by Dan Ford
New Mexico is a vast state and school travel has its problems. Neighboring states are not so challenged. For instance, Colorado’s largest classification has 42 schools. The farthest distance between them is 130 miles down an interstate highway. Arizona’s biggest schools are all in Phoenix or Tucson. Texas has a multitude of large metropolitan areas with plenty of competition close by. Below are a few of my favorite stories about football travel around the Land of Enchantment.
In 1980, Artesia traveled 2,048 round trip miles in their three playoff games to Raton, Socorro, and then Bloomfield where they won the championship game, 50-30. Superintendent and former coach Mike Phipps said the Bulldogs’ theme song for those three weeks was the current hit by Willie Nelson, “On the Road Again”.
The West Las Vegas Dons were scheduled to play “Escuela Superior de Agricultura Hermanos Escobar” in Juarez on September 15, 1972. The Las Vegas Optic stated in its Friday morning paper that the Dons left town for the trip that morning. The game was canceled and the Monday morning paper quoted Coach Frank Herrera saying the cancellation was “due to a lack of proper organization on the part of the home team.” Urban myth says that they made the trip all the way to Juarez only to find that the school was closed or didn’t have a team. It was embarrassing enough that the full details never made it in print.
In isolated northwestern New Mexico the road from Aztec/Farmington to anywhere south had to go to Shiprock, then down to Gallup and finally east to Albuquerque. What became Highway 44 through Cuba (now renamed Highway 550) was a mere trail until the 1940s. While the trip through Gallup is responsible for the still competitive relationship between the four corners schools and Gallup, it was a challenge in the 1920s. Consequently Aztec and Farmington were part of the San Juan Basin League, perhaps the first formally structured conference in New Mexico. It included Colorado schools like Cortez and Durango and sometimes Bayfield and Dolores, schools that were hemmed in by mountain passes from other Colorado competition. The schools traditionally played each other twice, home and away, without much other travel except for the occasional Gallup or Ft. Wingate contests. The league as described started in 1926 and lasted until 1932.
1932 was an unusual but welcome rainy fall in southeastern New Mexico. There was very little pavement throughout the state. Railroad travel was the norm wherever tracks existed. The opening game of the season for Clovis was against upstart Hobbs. It would be the first time these two schools played each other. The game was played, as were most in that era, on a Friday afternoon in Clovis and in a downpour. Clovis would win easily, 33-0, but the story is really about the travel for the Hobbs Eagles. As reported in the Clovis News-Journal, “The victory cannot wholly be attributed to the strength of the Wildcats. Coach West of the Hobbs team reached Clovis yesterday afternoon with only 11 men, and half of them were second stringers. Those that got here had to pull mud and push cars for miles between Portales and Tatum and they left several regulars behind, their cars mired down in the mud. The full squad finally reached here in the late stages of the third quarter.” Karma being what it is, the next weekend Clovis went to Pampa to lose its only game of the season. “Exhausted after a day and night without sleep and after hours of slow travel over muddy roads, they lost 26-0. The players left here at 4:30am yesterday and reached Pampa less than an hour before the game started at 3:30pm. Coaches Staubus and Gartin did not reach Pampa until the game was over and J.M. Andrews, assistant business manager, had to ‘run’ the team from the sidelines. They entered the game without having lunch. They were worn completely out and there was no fighting spirit whatsoever.” It is 160 miles between Pampa and Clovis. The 11 hour drive resulted in the only loss of the season for the Wildcats whose 9-1 record (8-0 in state) gave them bragging rights for the mythical 1932 state championship.
The Clayton Yellowjackets get the National Ambassador Award for its travels to more states than anybody. On several occasions they have played in four states (counting New Mexico) in a single year. Being in the far northeastern corner of our square state, opponents in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas are within easy reach of Clayton. Each of those states is within 85 miles from downtown Clayton. In 2011 they played 5 out-of-state teams. Since World War II they have crossed the border every year to play a football game. Here are a list of out-of-state opponents in the last 75 years;
COLORADO – Trinidad, Trinidad Catholic, Springfield, Walsh, Eads, Limon, Canon City and Antonito.
KANSAS – Hugoton, Ulysses, and Elkhart.
OKLAHOMA – Guymon, Boise City, Keyes, Hooker, Texhoma, Turpin, and Tulsa Lincoln Christian.
TEXAS – Dalhart, Gruver, Stratford, Vega, Boys Ranch, Sunray, Lubbock Christian, Farwell, Amarillo Highland Park, Lubbock Roosevelt, Canadian, Amarillo JV, Amarillo Tascosa JV, Canyon.
Talk about home field advantage, Service High School from Anchorage, Alaska brought a team (including cheerleaders, managers, etc.) of 72 to Aztec in September, 1994. Service was a school of 2400 but in a state not known for its football tradition. Alaska schools start early before the ground freezes and play only eight games. This was their sixth while Aztec was only in its third contest. The $60,000 trip was funded over several years from team fund raising projects. They initially tried to schedule a game against a Texas school. The big question was whether the boys from Alaska, none who had ever been to the southwest and all raised on salmon and caribou meat, could compete with Aztec. Final score; Anchorage Service 38 – Aztec 3. The event is not a stranger to Service who has since traveled to Montana, Las Vegas and Hawaii, working three years between trips to raise the necessary funds.
I won’t even get into those playoff games between Clayton and Animas or between Kirtland and Jal.