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I will always cherish the friendship of John Grimley, a class guy, a family man, a successful coach

He guided girls and boys state cross country champions at Santa Fe Indian School. Fifth annual Grimley Memorial Invitational runs Saturday morning at Cochiti Pueblo

Commentary by Arnie Leshin



Santa Fe Today

It’s a long cross country season. The races are either 3 miles or 5-kilometer. This I know, but I also know that this is the saddest time of that season for me.

For the fifth straight year, it’s off to Cochiti for the annual John Grimley Memorial Invitational Saturday morning. Grimley was head coach of the Santa Fe Indian School cross country team, his boys won the state 4A championship in 2009. His girls won state in 2005.

I don’t remember the year, but I can never forget when his daughter contacted me to tell me her father is battling cancer. She said one day he was feeling fine, one day he felt ill and went for a test. He was diagnosed with skin cancer. She told me she contacted me because she knew most of her dad’s friends, and I happened to be one of them.

Shortly after, he passed away. It came quickly and it was shocking because the last time I had seen him was at a cross country meet at Santa Fe Indian

School. He wasn’t coaching anymore, so I asked him what he’s been doing these days and he informed me he was attending New Mexico Highlands and planning on getting a degree.

He never made it. It was instead the finish line for him, and then I heard from his daughter who gave me the sad news. I had only arrived in Santa Fe in 2001, and he became one of the most sincere and personable people I had known. Until I made my way to New Mexico from South Florida, I had never met a Native American.

So it was then that I learned about these people who were the first to settle in this country. I don’t know if they really bought Manhattan Island, but I knew my favorite movies were always about cowboys and Indians.

Two thousand and nine was the year his boys won state. He proved to be a winner again four years after his girls won state. He was speaking with his seven-man team at the SFIS tent in Gallup, the site of the state championships before they relocated to the present site in Rio Rancho.

He saw me, smiled and found time to introduce me to his team. One by one, he called them by name, and informed them that I was his friend and his favorite sportswriter.

Then they headed for the start. Sophomore Trevor Merhege, sophomore Santiago, Jess Madalena, sophomore Steven More, Darrell Augustine, Tyler Atencio, and the seventh man, Justine Naranjo. They looked about the same size and had the same neat short haircuts.

When they learned they had placed first, they huddled after Naranjo finished. So I yelled out to my photographer over at the finish line to come over and take a photo of the Braves. When I called out to them, they were heading toward the exit gate, but quickly turned my way and sped over to line up for the photo. Their smiles were so wholesome.

I congratulated them one by one. Then Grimley came over and hugged each one. It was a time I would never forget, for his runners were as polite as he was. When I tried to interview him, he paused to call his runners over and tell that I wanted to interview them. Then he gave me a hug and walked off.

That’s how I remember him, a class guy, a true friend, a successful coach, a runner’s coach.

Now Indian School head coach Joe Calabaza will again host the Grimley Invitational at Pueblo de Cochiti, which is several miles west of I-25, and is home for many tribal members.

Last night, Colabaza, from memory, rattled off the names of the schools he expected, and it was nice to hear that perhaps 30 schools would be competing, including Grimley’s granddaughter, Athena Grimley, a seventh grader at Indian School.

Colabaza, a graduate of Indian School, is also head coach of the track and field team after devoting a great deal of his time as an assistant coach for the school.

The field he expects is composed of Indian School, Capital, Pecos, Mora, Penasco, Las Vegas Robertson, West Las Vegas, Pojoaque Valley, Laguna-Acoma, Jemez Valley, Belen, Los Lunas, Lovington, Bernalillo, Cimarron, Maxwell, Albuquerque Hope Christian, East Mountain, NACA, Albuquerque Cottonwood, Albuquerque Sandia Prep, Shiprock, Navajo Prep, and probably Santa Fe High.

St. Michael’s would be in the field, but Friday night is the time it runs at the annual Desert Twilight Classic in Grande, Ariz.

The varsity girls toe the line first at 8:30, the boys varsity follows at 9. Then come the junior varsity girls at 9:30, with the JV boys racing at 10. The 7th grade boys and girls are scheduled for 10:30, with the girls starting three minutes after the boys. Next comes the 8th grade boys and girls with the same format. Awards will be presented at 11:30.

For directions, from the Cochiti exit off I-25, take highway 16 towards Pena Blanca, Cochiti. Turn right on state road 22 to Cochiti Pueblo. The event will be located next to the Cochiti visitor’s center.

And John Grimley, RIP, I wlll always cherish your friendship.

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