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Lea County Athletic Hall of Fame

Early settlers to the Llano Estacado were a scattered lot, seldom coming together. However when they did assemble, whether to hear a traveling preacher, celebrate a festive event, or attend a ranch dance, some type of sports activity could be expected.

During a social event, children would be seen playing baseball with a stick and ball made from a piece of cloth wrapped around a rock. Old cow-pokes would be talking about the meanest bronc they had broken, the fastest horse they had riden, or their skill at roping.

These traditions have been a part of Lea County's history, producing many local athletes and heroes. In an effort to recognize these outstanding individuals, the Lea County Museum established the Lea County Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008 and asked local residents to nominate individuals worthy of induction. Below are the hall of fame inductees beginning with the most current year.


The Lea County Sports Hall of Fame has announced it is designating a great teams listing of boys and girls teams for each of the county’s current towns that field public school athletic teams.

Although it did not make the final great teams cut the 1949-50 Lovington boys basketball team was a state champion. That year Ralph Tasker was the coach, he is seen here on the left of the teama.

Before mnay outstanding teams developed in a young Lea County, there were teams playing at Lea schools, including the 1923 Lovington basketball team.

For Tatum, Lovington, Hobbs, Eunice, and Jal, the great team listing comes from considering teams in all sports, including football, basketball, golf, baseball, soccer, volleyball, cross country, and track and field.

Gene Murphy, president of the board of directors of the Lea County Museum and LCSHOF, says, "Since we formed the Hall of Fame in 2009, we have wanted to acknowledge not only outstanding individual athletes, but also Lea County teams that excelled."

"In the selection process, the teams can be from any sport," Murphy says, "and we wanted to choose a great boys team and a great girls team from each of the towns. All of the teams chosen were state champions."

The following teams were chosen for boys:

Tatum: 1986-87 Football, 9-3 record

Lovington: 1986-87 Football undefeated

Hobbs: 1969-70 Basketball, 26-1

Eunice: 1958-59 Football, undefeated

Jal: 1967-68 Football, 10-1

Here are the selected great teams for girls:

Tatum Volleyball 2012 , 24-4 record

Lovington Basketball 2012-13, 22-9

Hobbs 2002-03 Basketball, 25-3

Eunice Volleyball, 1996, 22-2

Jal Basketball 1981-82, 22-4

"We realize that different sports enthusiasts will disagree about the choices," says Murphy, "but we felt that those differing opinions should not deter us from acknowledging the accomplishments of individual athletes working as a team."

"We are not saying that beyond all doubt, without any question, these are the absolute greatest of all the teams. We are just tipping our hat to these outstanding teams who stood out in winning and who have brought honor to Lea County."

Acting as a consultant for data in the process is Hobbs' Rick Shed, who has written a book about Lea sports, "Hobbs Basketball: By the Numbers" and who has spent a considerable part of his life compiling information about county athletes and teams. For him, it has been an enjoyable hobby and passion. His book is available on line at

Shed was also on the original board of directors for the HOF that created the origination and chose the initial inductees.

The great teams will be listed on a large plaque in a prominent part of the HOF beside photographs and biographies of the individual athletes who have been inducted.

Because of budget constraints on the Lea County Museum this year," Murphy says,"the board of directors felt we should not have a formal banquet and induction this year. The annual ceremonies, which we have had since 2009 and which have been outstanding celebrations, are very expensive to put on. Perhaps we will get back to having the ceremonies in 2015."

Murphy also announced that from this year forward the name of the Hall will be the Lea County Sports Hall of Fame rather than the original title of Lea County Athletic Hall of Fame.

2011 Inductees

Pat Henry

Pat Henry was a long-time coach at Hobbs High School before he coached in several colleges and assumed his current duties at College Station, Texas. Henry currently serves as head coach of the Texas A&M University track and field program. He was the first coach to lead a school to three consecutive men's and women's NCAA Championships. He accomplished that with national championships in 2010. He had coached at Louisiana State University for 17 years before coming to Texas A&M.

Henry is a native New Mexican having attended high school at Del Norte High in Albuquerque. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico and holds a masters degree from Western New Mexico University.

Manny Marquez

Marquez made his mark on Lea County athletics in writing about Lea sports at all levels, from high school football to professional golf. Marquez was an athlete at Artesia High School, a member of the 1964 Class AA State Championship team in football. He worked as the sports editor at the Artesia Daily Press before being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. Manny joined the staff at the Hobbs News-Sun as Sports Editor, a position at which he served from 1970 to 1994. He was the Editor of the News-Sun from 1995 to 2002 when he retired.

Marquez received many honors and awards during his career in journalism, including Sportswriter of the Year in 1982. He also did broadcasts for several high school sports on a number of radio stations.

2010 Inductees

Ronnie Black

Jack Abendschan

Jeff Taylor, Sr.

2009 Inductees

Rob Evans

Rob was born in Hobbs in 1946, played basketball for the Eagles, and went on to play at New Mexico State University. He had his early training in coaching at Las Cruces, before he went on to an outstanding career in college basketball.

His teams won championships at Texas Tech University, Ole Miss, and Arizona State University. Evans is also in a number of sports halls of fame, including the New Mexico State Hall of Fame.

He was the guest speaker at the inaugural Lea County Athletic Hall of Fame induction in 2008, the Hall's first year. His emotional remembrances of playing basketball for Coach Ralph Tasker, set the stage for the inaugural class of inductees. Rob is currently Assistant Coach at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

Roy "Super Looper" Cooper

Roy Cooper is another Lea County cowboy who came from a ranching family and went on to become an outstanding athlete. Cooper has so many wins, honors, and championships that it takes his own web site to list them all.

Cooper was born in Hobbs in 1955, grew up in the nearby community of Monument. He went to school here in Lea County, then attended Cisco Junior College and Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Cooper began winning rodeos when he was not much more than a kid, but when he turned pro following college he became the top rodeo cowboy in the world, passing many milestones in dollars won.

He is an eight-time world champion, with All Around Cowboy honors in 1983. He is already an inductee in other sports halls, including the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, and the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame.

As just about everyone in Lea County knows, Roy is the son of Betty and Dale "Tuffy" Cooper, his father a champion rodeo cowboy and according to the latest New Mexico Magazine the "Grandaddy of Rodeo." Tuffy was inducted into the Lea County Athletic Hall of Fame last year. Roy's parents still live on their ranch outside of Monument; Roy now resides in Decatur, Texas.

Gene Wells

Wells was born in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, in 1925. He attended high school in Ada and MacAlester, Oklahoma, graduating from the latter in 1943. Duane Fisher, longtime Hobbs High coach, was Wells' football coach in high school.

Wells served in the Air Force (1943-1946) during World War II. After the war, he attended Oklahoma A&M (now known as Oklahoma State University) on a football scholarship, graduating in 1949.

Over the years he served as a teacher, principal, and coach, coming to Hobbs Municipal Schools 1953. In Hobbs. Wells became the Athletic Director, and under his leadership Watson Stadium was built, completed in 1965 which when completed provided the largest seating for a high school football stadium in New Mexico.

Wells also served as Head Track Coach in Hobbs, and the Gene Wells Relays have been held annually for many years.

Ray Hilburn

Tatum's Ray Hilburn recounts that football, basketball, and track were a major part of his life as a kid, and they continue to be important to him as he watches his children, grandchildren, and neighbors' young ones participate in various sports.

Ray was an elite athlete, a person who set records when he ran during his youth. Most of us can only stand on the sidelines and be bedazzled at the superb athletic skills we see others demonstrate. We participate by observing; we satisfy our longing to act by becoming fans of those who do spend their lives in physical endeavors.

Ray Hilburn, a longtime Lea rancher, graduated from Tatum High School in 1960. He received a full scholarship for all of his years at Texas Western College, now the University of Texas at El Paso, from which he graduated in 1965.

Hilburn played basketball and football in high school, and he set state records while at Tatum; then he went on to set records as he ran NCAA track for Texas Western. He had many wins at regional and nation NCAA meets.

Hilburn says that one of his fondest memories is of an NCAA meet in Abilene, an event at which he set a state record that held for 20 years. Another one of his favorite memories is the NCAA championships in Lawrence, Kansas, where he won the 400 meter hurdles, running in the outside lane and receiving his wrist watch award for his win.

2008 Inductees

Ralph "Slatz" Baggett

Ross Black

Ross Black attended Lovington High School where he was a four sport letterman, all-state two times in basketball. In high school, he lettered in football two years, basketball three years, track three years and baseball one year. He was captain of the basketball and track teams his senior year and earned both all-district and all-state honors. In 1949-50, he played for the South in the North-South All Star game in 1950. He was President of the senior class, named best all around boy and most outstanding in school activities in 1950. He was starting guard for the 1949 New Mexico State Championship basketball team, Lovington's first state championship in that sport, under then head coach Ralph Tasker.

He attended Ft. Lewis Junior College in Durango, Colorado, where he was all-conference in basketball and was named Athlete of the Year in 1951. He was captain of the basketball team, lettering in basketball, track and tennis. After transferring to University of New Mexico in 1952, he was a three year letterman in track and basketball, also captain of the track and baskeball teams in 1954. Black was named Track Man of the Year in 1953 and received the Lobo Award for best all around student athlete in 1954.

Upon graduation from UNM, Black returned to Lovington to begin his coaching career in 1954, serving as head track coach and assistant football and basketball coach, assuming the head basketball and track coach duties two years later. He was named New Mexico Basketball Coach of the year in 1960 and coached the South to a victory in the 1958 New Mexico North South All Star game. He was honored as New Mexico Physical Education Associan Merit Teacher of the Year award in 1961.

His basketball teams won District championships and were runners up one year when Lovington competed in the top class in the state, competing with the largest schools. His teams won four state championships in gymnastics during his tenure at Lovington and his track team finished third in the state meet in 1964, second in 1965 and first in 1966. He served New Mexico Activities Association as a member of the Boys Athletic Committee, Handbook Revision Committee, Budget Committee, Building Committee and Chairman for District 4-AAA. Black served three two year terms as member of the National Federation Executive Committee and served as President of the National Federation Executive Committee in 1989. He also served on several committees and task forces for the National Federation, including Budget Committee for two years, Insurance Committee and the task force for catastrophic injuries.

In 1966, he became the first coach and athletic director at the newly completed New Mexico Junior College. His first basketball team earned an 18-10 record and won a position in the Region V playoff tournament. Black organized his first track team at NMJC in 1967. In its first year the Thunderbird track team won the conference championship and Black was named Region V Track Coach of the Year. In 1969, the track team was undefeated in the regular season, winning its second conference championship and finishing 5th at the national track meet. In 1970, win a third consecutive West Junior College Athletic Conference championship, climaxing the season by winning the National Junior College Championship in Mesa, Arizona. Coach Black was honored as National Junior College Coach of the year in 1971 and was also honored by being named as coach of the American team in an international competition in Madrid, Spain. The 1972 track team went undefeated for a fourth consecutive time during its regular season setting a record of 51 consecutive wins, finishing high in the national meet.

Black served as President of the National Junior College Track and Field Coaches Association for three years. He retired from coaching at NMJC after the 1973 season to focus on his duties as Athletic Director and Dean of the Division of Education and Psychology. In August of that year, he went to Moscow to serve as a coach on the United States track team in the World University Games, thus ending his remarkable track coaching career. His two relay teams earned the only two gold medals won by the United States in track. He was nominated for the Olympic track and field coaching staff for the 1976 Olympic Games.

In 1977 he returned to Lovington to serve as high school principal for four years before becoming superintendent of schools, a position he held until his retirement. He was honored as New Mexico School Administrator of the Year in 1987. His honors include being inducted into the New Mexico Athletic Activities Hall of Fame and being named New Mexico Superintendent of the Year in 1991. He was inducted into the Ft. Lewis College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994, the Western Junior College Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Lea County Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.

Bill Bridges

Dale "Tuffy" Cooper

Ralph Tasker

Brian Urlacher

Kathy Whitworth