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2009 Year in Review: NMAA’s big decisions had a big impact on LA sports scene

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By Mike Cote

While the New Mexico Activities Association is based in Albuquerque, the impact of its decisions were felt in every corner of the state in 2009, including right here in Los Alamos.

From its realignment proposals and edits earlier this year to its stunning mid-year decision to suspend athletic activities throughout the state, the NMAA grabbed some big headlines this past year.

By this time next year, Los Alamos High School will have a new opponent in District 2AAAA in Santa Fe High. Santa Fe will replace Taos, which drops down to Class AAA following this academic year, which ends in May.

In early drafts of the proposed redistricting, Santa Fe was slated to replace Bernalillo, which would’ve moved into the Albuquerque metro area-centered District 6.

The once-and-future district rivals Los Alamos and Santa Fe have already faced off on several occasions in several sports and so far the Blue Demons have given the Hilltoppers a decent run for their money, although whether the Demons, one of the perennial  doormats of most Class 5A sports, can sustain that into 2010 remains to be seen.

While the decision to move Santa Fe in and Taos out — Taos athletic director James Branch was one of the big proponents of dropping his school down a classification despite the fact AAA is at least as competitive and often more so in most sports than is AAAA — was a big one, few decisions made in 2009 were bigger or more talked-about than the NMAA’s decision to halt all athletic activities in May.

The NMAA, the body which governs most interscholastic athletics in the state, announced that all competition, including practices, would be put on hold when several school districts in the southern part of the state decided to shut down in the wake of this spring’s H1N1 virus scare.

The timing of the closures and the athletic stoppage almost couldn’t have been worse.

The mandatory stoppage came just days before the scheduled start of the spring sports postseason. At the time, golf district championship tournaments were severely threatened, which was of particular worry to Los Alamos’ boys and girls teams, neither of which had at that time qualified for state championship play. The state tennis tournament was looming and there was some question as to whether either the team or individual championship tournaments would be eliminated altogether.

The spring postseason went on largely intact, however, as the southern schools reopened earlier than expected when the H1N1 threat appeared to be waning. Los Alamos would go on to win a state title in girls track and field, one of the school’s big highlights of 2009.

Running on plenty

Los Alamos High School reaffirmed its dominance in the running sports during 2009.

Along with the Hilltopper girls grabbing the Class AAAA track and field crown in convincing fashion in May, the Hilltopper girls cross country team stunned favored Albuquerque Academy in November’s AAAA championship race.

In cross country, Los Alamos placed three runners into the top 10 individually to win a surprisingly lopsided victory over Academy, which had beaten Los Alamos in four of the teams’ five head-to-head meetings during the regular season.

Senior Holly Walker had a huge performance to close out her prep career, finishing second individually behind Julia Foster of Academy. After Walker, Jennifer Barich-Mooday was seventh overall and Emily Pittman, an eighth-grader, was 10th.

The victory for the girls cross country team was their 14th in program history, tying them for the most of any team in the state with Gallup.

For the Hilltopper girls track and field team, it blasted all comers in May’s AAAA state title meet. The Hilltoppers posted a whopping 120 points, easily outdistancing Academy and St. Pius X, which tied for the runner-up spot with 73 points each.

Individually, Los Alamos won six individual titles. Hilltopper Emily Weeks was the high-point athlete of the meet, grabbing 21.5 total points with her win in the 200 meters and her second-place finishes in the 100 meters and long jump.

Lindsay Benage won the high jump title at the meet, Jessica Stokes won the 100 meter hurdles and then-freshman Chase Ealey stunned the field to win the girls 100 meter title.

Hitting the trail

2009 also saw the departure at LAHS of one of its longest-tenured head coaches. Football coach Bob Scott, who took over a woeful program following the 1989 season and turned it into one of the most respected programs in northern New Mexico, announced his retirement just before his team’s Oct. 23 game against Bernalillo.

Scott stepped down as head coach after compiling a record of 124-97, making him the winningest coach in school history and the fifth-winningest coach in the state when he announced his retirement.

Also stepping down from their head coaching positions this year were wrestling headmaster Eric Sorenson and volleyball coach Diana “Deedi” Stokes, both of whom left in early spring.

Roger Anaya made his managerial debut for the Los Alamos softball program this spring following last year’s departure of Randy Burditt, Garry Maskaly officially took over the volleyball head coaching job in August and Bob Geyer is in the midst of his first wrestling season as head coach.

Sign your name

Few stories were bigger, literally or figuratively, than Alex Kirk.

Kirk, the 6-foot, 11-inch center from LAHS, announced in October his intention of staying close to home by choosing to play basketball for the University of New Mexico.

Kirk was one of the most sought-after basketball recruits in the state since last year, but said he wanted to stay near the Hill so his family could easily travel to watch his collegiate contests. The Lobos, who are currently ranked 19th in the Associated Press men’s hoops poll, were particularly interested in Kirk since they had been without a name big man since the early 1990s.

When Kirk made his decision official in November with the signing of his National Letter of Intent, it ended months of speculation. Kirk had been wooed by several big-ticket schools including Maryland, UCLA and Arizona before inking with UNM.

So far this season, Kirk has led Los Alamos to a record of 10-2. One of his best games of the season came last week against Pojoaque, when he posted a triple-double to help the Hilltoppers to their second-straight Ben Lujan Tournament victory.

Here are some other stories that made headlines in 2009:

In January, Pajarito Mountain celebrated a near-record setting early season by having a formal opening ceremony for its terrain park. The ceremony included remote live broadcasts by popular Albuquerque radio stations KTEG 104.1 and KKSS 9.3.

In February, legendary Major League Baseball manager Tommy Lasorda was on-hand to introduce Tim Wallach, the new manager of the Albuquerque Isotopes. Wallach led the Isotopes to a division championship in his first season guiding the club.

In March, the heavily-favored Los Alamos Hilltopper hockey team was upset in the playoffs of the New Mexico Interscholastic Ice Hockey League. The Hilltoppers finished the regular season undefeated at 15-0-1 but was dropped in their opening game by Santa Fe.

In May, the team of Bruce and Curt Norman outlasted Brad King/Pat Metzger, winning the Memorial Day Best Ball tournament at Los Alamos Golf Course by a single stroke. Damian Calvert won his third-straight men’s Pajarito Punishment bike race title and Nina Baum won the women’s pro division.

In June, approximately 900 county residents showed up for Los Alamos County Night at Isotopes Park. Lou Pierotti, manager of Pierotti’s Clowns, was selected to throw out the first pitch. Just three nights later, the Isotopes welcomed Manny Ramirez, MLB All-Star, who was serving the final days of his 50-day suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.

In July, Lee Sanchez won his second back-to-back Atomic City Invitational title, bringing him within one win of Fred Seeley’s all-time record of five. Martha Waters swept the competition in the women’s ACI and Nick Silva of Socorro snapped Eddie Sanchez’s two-year reign over the senior men’s ACI flight.

In August, Jimmy Archer and Kristen Peterson both won their second-straight Los Alamos Triathlon elite division titles. Matt Whicker bounced back from a set down to top Kent Brown in the finals of the Los Alamos Tennis Club championship tournament.

In September, Edmund Okeoha won the men’s overall division in the OCB Southern Rockies Natural Bodybuilding Championship. The event was hosted by Los Alamos Fitness Center.

In October, Martin Pieck had the top finish among several locals competing in the Ironman World Championships, held in Kona, Hawaii. Pieck finished 83rd in his age division with a time of 10 hours, 29 minutes, 41 seconds.

In November, Kyle Pittman capped off a remarkable senior year in cross country by grabbing his second-straight Class AAAA individual title. Pittman lost only one race the entire year in the state of New Mexico. He would advance to the Nike Cross National race in early December.

In December, former Pierotti’s Clowns star pitcher Bernard L. “Bun” Ryan kicked off his career as an author with a pair of book signings for “My Cat-Skills: A Cat’s Tale.” Proceeds from the sales went to benefit Felines & Friends.