It’s an easy word to use when an individual has passed.
But with Henry Sanchez, it’s mandatory.
All of us old-time media members knew Sanchez. I got to know him quite well while covering his amazing Bernalillo teams, and I dealt with him many a time while he was at New Mexico Highlands as a coach and athletic director.
Pure class. Always.
A gentleman. Always.
He was a guy who just loved the game, loved teaching it and loved the kids who played for him — and against him, too.
He was Bernalillo basketball, and he made the sport king in that passionate town. He took that same passion to Las Vegas, N.M.
On Monday night, Sanchez died of a heart attack.
“I’m devastated. He was such a good, good man,” said Albuquerque High coach Ron Garcia, who coached Sanchez’s son, Darren, when Garcia was an assistant with the Bulldogs. “When I was a sophomore in high school playing at St. Pius, I broke my nose playing in a tournament in Bernalillo. Coach Sanchez got me one of his face-masks so I could play.”
But Garcia’s best memory of his longtime friend came when Garcia was a senior at the University of New Mexico. Garcia was recently married, and his wife, Debbie, was pregnant. Garcia decided to quit school to support his family.
Sanchez caught wind of that, and called him.
“Coach Sanchez and some other coaches raised $1,000 for me so I could stay in school and graduate,” Garcia said. “He was always so giving to everyone.”
Former St. Pius coach Lincoln Galassini was friends with Sanchez for more than four decades. He and his Sartans had some legendary battles with Sanchez’s Spartans.
One in particular.
“Those games were historic. Bernalillo and Pius, the gym was always filled by 5 o’clock,” said Galassini, who coached at St. Pius from 1969-77 and was head coach from 1974-77. “By the time the varsity games started, it was just crazy. At Spartan Alley they had to stop the game every two minutes to wipe the floor from condensation. It was cold outside, but always so hot inside. When we were at Pius, it was always packed, too. Those games were just special.
“We played in 1977 for the state championship,” Galassini continued. “I’ll never forget it. March 12, 3:30 in the afternoon. The Pit was packed. It was a great game to watch. There wasn’t a lot of coaching, because the teams knew each other so well. It was our fifth time against each other that season. When the smoke cleared, it was 79-78. We happened to be on 78 side. It was the toughest loss I’d ever had.
“I really, really hated losing that game. But Bernalillo won the game. After the game, Henry came up to me and could see the tears in my eyes, and said ‘I’m really, really sorry it had to be you.’
“He was a great man. Just a great man, he prepared and worked so hard. He had a bunch of 5-foot-8 guys who hustled, and he prepared them so well. I learned so much from him.”
JARION HENRY NLI
So what is the status of Jarion Henry’s national letter of intent with the Lobo men’s basketball team?
Henry, who signed with UNM in the spring, didn’t graduate from Kimball High (Dallas) last spring, and failed to get cleared by the NCAA to play at UNM this semester. He is now at La Jolla Prep Basketball Academy in San Diego.
On Tuesday, Alford said that Henry’s letter with the Lobos is binding through January. If Henry doesn’t get cleared by then, other schools will be allowed to recruit him again.
Henry is a 6-foot-9 guard/forward.
After going dark for a year and having a two-year hiatus from the Pit because of the renovation, the Lobo Howl returns to University Arena on Oct. 14.
The Howl is a practice/scrimmage that is open to the public and is held in conjunction with the first official day of NCAA-allotted basketball practices.