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Rick Wright: Local sports community reels from four big losses

From left: Connie Alexander, Gene Agnes, Ben Moffett and Allen Church (Journal file photos/Journal illustration)

The Albuquerque sports community has become a poorer place in the past month. Gone are four men who made lasting contributions to that community, giving tirelessly and generously of their time and energies.

CONNIE ALEXANDER, broadcaster: If one looks in the dictionary for the word “mellifluous,” one will find a photo of Alexander. Well, not really, but you get the idea.

Alexander, a sports play-by-play man as smooth in delivery as in voice, died on Sept. 7 at the age of 90.

Born in Dallas, Alexander came to Albuquerque as a teenager. A graduate of Albuquerque High and UNM, he pursued his broadcasting career – succeeding at local, regional and national levels – while working full time at an Albuquerque savings and loan and dabbling in real estate. He was a superb amateur golfer as well.

Connie’s delivery was for the most part understated, a bit folksy. He wasn’t above coining a cliché or two, like “rips the ropes” or “creases the cords” in describing a made free throw.

Soft-spoken and gentlemanly away from the mic, Alexander even so didn’t hesitate to say how good a broadcaster he believed he was.

In 2008, UNM parted ways with iconic football and basketball play-by-play man Mike Roberts. Alexander, then 79, unsuccessfully campaigned for the job.

“I don’t feel my age at all,” he told the Journal’s Toby Smith at the time. “I can do it. I know I can.”

BEN MOFFETT, journalist and historian: Technically, no one can do more than doing it all. During his career in the Albuquerque Journal sports department, starting as a teenager fresh out of Albuquerque High, Moffett challenged that assumption.

Moffett, a New Mexico native, died on Aug. 19 at age 79.

He covered the high schools. He covered the Lobos. He covered boxing, auto racing, the outdoors. He took photos. Rising to the position of executive sports editor, he became the principal desk man – editing the copy and designing the pages.

Moffett left the Journal in 1973 to work for the National Park Service. But, possibly because his new employer frowned on moonlighting, he covered Santa Fe sports for the Journal under the byline Bennett Lava.

In retirement, Lava – uh, Moffett – returned to the Journal and wrote for the paper’s West Side edition.

In recent years, Moffett became a devotee of his home state’s basketball history. He undertook the task of writing a book on the subject. Later, he established a Facebook page, Basketball History in New Mexico.

In 2006, he told the Journal’s Smith, “When I started this book, I found out how much I really didn’t know.”

Few, if anyone, knew more.

ALLEN CHURCH, “Captain Ski:” Church, born in Santa Fe, grew up in Los Alamos and honed his skiing skills on Pajarito Mountain. But he was prized for years to come in the ski community – locally, nationally and internationally – not as a competitor but for his stewardship of the sport. Hence, the nickname.

Church, who officiated at three Olympic games, died on Aug. 17 at age 91.

He’d planned to study veterinary medicine at Colorado State, then was bitten by the acting bug and moved to Hollywood. But, after serving in the Korean War, Church returned to New Mexico and worked at Sandia Laboratories.

Meanwhile, he routinely paid his way to ski competitions – serving on committees and helping to design timing systems.

At the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, Church was selected to recite the officials’ oath at the opening ceremonies.

“I sort of have to catch my breath (just thinking about it),” he told the Journal two months later. “That’s one moment that will stand out in my life.”

GENE AGNES, basketball referee: Agnes officiated other sports as well, but it was in basketball that he became known as one of the Rocky Mountain-Southwest’s best.

Agnes, always colorful – he clearly loved the work – but always in control, died on Aug. 27 at age 84.

How good was Agnes? In 1972, the Albuquerque native was offered a job officiating in the NBA. To pursue it, he took a leave of absence from his job as a court clerk and bailiff.

A year later, he was done.

“I never saw my family, just lived from hotel to hotel,” he told the Journal in 1981. “(The NBA) wasn’t for me.”

Returning to the high school and college ranks, he continued to officiate at least into his early 50s.

“Give me a job that has to do with people and I’m the happiest,” he told the Journal. He was speaking at the time about his new job as a federal probation officer.

Without question, though, that statement applied to his nighttime job as well.

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