By Arnie Leshin
Nineteen 69 was an eventful year, ranking on top of the all-time list.
Where do we start? There was the Man on the Moon, Woodstock, the Mets, the Jets, the Manson murder trail, the first women jockey to ride in a race, the Vietnam War, Hurricane Camille, Chappaquiddick, and so on.
But can’t leave out the St. Michael’s state boys basketball champions. They concluded a 24-4 season by turning back district rival West Las Vegas, 62-42, in the title game in what was the first year of high school coed athletics.
“The Dons were good,” said team member Joe Butler, who also played some tennis and baseball for the Horsemen, and has retired after being a long-time dedicated official with the New Mexico Activities Association. “We played them four times and won four times, but they were still good, and in fact won state the following year.”
With Tom McCarthy as head coach, this was a team on a short side, a team with a balanced lineup, aggressive defense, and one that raced up and down the court to wear down opponents, pressing on defense the entire game. The assistant coach was Don Baca.
Wednesday night, several of these players will return to the familiar gymnasium for a reunion and to be honored at halftime of the Horsemen’s district game versus, yes, West Las Vegas. That year was the initial naming of the Perez-Shelley gym.
Said Butler, who was a starting shooting guard in his senior year: “We expect Melvin Perez, John Lopez, John Vigil, Orlando Romero, Leon Rios, David Baca, and myself. Eugene Garcia, our tallest player at 6-3, has passed away, as has AlonszoTrujillo, who be represented by his sister and his former fiancé.”
There was also Bob Gonzales, who now resides in Switzerland. He was also an elite centerfielder for the Horsemen, and went on to play and win a national collegiate baseball championship at Stanford. Steve Boal now lives in Texas, and Carlos Sanchez is another former player who will not be able to attend.
“Buster Hiller was the superstar of the 1940 team that won state,” Butler said. “and his son Terry became head basketball coach at Albuquerque Academy and beat us twice in ’69, but we beat them in the state semis. We also won the city championship and defeated Santa Fe High three times.”
The roster consisted of eight seniors and four juniors. And everybody played. Some were on the undefeated (28-0) team that also won state in 67-68, and also in the district were Robertson, Taos and Raton.
“Trujillo,” Butler said, “was about 5-11, 6-feet, was a good rebounder and tough defender. He was also our garbage man who played inside, and who tossed in missed shots. Romero was best at driving to the basket. Perez, at 6-2, was a forward who could score and rebound. We ranged in size from about 5-10 to 6-feet.”
TIDBITS: The first Horsemen state basketball titles were in 1940 and 1942 (20-0) under Salvador Perez. In 1967, they were co-coached by Baca and Dick Shelly, and McCarthy was head coach at Taos Central than, and he won the state B championship. The next season, he was at St. Michael’s.
In 1999, the state champs were coached by Jack Ortega. In 2002 (18-1) and 2003, Matt Pribble was head man and won back-to-back state titles Then came the Ron Geyer years – 2006, 2007 and 2012, when he was the only head coach who could figure out how to win against Albuquerque Hope Christian.
The Butlers, Joe and his wife, Chela, bring back unprecedented trivia. Chela won the school’s 2003 state volleyball championship with the Lady Horsemen, and in the starting lineup was her daughter, Jessica. And Joe won the girls state tennis title with Jessica and her partner first in doubles.