Playing catch-up is great, as long as you eventually come out on top.
Saturday morning, in announcing its 2016 class of inductees, the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame made eight large strides in that direction.
The new inductees, introduced during a news conference at the Albuquerque Convention Center, are:
⋄ Ray Birmingham, University of New Mexico baseball head coach.
⋄ Carla Garrett, a 1992 U.S. Olympian in the discus, and an All-State basketball player and track and field athlete at Santa Fe High School in the 1980s.
⋄ The late Sam Lacey, who led the New Mexico State men’s basketball team to the NCAA Final Four in 1970.
⋄ Luc Longley, who came to UNM from Australia in 1987 and became arguably the most popular Lobo basketball player ever.
⋄ Eric Roanhaus, Clovis High School’s highly successful football coach since 1978.
⋄ Marv Sanders, who took Hatch Valley, Silver High and Farmington to boys state basketball titles during a 41-year coaching career.
⋄ Henry Tafoya, who has had a career of some 40 years as an Albuquerque radio and TV broadcaster.
⋄ Flo Valdez, a Roswell High School graduate who has coached her Roswell and El Paso Franklin volleyball teams to 985 victories in 42 seasons.
They’ll be formally inducted at the Hall of Fame’s annual banquet, scheduled for April 3 at the Convention Center.
This year’s class is the Hall of Fame’s largest ever, surpassing last year’s class of seven. Founded 43 years ago as the Albuquerque Sports Hall of Fame, it expanded to include inductees from elsewhere in the state just 10 years ago – first becoming the Albuquerque/New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame, then, in 2014, the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame.
Last year, the NMSHOF board revised its bylaws to enable it to induct larger groups in an effort to honor more people from outside Albuquerque – and honor deserving people, whenever possible, while they were still living.
“We realized (it was) catch-up time,” board President Marty Saiz said.
Of the seven living 2016 inductees, five attended Saturday’s news conference. Longley couldn’t make it from his home in Australia, but told Saiz he would be here in April for the banquet. Sanders was unable to attend because of illness.
Birmingham, a Hobbs native, has taken the UNM baseball team to back-to-back Mountain West Conference Championships and four consecutive NCAA Regionals.
“Congratulations to New Mexico, because I do believe we should spend our time holding up so many great people that have lived in this state,” Birmingham said. “There are tremendous people in the state of New Mexico, and I want to be proud of them every day.”
Garrett, a 10-time track and field All-American at the University of Arizona, was an All-State basketball player at Santa Fe High. She recently returned to New Mexico as the strength-and-conditioning coach for the UNM women’s basketball team.
“I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, ‘Welcome home,’ ” she said. “It’s, I think, one of the most endearing qualities of us here in New Mexico that we take care of each other, we love each other and we’re proud to be from here.
“I couldn’t be more proud at this moment to be from New Mexico.”
Roanhaus’ Clovis teams have won 10 state championships and been runners-up eight times. He was inducted into the National High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2002.
“In all the years I’ve been at Clovis (43, including five years as an assistant), I’ve never scored a touchdown; I’ve never made a tackle,” he said.
“I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of good kids, a lot of good parents, a lot of good administrators, and more important than any of that is a lot of good assistant coaches.”
Tafoya, an Albuquerque native and a three-sport athlete at Sandia High School, has been a TV sports anchor and the TV voice of UNM and New Mexico State basketball. He has done radio broadcasts of Albuquerque high school athletics and currently hosts a radio talk show.
“(This induction) means so much,” Tafoya said. “The last thing on my mind that would ever happen … the feeling is incredible.”
Valdez, a Roswell High graduate, had never even played volleyball before she started coaching the sport in 1974. She became the first woman inducted into the New Mexico Coaches Hall of Honor.
“It was a great, great run in New Mexico,” she said. “I loved those kids. They made me who I am.
“Roswell High School made me what I am.”