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Remembering Henry Sanchez

 

In the early 1980’s, when I was covering high school sports for the Journal, the boys basketball rivalry between St. Pius X and Bernalillo was one of the state’s most intense.

One evening, I covered a game between the Sartans and the Spartans in Bernalillo. St. Pius won, handing Bernalillo and already legendary coach Henry Sanchez a rare home defeat.

After the game, Sanchez seemed upset and distracted and barely would talk to me. I was surprised, having found him in the past to be a stand-up guy and a gentlemanly interview in defeat as well as victory. Still, it was a tough loss, and I understood his disappointment.

Well, I thought I did.

As I was leaving the gym, I was intercepted by a Bernalillo assistant coach. “Henry wants to talk to you,” he said.

Outside the Spartans locker room, Sanchez apologized for his earlier abruptness. The father of one of his players had died earlier in the week, he said. The young man had played — his dad would have wanted him to,Henry explained — and the loss of the game, on top of the loss of his father, was too much for the kid.

“It was all I could think about (after the game),” Sanchez told me. “I just felt so bad for him.”

Always, with Sanchez, his players were more important than he was. Playing the game right was more important than winning.

The last time I saw Henry was at a Holly Holm boxing match staged on the New Mexico Highlands campus in August 2009. We chatted for quite a while, but what either of us said, I don’t remember.

Sanchez died on Monday after suffering a massive heart attack. Had I known that meeting at the boxing show would be the last time I’d see him, I would have told him how much I admired and respected him.

But then, I’ve never talked to anyone who didn’t feel that way about one of New Mexico’s greatest ever.

 

 

 

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