In 2005, Sports Illustrated ranked La Cueva High School as the 22nd overall high school athletics program in the nation. Titled “In a League of Their Own,” the SI piece detailed how the school of 2,150 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, had ascended to a powerhouse program since the fall of 1994 by winning 47 state championships in 15 sports. By May 2018, the school laid claim to 126 team state championships across its 21 athletics programs.
So, how does such a school honor its storied past? Former La Cueva Athletic Director Larry Waters had that same question when he assumed the role in 1996 after previously serving several years as a teacher and soccer coach.
“Although we had been open for 30 years, we had never really recognized the accomplishments of our student-athletes and coaches with the exception of having an athlete of the year,” Waters said. “To spotlight them, I came up with this idea to establish a hall of fame, and in 2016, we inducted our first class.”
Waters convened a committee of former student-athletes, current and former coaches, as well as current parents to develop procedures to recognize prospective hall of famers.
The result was a three-step process that begins by identifying La Cueva graduates who had successful athletic careers while making positive contributions to the local community. Additionally, the graduates must have been successful beyond high school and made further contributions to the community where they reside. Waters added that inductees can include student-athletes, coaches and historically significant or record-setting teams at La Cueva.
Playing catch up, Waters said the first few classes have included more inductees than the committee plans to have going forward. The inaugural class in 2016 recognized 12 former student-athletes, while the 2017 class was narrowed to eight inductees, two of whom were coaches. Coaches must have served the school for a minimum of 10 years or the district for at least 15 years. If a prospective coaching candidate has served in the district, at least seven years must have been at La Cueva.
“The criteria that we have in place for student-athletes notes that they must be 15 years removed from graduation,” Waters said. “We had many outstanding student-athletes in our inaugural class, which recognized not only high school and collegiate All-Americans, but also those such as Doug Zembiec, a highly decorated Marine, who was killed in Baghdad. He was a state champion wrestler and an All-American at the Naval Academy.”
In the second step of the committee’s procedures, the nominated list is reduced to a list of hall of honor candidates. The committee selects the hall of fame inductees from the alumni in the hall of honor. Once inducted into the hall of fame, inductees are official voting members.
“Our list of hall of honor candidates is roughly about 100 student- athletes from a 30-year period,” Waters said. “The committee and our hall of famers are asked to identify 10 worthy candidates, in no particular order. I include on the list each sport and accomplishment that the candidate is associated with.”
According to Waters, the committee determines a list for the final ballot once votes are tabulated. The final ballot submitted by voters includes their top six in rank order.
Each year, the committee establishes a date for the induction ceremony. La Cueva’s 2018 Hall of Fame class was recognized December 21 prior to the school’s basketball game. Waters said each induction will feature a presentation before and after a basketball game. The postgame reception includes a presentation of awards with biographies, pictures and a PowerPoint presentation of inductees.
“I’m a historian and I love the aspect of history and record- keeping. I kept the records for the school all these years,” Waters said. “Wherever there was a hole, I’d go back, contact coaches and fill in those holes so that those student-athletes or coaches could be recognized. I’ve got team records from when the school started until this year.”
As with the two previous classes, the 2018 class inductees will have a commemorative plaque placed in the school. New for this year is an interactive digital kiosk in the school. Waters said once the committee and school officials determined to buy a kiosk, they held a silent auction to raise funds to make the custom purchase.
The La Cueva High School website takes additional steps to recognize its athletic hall of fame by detailing the accomplishments through biographical info of each inductee. Also included on the La Cueva Athletic Hall of Fame website is a nomination form to be submitted by individuals interested in honoring worthy La Cueva graduates.
Cody Porter is a graphic arts/communications assistant in the NFHS Publications/ Communications Department.