This article and podcast continues our series with excerpts and research from our book series on the history of New Mexico High School Athletics centered around Alamogordo High School from 1912 forward. The book series began with book 1 –Bob Sepulveda: The Early Days focuses us on a history lesson of the founding of interscholastic athletics and carries us to 1976. Soon to be released Bob Sepulveda The Golden Years book 2 goes into the years 1977 forward to more modern times.
This book series along with complimentary articles, blog posts and pod casts are a historical review reflecting a tapestry of stories and emotions, of the political and social tensions and policies of the times, the medals that were won and stories behind some of those medals. A few stories can be uncomfortable in the outcome while others are inspiring.
Today’s excerpts follows the founding of high school activities associations and some of the politics around that founding.
Interscholastic Sports at the High School level via organized physical education programs did not begin in the US until around 1903 but had roots dating to the 1880s. Organized sports began with economically challenged or lower-class children competing under non-parental adult supervision, while their upper- class counterparts participated in non- competitive activities like dancing and music lessons, often in their homes. Children’s tournaments, especially athletic ones, came first to economically challenged children, most often immigrants living in large urban areas or the larger US cities.
Massachusetts was the first state to make schooling compulsory in 1852. It was not until 1917 that the final state of the union at the time, Mississippi, passed a similar law.
While on the east coast the focus was on social progress, education and organized school sports programs; the wild west was playing catch up. New cities like Alamogordo, New Mexico founded 1898 were creating new opportunities for Americans and America’s youth. January 6, 1912, New Mexico was admitted into the United States union as the 47th state. With that our history of interscholastic High School Athletics Track & Field in Alamogordo soon begins. New Mexico, even while a territory, took a progressive view to public education and made public education compulsory in urban areas in 1891. It became compulsory everywhere by the time New Mexico became a state in 1912.
With the institution of mandatory schooling in New Mexico and in most states, children and families experienced a profound shift in the structure of their daily lives, especially in the social organization of their time. This change in social view resulted in thinking about how to challenge a child and occupy his day especially in urban areas.
The answer lay partly in competitive sports leagues, which started to evolve to hold the interest of children. Urban reformers were particularly preoccupied with poor low skilled economically and socially challenged immigrants who, because of overcrowding in tenements or inner cities, were often on the streets. Initial organization efforts focused on the establishment of city parks and playgrounds. Powerful, organized playground movements developed in New York City and Boston. But because adults did not trust boys, especially immigrant boys, to play unsupervised without significant issues, attention soon shifted to organized sports. Sports were important in teaching immigrants and those economically challenged and from rural areas; the “American values of cooperation, hard work, and respect for authority.”
According to historian Robert Halpern, “progressive reformers thought athletic activities could prepare children especially boys for the new industrial society that was emerging, which would require them to be physical laborers.” There was a distinct business interest in organized youth sports early on, to ensure a robust and healthy workforce for an economy changing from, rural based to urban based, in the decades to follow.
Organized youth groups backed by the influence of business interests took on the responsibility of providing children with sports activities. In 1903, New York City’s Public-School Athletic League for Boys was established by Luther Gulick, and formal contests between children, organized by adults, emerged to keep the boys coming back to school. Formal competition ensured the boys’ continued participation since they wanted to defend their school team’s record and honor. The purpose per the PSLA was to encourage a healthy, strong body and mind through competitive exercises.
The PSAL initially conducted “class athletics” in grades five through eight at specific times each year, not interschool competition as it is known today. Class athletics included seasonal track and field events. PSAL’s also emphasized swimming, popular sports of the times (baseball, football, basketball), and several minor games.
Concurrent with the activities on the east coast; the first recorded games involving High School, school sponsored teams in the Dallas Texas area occurred in 1900. St. Matthew’s grammar school of Dallas played the Wall School of Honey Grove, found in Fannin County just south of the Texas-Oklahoma border, on Oct. 12, 1900, as a prelude to the intercollegiate level Texas-Vanderbilt game the same day. Honey Grove won 5-0. The event was a milestone in Texas history: the first recorded interscholastic football game between two high-school teams.
The Wall school was founded in 1898 by Simon Venable Wall, who moved to Honey Grove from Franklin, Tenn. Accounts of the school’s history noted its football team frequently played two games a day and that it was not uncommon for the team to catch a train on weekends and play in area towns. Austin College, in nearby Sherman, was a frequent opponent for the Wall boys.
Until the formation of interscholastic programs and games such as the one in Dallas Texas, most American boys had played football in the haphazard way of boys the world over: ambling onto fields and into alleys for pickup games or challenging other loosely affiliated groups of students to a match. Cheating was rampant, and games looked more like brawls than organized contests.
By 1910, 17 other cities across the United States had formed their own competitive athletic leagues modeled after New York City’s PSAL. Physical education reformers in the high schools followed the colleges in taking over sports programs with the catchphrase “Athletics are educational.” Their reform was tied to the overall reform in American education and overall reform in American society during the Progressive Era.
The establishment of leagues and state associations by educators in the years after 1900 bringing about institutional control over interscholastic sports was neither seamless nor uniform across the nation nor the western region of the US to include Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
In most areas of the country, educator-sponsored high school leagues were formed in most big cities and in many rural areas, usually two ways, from whole cloth or by taking over existing student-run or joint student-faculty-run leagues. In many areas, especially rural areas like most of Texas and New Mexico there were few leagues, and only gradually did league formation spread nationwide.
Settlement houses and ethnic clubs soon followed suit. The number of these boys’ clubs grew rapidly through the 1920s, working in parallel with school leagues.
In 1914 the first organized events for school children were held and 2040 boys competed for the City Championships Track and Field held at Madison Square Gardens. Events at this event included standing long jump, chinning the bar, running sprints, disc throwing, relays and hurdles. (Today competing at Madison Square Garden in Track & Field is considered hallowed grounds by many a Track & Field athlete.) By 1915 177 school systems around the country had formed competitive leagues.
By 1916, the United States was starting to educate its children for more years than most other countries, even while admitting a surge of immigrants. The ruling elite feared that all this schooling would make Anglo-Saxon boys soft and weak, in contrast to their brawny, newly immigrated peers. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. warned that cities were being overrun with “stiff-jointed, soft-muscled, paste-complexioned youth.”
Sports, the thinking went, would both protect boys’ masculinity and distract them from vices like gambling and prostitution. “Muscular Christianity,” fashionable during the Victorian era, prescribed sports as a sort of moral vaccine against the tumult of rapid economic growth. “In life, as in a football game,” Theodore Roosevelt wrote in an essay on “The American Boy” in 1900, “the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard; don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard!”
Athletics succeeded in entertaining not just students, but entire communities and local school teams became a sense of pride. As athletic fields became the cultural centers of towns across America, educators became coaches and parents became boosters. Organized sports allowed small towns to compete against large cities in Track & Field, Football and Basketball putting small town schools on the map so to speak with large reputations of athletic excellence.
As the organized school sports programs evolved so did organized fee-based clubs which were more exclusive and not for the poor. Fee-based groups, such as the YMCA, began, but usually only middle-class kids could afford to take part. National pay-to-play organizations, such as Pop Warner Football came into being in 1929.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association had appeared by this time, as a means of reforming the increasingly brutal sport of college football. As the NCAA appeared it began collaboration efforts and recruiting efforts from High Schools for its track & field, football and basketball programs around the country. This partnership ultimately led to scholarship programs and further engrained organized high school sports into the American Experience.
In New Mexico and specifically Alamogordo, following the lead of the nationwide reform of governance in interscholastic sports with the imposition of adult-sponsored leagues and state associations students acquiesced to the new faculty control and passively accepted the new order of things. In many areas, however, educators faced persistent student resistance, stiffened by rebellious high school
Greek-letter societies and continued abuses in the decade leading up to World War I. In Chicago student resistance to control and reform was especially acute.
New Mexico, towns such as Alamogordo and the western states; less resistance existed, as the school systems were newer institutions and did not have the history or mindset of those on the east coast. Progressive politics towards education and athletics prevailed without institutional histories, politics and interests fighting for dominance.
Alamogordo High School began an organized sports program in 1912 for Caucasian boys offering PE, Track & Field and Basketball and Football.
In 1913, the authorities of the University of New Mexico believing that one of the great needs of the High Schools of the state was an opportunity to meet, at least once a year in athletic and other contests, organized the University of New Mexico Track Athletic Association. A track meet was held in the spring of that year at Albuquerque, and two high schools, Santa Fe and Albuquerque contested for the banner.
Although the beginning was small, a great deal of interest from across the state was aroused. Seven state high schools competed in the next meet when the Spalding Trophy was awarded for the first time for the winning High School Track & Field Team. After that, the number of competing schools grew.
At the time of the meeting of the Educational Association of Albuquerque in November 1915, the New Mexico High School Athletic Association was formed, and the 1916 meet was held under the joint auspices of this association and the University of New Mexico. Alamogordo was represented at that 1916 meet. A new feature of that event was a basketball tournament which was added, and the meet was the most successful of the series to date.
The yearly function was a big deal toward the standardization and unification of consistent athletic standards around the state, and in bringing high schools into a closer and more cordial relationship though they were athletic competitors.
Because of the success of that meet at the annual meeting of the New Mexico Athletic Association in Santa Fe, November 29th, 1916 an agreement was made whereby the athletic and oratorical associations would merge and become united under one set of officers or board of directors as the New Mexico High School Athlete & Lyceum Association.
Alamogordo High School won its first state medals in 1916/17 School Year and they were in Track and Field via the High Jump and the Triple Jump.
This first state competition was held by the New Mexico High School Athletic and Lyceum Association.
This first New Mexico Interscholastic Competition for which Alamogordo took part consisted of three areas of competition…
- The Basketball Tournament – (Boys Only)
- The Track and Field Meet and included: (Boys Only)
- Running 100 Yard Run
- Putting 12 Pound Shot
- Half Mile Run
- Pole Vault
- 120 Yards Hurdle
- Running High Jump
- 440 Yards Run
- Running Broad Jump
- 220 Yard Hurdle
- Running Hop, Step &Jump
- 220 Yards Run
- 1 Mile Run
- 1 Mile Relay Run between 4 men ¼ mile each
- The Oratorical & Declamatory Contest (Boys Oratorical, Girl Declamatory)
The very first state medal winner in 1917 for an athlete from Alamogordo High School was named Wohlenberg who scored a 5 foot 7.75 inches and New Mexico State Medalist in High Jump.
Also, in 1916/17 Alamogordo High School won the Triple Jump with an athlete named Saulsberry winning the state at 40 feet 5 inches. These two state interscholastic medal wins were the first state medal wins in statewide competition for Alamogordo High School.
In 1921 The New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA) was formed as a nonprofit organization that regulates interscholastic programs for junior and senior high schools in New Mexico. It became the official host and record keeper for the statewide sports championship games each year thereafter and collaborated with the University of New Mexico to continue to host events. It is the organization that continues the tradition of record keeping and leading interscholastic events within New Mexico today.
NMAA was organized in 1921 by John Milne, James Bickley, F. H. Lynn, and J.D. Shinkle as the New Mexico High School Athletic Association. In 1953 it began adding non-athletic activities and changed its name to New Mexico High School Activities Association. It continued to broaden its coverage and in 1961 changed its name to the present New Mexico Activities Association. The Hall of Pride and Honor was opened in 1992.
The NMAA continues into this century and has adapted along the way.
This year the NMAA has been a strong advocate for student athletes and ensuring safety precautions are in place to again allow student athletes to compete in the post Covid-19 environment leading the way with adaptive processes, modified schedules and still hosting district and state level competitions.
Additionally the NMAA is providing student athletes and those involved in extracurricular activities the opportunities for scholarships and the level of attention necessary to garner opportunities for the students it serves in preparation for entry to the college and university environments.
Future articles and podcasts will carry the reader and listener further into the history, discuss the racial tensions and solutions that evolved in the 50s and beyond and the the launch of Title IX and girls interscholastic sports. All along the way we will highlight stories of some of the athletes and coaches that were of interest to the history books of interscholastic sports in Alamogordo, New Mexico and across the USA.
To learn more or to see photos online from the 50’s, 60s, 70s, 80’s and beyond of the Alamogordo High School athletics programs visit
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