ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New NMAA executive director Sally Marquez intends to move the organization forward
It was the late George Maloof who perhaps first planted the seed inside the impressionable brain of Manzano’s Sally Marquez.
Marquez had just received the first Maloof Scholarship award, and before she had left the ceremony, the family patriarch imparted some lasting wisdom.
“He took me aside,” Marquez said, “and talked to me about being a leader in New Mexico. About getting my education in New Mexico. And doing good things in the state.”
Somewhere, Maloof must be smiling.
As the first woman to lead the state’s governing body for high school athletics, Marquez, 50, now has prep sports’ most visible job as the new executive director of the New Mexico Activities Association.
“She projects leadership, with a specific mission about wanting what’s good for kids,” said Janel Ryan, superintendent of the Farmington school district and the president of the NMAA’s board of directors. “Her work ethic is exemplary. When you’re looking for an executive director, you are looking for someone who wants to move an organization forward and make it better than it is.”
Marquez is just the third woman to lead a state high school association. The others are Rhonda Blanford-Green in Nebraska and Karissa Niehoff in Connecticut.
But Marquez was quick to dismiss the notion that she is a pioneer or a trailblazer, not even in a year that marks the 40th anniversary of the historic Title IX act.
“No, not at all,” she said. “I’ve never used Title IX as something for me to get where I am. I’m a firm believer that the best person gets the job, whether they’re male or female. The experiences I’ve had throughout my life as an administrator … I feel I’m very well qualified.”
Marquez beat out 20 other applicants, and three finalists, for the chance to replace Gary Tripp, who had been the NMAA’s executive director since 2004. Marquez was the assistant executive director under Tripp, who resigned in August to become a high school principal on the Zuni Pueblo.
As the NMAA moves forward, it clearly decided that staying in-house was the way to go.
“I think the most outstanding thing was her high level of familiarity with the issues that are facing the NMAA,” said Adan Delgado, the Pojoaque superintendent and a member of the search committee. “Sally has the background.”
Although Marquez has worked in both Texas and Virginia, she’s a New Mexico gal through and through.
But she didn’t exactly hail from an athletic family. Her father, Ben, was an athlete, but among her siblings Marquez was the family’s true sports prodigy.
“When I started running track for the Albuquerque Olympic Club when I was 9 years old, that’s when my athletic career started,” she said. “It was always something I embraced.”
One of Marquez’s fondest memories was helping Manzano win a state track title in 1977 when the Monarchs qualified only six girls for the meet.
She was a three-sport athlete at Manzano (volleyball, basketball and track), and later graduated from the University of New Mexico. She primarily played women’s basketball for the Lobos. She toiled with the idea of volleyball, and even began to run track at UNM, but a knee injury forced her to drop track in favor of basketball.
She played four seasons with the Lobos, and twice was chosen UNM’s defensive player of the year (1981-82 and ’82-83).
“I tell you what, my freshman year we were ranked in the top 20 (in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, which predates the NCAA). We were a very good basketball team,” said Marquez, who played in the Pit in the days when you could easily count the number of UNM women’s fans in the stands.
“Three to four hundred,” she said with a laugh. “And that would be a good day.”
Marquez was also a longtime coach before she segued into administration. Her first job was assisting Don Flanagan at Eldorado. That gig led her to become La Cueva’s first girls basketball head coach in 1986.
“They took a chance on a 25-year-old,” Marquez said. She later was a girls basketball head coach in both Virginia and Texas.
Nowadays, the only coaching Marquez does is with her youngest son’s AYBL team.
“That’s where I get my fix,” she said.
While living in Virginia, Marquez earned her master’s degree in educational administration from Virginia Tech. She was on the East Coast for five years, then spent three in Texas.
She returned to New Mexico to become Rio Rancho High’s assistant principal in 1999. She later moved to Rio Rancho’s district office to become director of personnel. Tripp, who was Marquez’s boss at Rio Rancho, plucked her from Rio Rancho to join the NMAA soon after Tripp took over.
Marquez has been responsible for the day-to-day operations of the NMAA and is also the finance director and oversees NMAA operations at all the state tournaments.
“I was born and raised in Albuquerque and all I knew was New Mexico sports,” said Marquez, who was inducted into the New Mexico/Albuquerque Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. “When I went out to Virginia as a teacher and coach, it was an eye-opener of what was really outside the borders of the state. I learned so much about myself, about athletics, about education. That was a big influence on where I was when I came back.”
Changing of the guard
Marquez said her background as a coach and (math) teacher, plus as an administrator at both the school and district level, will serve her well in this new role.
“It’s a cumulation of my experiences since 1984,” she said.
And now, she is tasked with overseeing an organization that answers to over 150 member schools.
“You know, one thing I’m very passionate about is, what is high school athletics all about,” Marquez said. “I think sometimes we lose that vision, and I want to make sure that we’re using athletics to teach kids about lifelong skills, that we’re preparing them for the future.”
Marquez pledged to continue pushing sportsmanship initiatives, a program that first began under Tripp. More immediately, Marquez must deal with one of the more polarizing issues the NMAA currently faces — realignment and classification. A new plan must be approved soon for the two-year block beginning in 2014-15. It is likely to be finalized by March.
Marquez was reluctant to compare her vision for the NMAA to the one Tripp had.
“I am who I am,” she said. “The direction of the NMAA is on an upward swing and we need to continue that. (But) I have a different leadership style. I don’t want to compare myself to Gary. That’s the last thing I want. He’s a dear friend.”
Marquez said she brings strong communication and organizational skills to the job.
“She’s thorough in her knowledge and she’s solid in her convictions,” said NMAA board member Paul Benoit, the Floyd superintendent. “It goes back to her knowledge of athletics. Her background is a lot stronger than a lot of people know.”
Maloof, way back in 1979, must have sensed it. And to this day, Marquez said, she is reminded of that little pep speech given to her by Maloof.
“I’ll never forget that,” she said. “I feel like I’m fulfilling (his suggestion) with this position. As someone who was raised in New Mexico, who went to school in New Mexico … I’m honored, very honored to serve the students of New Mexico. It’s a lifelong dream.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal