by Dan Ford
In New Mexico today we don’t call them “leagues”. We call them “districts”. Schools are assigned an area of participation based upon their size and location. District One is usually in the northwest corner of the state. District Two is in the northeast corner, and so on. Classification 6A is the largest schools (Rio Rancho High is the biggest with 2461 students in 2015) and 1A is the smallest (Roy High School holds down that end of the chart with 15 students). So, District 3-4A is a league of medium sized schools that includes Hatch, Cobre, Silver City, Hot Springs, and Socorro.
Texas does the same thing except it is a little more complicated. Utah likewise. Colorado has a name for each league and it usually has a history to it and the name relates to the landscape such as Intermountain League, Frontier League, Tri-Peaks League, and Flatirons League.
The history of football leagues in New Mexico has all but been forgotten. Districts were created for sports other than football well before football started its playoffs in 1953. District 4 for basketball considered themselves competing for the football championship, although informally, back in the 1930s and 40s.
The original football leagues in the state are a source of argument. One newspaper, the Carlsbad Current, claimed to have originated the oldest league, informally call the Eastside Conference. The paper awarded a trophy among the largest schools in the southeast corner (Hobbs, Carlsbad, Roswell, Clovis, and Artesia). It claimed to start about 1930. However, there is no evidence that the schools every recognized themselves as members of such a conference. It lasted until 1950.
However, for my money the oldest is the San Juan Basin League started in 1923. Schools in the four corners area (Farmington and Aztec) found roads south of such poor quality that staying local and organizing with Colorado schools (Cortez and Durango) was a good idea. In turn, the Colorado schools had mountain passes to inhibit their travel north. Initially the league also included Ft. Lewis School which was a Ute Indian School run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. By 1930 it became a junior college and dropped out of the league. The San Juan Basin League continued until the New Mexico schools started playing schools south and the District structure was established for football in 1953.
The more prominent leagues were in the middle of the state. The Bean Valley League included Stanley, Mountainair, Estancia, and Corona. It was more of a basketball and track competition but that didn’t stop the best football team of the group from saying so. It was around in the early 1930s and disbanded as a football league after World War II. Stanley, a small hamlet south of Moriarty, is best known as the home of one-time governor Bruce King.
The Rio Grande River (okay, okay, I know Rio means River) has always been a transportation lane and has served to be a dividing point of the Land of Enchantment. In the 1940s through 1950 there was a Northern Rio Grande Valley Conference and a Middle Rio Grande Valley Conference.
Española, not known for its football legacy, was the big dog in the Northern Rio Grande Conference which was formed and recognized by the NMAA in 1946. They competed against El Rito, St. Catherine’s, McCurdy Mission, Santa Fe Indian School, and Taos. In 1950 a new school, formerly known as a boy’s ranch, was the champion and they even had an all-conference team named by the coaches and dominated by players from that school – Los Alamos.
The Mid-Rio Grande had football schools of St. Mary’s, Menaul, and Albuquerque Indian School from the Duke City along with Belen, Grants, and Socorro. It was formed at the end of WWII and also lasted until the playoffs which created Districts. Socorro drops out after 1947 football season due to dispute over the championship with St. Mary’s. St. Marys was 4-0 and Socorro 3-0. St. Marys refused to play the Warriors which would have decided the true champion. The schools voted St. Marys as the champ and Socorro called it quits.
There are plenty of other longtime conferences or leagues but the rest are basketball leagues. All of that went away when the playoffs were organized.
WHAT ABOUT THIS ….
Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our districts reverted back to the romantic times of calling themselves by a familiar name? Shouldn’t there be a “Desert League” somewhere? How about the “Petroleum Conference” down in Lea County somewhere? Where would a “Border Conference” be located? Is “Duke City District” too obvious? What would you call the group of schools from your neck of the woods?