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RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Headed into the Rio Rancho High School Sports Hall of Fame as part of its Class of 2019 are three 2008 graduates, including two who went on to play professionally — Chris Newsome, a star in the Philippines, and Anthony Haase, who played pro baseball before opting for what turned out to be a short career in law enforcement.
Sadly, Haase died in an accident on Idalia Road while on duty with the Rio Rancho Police Department on Oct. 26, 2014, about one year after he joined the force.
Both Newsome and Haase saw their Rams’ careers highlighted by state championships in 2007 as juniors; Newsome was on the Rams’ 5A championship basketball team in March; Haase was the ace of the Rams’ staff when they won baseball’s blue trophy at Isotopes Park in May.
Included in the class, which will be officially inducted before the Rams’ 2019 Homecoming game vs. Cibola on Oct. 4, and later honored at halftime, are two-sport standout and former Lobo volleyball star Ashley Rhoades, Larry Chavez and Melissa Loiacono, plus longtime Rio Rancho Observer sports editor Gary Herron.
Rhoades completes the trio of former student-athletes.
Chavez, who coached cross country and track & field before becoming athletic coordinator at Cleveland High School — and since now sitting in the athletic director’s chair for the district — and Loiacano, who spent time here as the Rams’ athletic trainer, are being inducted in the coaches category. Herron is recognized in the contributor category.
Anthony Haase: The District 1-5A Player of the Year, as well as the State Farm Metro Player of the Year in 2008, he was the 38th-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays that June, but opted not to sign because he intended to play collegiately.
He was drafted again, this time by the Texas Rangers, in the 17th round of the 2010 draft and signed with them; he compiled a 4-0 record in 2010 — after two seasons at Cochise Junior College — and was 0-1 with two saves in 2011, both in the rookie league, before the Rangers released him on July 3, 2011.
Born in the garlic capital of the world (Gilroy, Calif.), Haase and his family arrived in Rio Rancho when he was about 5, attending Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, Lincoln Middle School and then Rio Rancho Mid-High, before arriving on the RRHS campus as a sophomore.
The hard-throwing right-hander was welcomed there by baseball coach Ron Murphy. Haase was 5-0 as a junior in the 2007 championship season, then 8-2 as a senior, when the Rams were knocked out by Oñate in the semifinals.
“At the time, it didn’t really feel like it was that big of a thing,” Haase, a Cibola Little League all-star before his Rams career, said later. “But the more you see it, and I saw them win it two years later, it’s big.”
“Anthony was all about baseball — he wasn’t the type of kid to go home and get in trouble at parties. He played video games on Friday nights,” Murphy added. “He wouldn’t go out to do anything that didn’t have to do with baseball. He worked really hard, not only pitching — he could crush the ball, and had good speed (on the bases). But the thing he had more than anybody else was competitiveness…. I’ve never seen anybody compete as hard as he did.”
He is remembered by a marker on Idalia Road, near the spot his unit left the roadway.
Chris Newsome: You’d never guess “New-New” didn’t even start playing basketball until he was in seventh grade, over at Lincoln Middle School, but that’s where his hardwood days began. He progressed fast enough to play on coach Brian Smith’s first varsity team (2005-06) as a sophomore, then was a key member of the high-flying state championship team the next season.
“Chris Newsome belongs in the (RRHS) Sports Hall of Fame,” Smith said. “He is what every current and future Ram student-athlete should strive to be like. He was obviously a great athlete (three sports) and student, but was and is an even better person.
“I first met Chris as an athlete who attended our Junior Rams program when I was an assistant coach. I remember him at that age being athletic, hard-working and a kid that you were drawn to, due to his personality. … What was never in the papers or seen by the public was just how hard he worked in practice, how great of a teammate he was and how much his personality was appreciated by the coaching staff,” Smith added. “I am so proud of him for his accomplishments, but more importantly, proud of the man he has become. He has grown to be a very caring and passionate person, who is constantly giving back to others and has never forgotten where he came from.”
After Newsome’s senior season (2007-08), he headed to New Mexico Highlands University and played three seasons there, then opted to go international and play for a Filipino team, which he qualified for because his mother was Filipino. It didn’t take long for his eye-opening dunks to make him a star there: Playing for the Meralco Bolts, he was named the Philippines Basketball Association’s Rookie of the Year in 2015.
In football, he was an All-State honorable-mention selection at wide receiver as a senior, and qualified for the state track & field meet, where he was sixth in the long jump.
Ashley Rhoades: A key cog in the Rams’ championship seasons of 2007 and ’08, she also decided to keep playing basketball in her senior season despite having signed a letter of intent to play volleyball at UNM.
After her days as a Ram, her presence in the front row for the University of New Mexico helped the Lobos go to back-to-back NCAA tournaments. In the summer of 2011, Rhoades was one of 36 collegians selected to the U.S. Women’s National A2 Program roster, helping that prestigious team to the gold medal. She was the starting middle blocker for Team USA Blue, which went 8-1 in the four-day event held in Dallas. (USA Volleyball considers the event as the national championship for the sport of volleyball in the U.S.)
Following her senior season at UNM (2011), Rhoades was named an honorable mention All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. She led the entire Mountain West in kills (3.89 per set) and points (4.52 per set), finishing the season with 408 kills, catapulting her over the 1,000-points plateau for her career.
Later, she served as an assistant for one season at La Cueva High School, spent three seasons assisting the Eastern New Mexico University volleyball team, and then coached the 2017 season “down the hill” at Cibola.
Larry Chavez: A proud native of Las Vegas, N.M., where he was a three-sport letter-winner for Las Vegas Robertson in cross country, basketball and track, Chavez then headed to Eastern New Mexico University, where he was a four-year letterman for the Greyhounds’ cross country and track teams.
He later coached his favorite sports in Tucumcari and then in Santa Rosa, then became the first cross country and boys track coach at brand-new RRHS in 1997.
“I remember all the elite athletes I was able to coach there — Danyel Longmire, first state champion in school history; Brandon McKinney and Chris Williams — it’s not every day you get to coach athletes like that,” he said.
Chavez announced his retirement in the fall of 2007, when he led the Rams boys to third place in the state cross country meet. In his next coaching feat, he took the track & field team to a second-place finish, matching its previous best (2004).
He took a year off, played a lot of golf, and then succeeded Randy Adrian as the athletic coordinator at Cleveland High.
“I think it’s real exciting for Larry and well deserved,” former RRPS Athletic Director Bruce Carver said. “He’s one of the hardest-working individuals I’ve ever been around, in any capacity — coach, teacher, administrator. His work ethic is impeccable and he’s always been loyal to Rio Rancho Public Schools.”
“It is an honor and a privilege to be selected to (this Hall of Fame),” Chavez said. “I would like to thank Gary Hveem, Rio Rancho’s first athletic director, for having the trust to hire me as the first RRHS cross country coach and boys track coach. It takes a lot of hard work from your student/athletes and assistant coaches (and I had some great ones) to have a successful program, and we did establish that at Rio Rancho High School.”
Melissa Loiacono-Lee: As much as nearly every student-athlete on the field, pitch or court may dream of having a professional career, in actuality it’s the sports medicine team members who’ll probably be earning a living in the sports world after their schooling.
As long as people are active, there’ll be calf pulls and ACL injuries and other mishaps that need treatment.
Who ya gonna call? Physical therapists, which is why it’s always good for high schools to have a successful sports medicine program on campus. And such is the case at RRHS, thanks to her early efforts.
A 1988 graduate of Cibola High School, “Miss L” attended the University of New Mexico for her undergraduate degree, and then grad school before spending a season as trainer at Arkansas State.
She became the athletic trainer at RRHS in 1998 and stayed 15 years, developing the sports medicine program, as well as devising the Sports Medicine State Challenge, which her student trainers won 13 times in 14 years.
“It was challenging but gratifying,” she said. “It was a family experience between the coaches.”
She has been the athletic trainer at Sandia High School since she left RRHS, and said when she learned she was going into the RRHS Sports Hall of Fame, “I was shocked and honored to hear I was nominated.
“The coaches and my sports medicine program made it fun at RRHS,” she added. “Gary Hveem was like a father to me and always supported me.”
At Sandia, as at RRHS, “The advice I give my students is to work hard and have fun. Do your best now in the program because it will be easier in college. Love what you do because this career takes a lot of commitment.”
“I enjoyed working with Melissa during her time at Rio Rancho,” former AD Bruce Carver said. “She worked very hard. She’s very efficient, knowledgeable and did a great job for RRHS during the time she was there.”
Gary Herron: It’s doubtful anyone has seen more Rams football games, basketball games, volleyball matches, soccer games and baseball games — and covered more state championship games involving the Rams — than Herron, the Rio Rancho Observer’s one-man sports department since May 2000. If you go to Rams home baseball games, that’s his voice you hear introducing the players as they come up to the plate.
Sports and media have basically comprised most of his life, especially since he began his sports-writing career at the Valencia County News-Bulletin in 1979. He also did play-by-play at Belen’s KARS Radio, describing Belen and Los Lunas high school athletic contests, served as an official scorer for the Pacific Coast League baseball games played in Albuquerque, first for the Dukes (1983- 1999) and then for the Isotopes (2003-19), encompassing more than 1,575 games.
He’s also been a “stringer” for the Albuquerque Journal, and you can find his byline in the Journal every year since 1979. And, he’s written four books