Title IX, The Coach: Ciccarello got girls track up and running - Albuquerque Journal

Title IX, The Coach: Ciccarello got girls track up and running

Jim Ciccarello, right, talks to girls trying out for the La Cueva High track team in this 2011 photo. (Marla Brose/Journal)

It’s a fact that Norma Sims, Manzano High School’s athletic director from 1975-89, hired Jim Ciccarello as the Monarchs’ first girls track-and-field coach in 1976.

It’s not a fact, yet true in its own way, that Val Boyer did.

As Ciccarello recalled in a recent phone interview:

“Val Boyer, who I consider one of the greatest sprinters of all time, was running for me at the Albuquerque Track Club for about eight years. She was a student at Manzano,” Ciccarello recalled. “She walked into Norma Sims’ office and said, ‘If you’re gonna start a (girls) high school team here, I think I could get my club coach to come over here and coach us.”

Sims took Boyer’s advice, Ciccarello took the job, and – though, of course, it’s not this simple – girls high school track and field in Albuquerque finally got out of the starting blocks.

After Title IX was signed into law in 1972, the first New Mexico girls state track meet was held in the spring of 1973. Yet, full participation from Albuquerque schools didn’t begin until 1976. Texico (1973), Portales (’74), Clovis and Estancia (’75) were the first team champions.

Sandia, thanks to coach Weegie Poston, was an early APS participant. Matadors hurdler/sprinter Nora Carter, older sister of SHS and UNM football star Mike, was high-point person at the ’73 meet.

Del Norte, coached by Richard Herrera, won the big-school title in ’76, with Boyer winning three events for Manzano.

The Monarchs, with Ciccarello orchestrating, and with Boyer and Margaret Metcalf combining to win five events, won the Class AAAA title in 1977. Girls prep track and field was off and running, making headlines in the Albuquerque newspapers.

Why did the Albuquerque schools take so long to get involved after Title IX opened the door?

In part, it was because AAU programs like the Duke City Dashers, ATC and the Albuquerque Olympette Club, led by coaches like Ciccarello, John Baker, John Haaland, Willie Goldsmith, et al, were so strong. Young athletes like Boyer, Metcalf, Janet Wroblewski, Sandy Beach and Ellen Hart had opportunities to compete before high school, then transitioned to the preps when those opportunities arose thanks to Title IX.

But for older AAU standouts like Carol Hudson, Lisa Chiavario, Barbara Butler, Cathy Hamblin, et al, Title IX came too late. Though they continued to compete, and successfully, they would never wear their high school colors while doing so.

Ciccarello, born in New Jersey, moved to Albuquerque with his family in the late 1950s. He was a standout basketball player at Valley.

After a tour in the U.S. Air Force, he returned to Albuquerque and took a job teaching physical education at APS.

He also began coaching, working with boys as well as girls – helping to develop the talents of, among others, future national champion decathlete/heptathlete Curtis Beach – at ATC and with the Dashers.

But, he said, “I knew right away there was no (scholastic) athletics for females. The only way those girls were competing in track and field was through the AAU programs in the summer.

“The AAU was the forerunner for all athletics for girls in track and field. That’s how they got to the Olympic Trials, that’s how they made an Olympic team, was through the guidance of the AAU.”

Because there were no scholastic opportunities for girls in track and field, college programs were slow in developing. Ciccarello recalls taking some of his teenage (ages 14-15) girls from ATC and running them in a mile relay against UNM.

“We smoked ’em,” he said. “That’s the way it was. The better athletes were in the age-group programs.”

Title IX changed all that, but not without hiccups. As it was at the university level, so it was for high schools as the athletic landscape expanded to include girls. Budgets were strained, facilities crowded.

In September 1977, Sandia boys basketball coach Keith Griffith resigned, citing Title IX as a major reason.

“I am for the equalization of girls sports,” Griffith told the Journal’s Roger Ruvolo. “I think they should have everything the boys have. But the way they have to do it is they have to put a wood floor in the girls gym. They have to put some bleachers in the girls gym and a scoreboard in the girls gym and let ’em go.

“It is not right to take this stuff away from the boys and give it to the girls.”

Track and field, though, enjoyed built-in advantages. Relatively little equipment was required; boys and girls could practice at the same time. In Albuquerque, APS had two facilities, Milne and Wilson stadiums, available for use.

“The boys still had bigger numbers back then (in the mid ’70s),” Ciccarello said, “and I think still had more opportunities, more meets than the girls did at the very beginning. But it evened out.”

After four years at Manzano, Ciccarello took the girls job at Sandia, then moved to Highland. In 2000, he moved to La Cueva, where, 22 years later, he still coaches the girls. His teams have won 10 state titles. He was inducted into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

Jim Ciccarello is shown coaching elementary school jump rope teams in 2006. (Journal file)

TITLE IX (AND EVEN EARLIER): OTHER COACHING HEROES

FLO VALDEZ: She coached Roswell to a state volleyball title in 1976 and won again in 1993. Her Coyotes volleyball teams won a total of 1,076 matches.

Valdez also coached basketball, gymnastics and track and field. She was inducted into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

TINY VIDANO and WEEGIE POSTON: Before Title IX, Vidano at Highland and Poston at Sandia quietly helped organize an informal Girls Athletic Association that provided interscholastic competition for girls at the high school level. “Probably a couple of other (coaches and schools) were involved,” longtime girls track-and-field coach Jim Ciccarello said. “They did that back in the ’60s.”

Vidano, herself a superb athlete during her high school and college days in Illinois, died in 2008.

Earlier this year, Poston was inducted into the Sandia High School Athletics Hall of Fame. “She did all the sports,” said former SHS basketball star Olivia “O.J.” Jones, who was inducted into the SHS Hall of Fame at the same time. “She did volleyball, she did basketball, she did softball.” Poston coached the Matadors to the state’s first-ever volleyball title in 1973.

STEVE SILVERBERG AND DON FLANAGAN: Silverberg (1974-79) and Flanagan (1980-95) coached Eldorado girls basketball teams to 14 state titles in their combined 22 years. Their EHS teams compiled a record of 534-20.

Flanagan was inducted into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.

ED LEE: From 1961-63, Lee coached the San Jon boys to three consecutive Class A state titles. Then, in 1973, his San Jon girls took the first-ever NMAA-sanctioned girls state crown — encompassing the entire state. Lee died in 2012.

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