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‘I love the game. I love the kids’

SANTA FE, N.M. — The southern Colorado town of Manassas is best known for the boxer who bore the nickname Manassas Mauler: Jack Dempsey.

But now, the tiny crossroads town can laud another favorite son.

Manassas Miler Ron Maestas was recently selected to the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame and will be formally inducted along with six other electees – including late boxer Johnny Tapia, and Los Alamos cardiologist and marathon runner Anthony Sandoval.

“It’s quite an honor, especially when I see the other inductees that were named and the other slate of candidates,” he said. “I’m now the next most famous person out of that (Manassas) school.”

Ron Maestas has been a longtime sports official, officiating baseball, softball, basketball and wrestling. (Courtesy of Ron Maestas)

Maestas has had a long and varied athletic career in New Mexico, spending almost 50 years as an official across northern New Mexico for baseball, softball, basketball and wrestling, as the New Mexico Highlands University cross-country coach – three times guiding the Cowboys into the top four nationally, including a runner-up finish in 1989 – and as a champion racquetball player.

“It’s surreal,” he said of his selection. “Hard to believe. I told my wife I wanted her to pinch me so I can wake up. Then I said, ‘No that’s all right. I want to keep dreaming.’ ”

Maestas, who also was a professor for a number of years at Highlands, never expected this kind of recognition to come his way.

“As I look back, my mother always told me to be humble and my wife always told me to be humble,” he said. “But as I look back, I think I was a good coach. Not a great coach. But a good coach.”

Although Maestas ran the mile in high school, he never competed in varsity sports while attending Adams State. But he did closely follow the Alamosa, Colo., school’s legendary coach, Joe Vigil, learning everything he could. And later, when he was a coach, he matched his schedule with that of ASU and soaked up every bit of wisdom Vigil imparted.

“We would meet for breakfast, go out for a jog, I would pick his brain,” Maestas said. “I would go back to my room and write down my workout for the next week.”

After a decade at the helm and with athletes of his own growing up, Maestas decided it was time to hand hang up the coaching whistle.

“I had to be the bus driver, nutritionist, I had to be the coach,” he said. “We were traveling all over. And by that time, I had two sons. I was always 500 miles away on a Friday night, I missed many of their games. When my last one came up, I said this is it.”

But his connection with sports remained as strong as ever, via officiating.

“I love the game, I love the kids,” Maestas said. “To me, it’s always much better to be involved in the game then to sit in the stands and watch it. As officials, we’re part of the game. Without officials, there would be no game.”

Even now, in his 70s, Maestas is active as an official, sometimes seeing several generations of athletes from the same family.

“It’s funny, some places that I go to, you’ll have somebody in centerfield calling out my name. I go over to say hi to them and I’m now calling their grandchildren,” he said. “It’s an honor to be able to work with these kids. I see them in a high school setting and when they graduate and come to Highlands, and all of sudden there’s a gleam in their eye. ‘Oh yeah, I remember you,’ they say. I don’t know what that means, but to be honest with you, I always had a very good relationship with kids. And with most coaches, but it’s not for the fainthearted. You have to love the game.”

As for his selection, which came via an online vote, Maestas said he was astounded with the response.

Ron Maestas at the podium during his announcement as an inductee into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame. (Courtesy of Marty Saiz)

“During this process of the Hall of Fame selection, I heard from one of my former runners and her comment to me was that I set the bar high for them and made them believe that they could compete with anybody. As I reflect on that, it was absolutely true. That resonates so much as I went through this process.”

And his votes came from around the world.

“I was blessed with 1,400 votes,” Maestas said. “Most of those were from the fine people of Las Vegas. It’s kind of gratifying to know how they feel. I also heard from somebody in Ireland, Brazil and our graduates are worldwide. But they came to my support, and I can’t begin to express my love and appreciation for what they made possible.”