As we move forward toward the Olympics there is almost always a sensitivity to politics and rather there is a place for political activism and sports. The Alamogordo Athletic program is not immune to that dialog of politics and sports. But it has educated some great scholars and athletes over its history some of which went on to the Olympic trials and beyond…
One such Olympic athlete evolved from the historical period of integration of Alamogordo schools under the guidance and training of Coach Rolla Buck. But first a history lesson of Alamogordo Sports leading up to Olympic qualifiers…
Politics has impacted sports since its beginning and has impacted sports locally since organized athletics at the interscholastic level began in 1912. Alamogordo High School began an organized sports program in 1912 for Caucasian boys offering PE, Track & Field, Basketball and Football.
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.
In a political climate not that dissimilar to today politics entered the dialog of education and into athletics.
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!”
The experience of African Americans in the creation of interscholastic sports was varied by state and by city or school system, depending on the section of the country. In the Deep South, black high schools suffered from rigid segregation and a white establishment that kept the black schools impoverished. Those schools lacked athletic facilities, and the development of high school athletics in the black schools in such states as Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia lagged far behind white schools in the South and their black counterparts in other parts of the country. The western states and northern states were quicker to react to the needs of African American Athletes and to ultimately integrate than the southern states. Interscholastic sports helped break down the barriers and lead the fight to integration.
In Alamogordo Coaching careers, political careers and business decisions have all been made at the intersection of sports and politics. Football especially has been a sport of significant political dialog within the United States and certainly in Alamogordo and with the Alamogordo High Tiger Athletics Teams.
Alamogordo High School won its first state medals in 1916/17 School Year in Track and Field via the High Jump and the Triple Jump, setting the standard for a legacy of Track and Field being a very important contributor to the successes of Alamogordo High School.
Alamogordo High School joined the association in 1921 and proceeded to send athletes to its events.
The 1920’s has been called the Golden Age of American Sports. It also has been called the Age of the Spectator. The United States had a strong economy for most of that decade with extensive growth on the west coast with the formation of New Mexico and new cities and school systems. Organized sports were at a pinnacle many workers had more leisure time. New and bigger stadiums and gymnasiums were built, interest and pride in local High School and College Teams became America’s pastime. The introduction of radio made it easier for fans to keep up with their favorite teams. Radio and local newspapers increased their coverage of sports building local community support of their hometown teams. High School interscholastic sports gained significant traction and community pride via local media. The Alamogordo Daily News founded in 1898 gave extensive coverage to the local high school sports teams beginning with the state competitions of track and field in 1916 and greater coverage in 1921 and beyond to modern times.
Women and girls had limited opportunities for sports in the 1920s and that carried forward until Title IX passed in the 1970’s. Most schools had physical education classes for girls. Some educators thought that “running, jumping, and sweating were not very ladylike.” They opposed athletic competition for women. Women had to fight for the right to compete. Many, but not all, colleges and high schools had basketball teams for girls. Some girls competed in sports such as golf, tennis, or swimming, but on an extremely limited basis.
Meanwhile, athletes from Alamogordo High School did not rank at the state level again until 1939
per NMAA records.
However, in 1939 Frank Carr
won the state placing 1st Place, in the 220 Y Dash with a time of 23.2.
In 1940 Alamogordo the Track and Field Team was again represented at the state level after placing first at the district 4 competition in April 1940.
At the state level Frank Carr led the team winning multiple medals to include the:
- 100 Y Dash Frank Carr with a time of 10.5
- 220 Y Dash Frank Carr with a time of 23.3
- 440 Y Dash Frank Carr with a time of 51.1
Frank Carr was a well-respected athlete while in high school and college. Frank Carr carried the state record from 1940 to 1964 as the only student athlete to win 1st place in the 100, 220- and 440-yard dash. He set the state record in the 440.
That notoriety carried over into his business dealings becoming a successful businessman in part due to name recognition and ultimately the intersection of Alamogordo High School sports and politics propelled him to be elected as a long-term member of the city commission and ultimately mayor. He ultimately left the mayors office sadly in disgrace and scandal.
In Alamogordo the election of the mayor and the city commissioners was many times decided by dialog around High School Sports most particularly Football. As a result, the Football Coach became a highly political position and few football coaches stayed with Alamogordo for long due to their win loss records.
Coach Rolla Buck who came to Alamogordo in the mid 40’s bucked that trend, was a progressive coach and a political leader. He pushed politics aside and declared his win loss records would speak for themselves if he was allowed to craft teams based upon skill not political intrusion.
Coach Rolla Buck under the direction and in partnership with school superintendent Barney Caton made a difference in the positive legacy of Alamogordo High School Athletics. From the active recruitment of Mexican American players to his teams in the late 1940’s and his eventual encouragement of African American players to join, with Bobby Joe Fritz becoming the first; the legacy of this progressive partnership between Superintendent Barney Caton and Coach Rolla Buck endures time. That progressive thought brought about a legacy of great athletes many of which would mark the annuals of history as Olympic trials qualifiers, world record holders and Olympians.
1940’s Alamogordo, New Mexico
New Mexico sports historians have noted his tenure for his impact on Alamogordo High School Athletics and the culmination of success around the classes of 1949, 1950 and 1951. Each became a year of historical note and excellence in performance within the Alamogordo High School athletic programs. Alamogordo High School 1949 to 1951 would be recognized as the most successful years, up to that point in its history of athletic excellence since formation in 1916. Beginning with the 1940’s, a more progressive tone took hold and Alamogordo High School broke barriers first in transitioning Mexican students from the Dudley School.
Coach Rolla Buck will be long remembered not only for a record of winning teams; but for how he managed to overturn the long-standing discriminatory tradition of not allowing those with Spanish surnames to play competitive athletics, as well. In prior decades since the founding of the school system in 1916; those with Spanish surnames and those that predominantly spoke Spanish, were not invited nor allowed to come out for football or any interscholastic sport at Alamogordo High School. Coach Rolla Buck had “no use for and wouldn’t tolerate discrimination”,
he actively recruited players regardless of ethnicity but had, “skills, heart or potential to play with excellence” on his teams.
In 1944, Leo J Aubel, graduated as the first Mexican Valedictorian and lettered Mexican Athlete at Alamogordo High School.
Aubel was born and raised in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where he was the valedictorian of his high school class. Later a graduate of the University of Nebraska, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and New York Law School, his education was sometimes interrupted by his Naval service on the USS Allegheny and the USS Mellette. He was admitted to the New York Bar in 1956, after which he worked in-house at IBM, and was subsequently admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1963, and remained in private practice until his retirement in 2013, most recently with Wallenstein, Wagner, Hattis, Strampel & Aubel. He notably was also one of the founding members of the Mexican American Lawyers Association.
His brother Gilbert would ultimately be on the championship football team of 1950. Gilbert Aubel later would become a well- respected teacher and a principal recognized for bringing excellence to his students and a strong supporter of interscholastic athletics due to his positive experiences at Alamogordo High School.
1950’s Alamogordo, New Mexico
The year was 1950 and Alamogordo High School led the nation as a Southern School System that was the first to fully integrate
under the direction of Alamogordo High School Athletic Director and Head Coach Rolla Buck and Alamogordo schools Superintendent Barnie Caton.
After the successful integration of Hispanic children into Alamogordo High School Coach Buck was dedicated to sports excellence and had no time nor tolerance to issues of race, ethnicity, or other issues of division. The focus of the two was to unite the community through excellence in athletics and that indeed he did with the final phase being the integration of African American students.
1949 to 1951 became the pivotal years for the interscholastic sports programs and education for Alamogordo High School Athletics under the direction of Coach Rolla Buck and school superintendent Barney Cato. They were faced with a decision that would have a far-reaching impact on the development of the city of Alamogordo and on future successes of the Alamogordo High School Athletics and academics programs. They did something no other predominantly white high school had done before in New Mexico; it accepted its first black student, Bobby Joe Fritz.
Fritz wanted to play football but the Delaware School for Negro Children, also known as Corinth, did not offer sports. African American children of the time were denied athletic opportunities; as Alamogordo High was not integrated to African American children at the time.
The Alamogordo School Board initially gave Fritz permission to play football at the high school, but he had to continue his regular classes at the Delaware School. Concurrent to this situation the school system and the city of Alamogordo was already getting pressure from the U.S. Military to tackle the issue of integration. President Harry S. Truman’s executive order 9981 was signed on July 26, 1948 and forbade discrimination by school systems servicing the US military. Pressure was felt by elected officials of the time for Alamogordo Public Schools to end school segregation.
Holloman Air Force Base officials strongly requested Alamogordo members stationed at HAFB would have access to integrated schools.
Per Margaret “Markie” Rutz; (a rare women’s high school tennis champion of the time) from the infamous the class of 1950; “my dad was on the school board, and they quietly moved all the black students into the high school. By the second year of integration all the black students were in the traditional school system and the two room Delaware School was closed.”
Much has been written about Mr. Fritz to include a detailed account of his journey and the infamous class of 1950 via a book produced by the Tularosa Basin Historical Society and authored by June Harwell titled: It Was The Right Thing To Do.
Alamogordo High School won the State Boys Track Championship in 1951.
Coach Rolla Buck under the direction and in partnership with school superintendent Barney Caton made a difference in the positive legacy of Alamogordo High School Athletics. From the active recruitment of Mexican American players to his teams in the mid 1940’s and his eventual encouragement of African American players to join, with Bobby Joe Fritz becoming the first; his legacy endures. His values carried forward.
In addition to running all the athletic activities at Alamogordo High School he was also Athletic Director and or track and football coach at Tularosa, Deming, Hot Springs and Raton.
The 1951 athletic season was significant about title wins for Coach Buck and Alamogordo High School.
Under Coach Rolla Buck’s guidance, they won the State Football Championship, the State Track Championship and almost won the State Basketball Championship, (losing by just a few points.)
He became the first coach from Alamogordo to be voted into the New Mexico Coaches Hall of Fame & the Tiger Hall of Fame followed decades later by Track & Field & JV Football Coach Bob Sepulveda and Coach Marilyn Sepulveda both joining the Hall of Fame.
Bobby Joe Fritz wasn’t interested in politics, he just wanted to play sports; he became a pioneer that helped break racial barriers. He also played baseball, basketball and ran track. The Football team won State in 1950. Bobby Joe Fritz played for 3 years and won state rankings in track and field competitions, he along with others brought victory in Track and Field to Alamogordo that had not seen a win at the state level since 1941 with multiple District and State athletic wins in the 1950 and 1951 seasons.
Coach Buck was incredibly pleased that year with his team having won both the state football title and the state track and field title. He said his boys; “overperformed and beat his expectations.” Coach Buck viewed Bobby Lee as “the best high school overall athlete the state of New Mexico had ever seen” to that point.
He also said that Garcia was the best Javelin player ever to come out of New Mexico’s high school system.
Additional significance to the 1951/52 season was the legacy of two very key athletes to Alamogordo High School’s history: Bobby Lee and Benny Garcia.
After the amazing team results at Ysleta, (7 first place finishes out of 10 competitions) and winning the District Meet several athletes went to Albuquerque and competed at University Stadium in the State Competition. It was here that Bobby Lee set the state record on the 100 Yard Dash with a 9.8 which stood for 20 years. He also won the 220 Yard Dash and the Long Jump garnering enough points by himself to win the track meet for Alamogordo High School beating favored Highland High School which placed second.
In 1951 there was no class system in competitions, so all size schools and teams competed.
Bobby Lee kept his competitive spirit going as an adult and became a recognized political cartoonist and eventual New Mexico, State Senator.
Coach Bob Sepulveda said of Bobby Lee; “Bobby Lee remained a strong supporter and advocate for the Alamogordo High School Track & Field Program as an adult. He attended many of the state meets. Bobby would come by and visit my student athletes.”
Specific to Olympic glory of note from the 1951 competition was the amazing Javelin Talents of Benny Garcia with a distance of 193’-01.325.
The following year of 1952 brought Alamogordo High School Track & Field back to the winner’s circle with Benny Garcia winning for the second consecutive year in the Javelin competition.
- Javelin Benny Garcia medalled with 186’-03.50”
Benny Garcia was an excellent Football kicker. He was on the B team. After some injuries and with the objection of his father concerned about him being injured, he became the primary starting kicker. Albert Romero sprained his ankle and Benny became the primary kicker after that. He had a reputation for making it between the goal posts when it mattered most. Coach Buck saw his talents and made concessions to ensure he was able to take part in the school athletic programs. Benny would walk or run 6 miles home in the dark after practice to La Luz.
At the request of Coach Rolla Buck, Superintendent Barnie Caton arranged the use of a driver education vehicle for Benny to use so that he could take part in Sports. The extra effort paid off for the High School and was life changing for Benny.
His real notoriety came from the Javelin throwing. He set the state record that stood from 1951 to 1966. That record got the attention of the Arizona State University Track and Field Coach that awarded him a full ride scholarship.
A total of 4 individuals and one coach made the Olympic Trials that has been affiliated with Alamogordo High School. We will showcase each in an upcoming article.
Benny Garia though holds the title as he is the only graduate of Alamogordo to make it to the Olympics to actually compete taking part in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. He was the first native-born New Mexico athlete to ever compete in the Olympics.
His name is displayed at the Tigers Hall of Fame, Arizona State Hall of Fame, Drake Relays Hall of Fame, and US Navy Hall of Fame. At the 1956 Olympics he finished 8th place, disappointing Garcia but making his hometown exceptionally proud. Garcia went on to live a phenomenally successful life as a high achieving Tiger Alumni and a respected businessman in Arizona. He died in 2015 but is fondly remembered for his contributions to the history of Alamogordo.
The intersection of sports and politics will always cross. City Commissioner and mayoral races locally have been won and lost based on the results of Alamogordo Football. Some Coaches are recognized as hero’s, those that mold young minds positively and navigate local politics and help launch Olympic qualifiers some would say are saints. Alamogordo has a history that is rich, at time controversial but never boring.
Sources: Much of the story is excerpted from the Book Coach Bob Sepulveda the early days with parts previewing of the soon to be released Coach Bob Sepulveda & Coach Gary Hveem the Golden Years to be released September 5th, 2021 locally at Roadrunner Emporium and sold in 46 countries via Amazon and fine independent book sellers.