the age of 20. When asked by his granddaughter in an audio interview about how he got his nickname, he replied that he was given it by UNM Athletic Director George “Blanco” White. Blanco had asked Arroyo his name and when he told him “Vicente Arroyo,” Blanco asked, “You mean like the arroyos we have around here?” He proceeded to name him Rocky, and the nickname stuck.
Arroyo went on to become the head coach at Our Lady of Sorrows High School in Bernalillo in 1946 while finding time to also compete on the Mexican Olympic basketball team that same year. Our Lady of Sorrows was a Catholic High School and the only high school in Bernalillo for many years until Bernalillo built a public school in 1950s. Despite his youth, he was appealing as a teacher because of his degree in science which allowed him to teach mathematics. He also fluently spoke both English and Spanish. His teams competed well against the larger schools in the Rio Grande Valley, including St. Mary’s, Albuquerque High and Highland High, once defeating all three in back to back games.
He later coached one season (1954) at Valley High School before leaving education for the business world. He never lost his love for athletics and served for many years as a official at the high school and college level. Arroyo officiated at the New Mexico State Basketball Tournament at least 6 times between 1960-1972 and for the Western Athletic Conference, he officiated in football for four Sun Bowl games and one Japan Bowl, Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Rose Bowl and numerous other college games.
He had a business career as an engineer at Sandia Corporation and also founded other varied businesses in the Albuquerque area. Rocky Arroyo was inducted into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame in its 2014 class. Now retired, Arroyo resides in Albuquerque.
[Addendum: Rocky Arroyo passed away in January, 2015, shortly after this was written.]