For new members of the NM Sports Hall of Fame, it’s all about relationships

Bill Gracey, shown in 1996, was a Cibola High baseball coach who later refereed high-level college basketball. (log file)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Ultimately, coaching is about people. So basically it’s arbitration.

Bill Gracey and Herb Stinson have professional resumes that facilitated their induction into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame. Stinson participated, as head coach and assistant, in 17 state wrestling titles at Aztec High School. Gracey coached Cibola High School to a state baseball title in 1983 and, alongside his long coaching career, refereed college basketball games throughout the western United States.

But looking back, the pair say it’s the relationships they formed and the young minds they helped shape that endure.

“The championships, they come and go. Kids, they come and go,” said Stinson, 70. “But when (his former wrestlers) call me and they say, ‘Hey, coach, I’m still using some of the things you taught me in my work ethic”. that’s what really sinks in. That’s what does it for me.

Gracey, 69, pointed out that the seniors on his 1983 Cibola Championship team are only around 12 years younger than him – well into their own careers and raising or having raised their own families.

“They own their own businesses. John Roskos (Cibola class of 1991), who was a second-round pick of the Marlins (then from Florida), he is one of the best cops in Rio Rancho. There’s no doubt that when you see the successes of the kids you need to coach and hopefully teach them some life lessons, that’s the best part of being an educator.

On Saturday night at the annual Hall of Fame banquet at the Albuquerque Convention Center, those representing inductees Lou Pierotti, Emanuel “Manny” Smith and Gene Torres Sr., all deceased, will likely say the same thing.

It’s about people.

Stinson, Japanese on his mother’s side – his parents met in Japan after World War II – said participating in athletics at Aztec gave him a sense of inclusion he needed in his youth.

But football, not wrestling, was his first love.

“I wouldn’t say I was deprived of anything, but football gave me something to release my anxieties on,” he said.

He started wrestling only because Jerry Parker, a trainer whom Stinson said inspired him to become a trainer himself, said it could make him a better football player.

He found, however, that at 145 pounds he was better suited for the mat than the grill. He wrestled collegiately in Utah, then returned to Aztec and started what would become a legendary career.

In football, Stinson said, he could miss a block and be bailed out by a powerful and/or elusive running back. In wrestling, he said, “You have no place to hide. You are on your own… I think for children it is so important that you can manage on your own, and the struggle forces you to do that.

Denver-born Gracey was a West Mesa football and baseball player and was voted Mustangs Athlete of the Year in 1971. He began coaching after earning a bachelor’s degree in physical education from UNM.

His refereeing career began almost by accident, when he was approached after working on an intramural game as a class assignment at UNM.

In 1982, out of the blue, he received a contract in the mail from Western Athletic Conference officials manager Irv Brown, assigning him to a game at UTEP.

Over the years, he said in a phone interview, he found what worked for him as a public servant.

“I got pretty good at those four to ten second conversations (with the coaches) on the pitch,” he said. “…One of the best things that ever happened to me was saying, ‘Coach, I missed (a call). When you admit you missed it, they usually (felt): “Well, at least he’s honest.”

What if he didn’t miss the call, but the coach thought he did?

“These are the ones that are a bit more difficult,” he said. “You say things like ‘Coach, I didn’t see it that way’ or ‘I didn’t have the same angle as you’.”

In those conversations with people like Rick Majerus, Don Haskins and others, things got heated at times. But Gracey said his relationships with umpires as a baseball coach often informed his relationships with basketball coaches as an official.

“At the start of my baseball coaching career, I needed to mature a lot,” he said. “When you go out (to discuss a call) on emotion rather than facts, you’re going to lose.

“The more I coached baseball, the more I understood what (game officials) were going through, because officiating in another sport allowed me to feel their pain.”

2021 Inductees

Bill Grace

Graduated from West Mesa in 1971; All districts and all cities in baseball and football

Coached high school baseball and college softball over a career spanning some 40 years

Coached Cibola to a high school state title in 1983, La Cueva to a district title in 1998. His teams qualified for the state tournament 10 times

Officiated men’s college basketball games from 1982 to 2014, including the East-West All-Star Game the day before the 1983 NCAA Championship game in Albuquerque

Son Scott played professional baseball for eight years, reaching the AAA class level

Lou Pierotti

Born in Colorado but lived in New Mexico from 1951 until his death in 2015

A versatile athlete, was offered professional baseball contracts after World War II. Later he became an accomplished bowler and golfer

His fast-paced Pierotti Clowns softball team, formed in 1953, entertained fans throughout the Rocky Mountain-Southwest

The five Clowns would have gone 177-23 against nine-man teams behind Bun Ryan’s pitcher

Emmanuel “Manny” Smith

Born in New York, was an outstanding basketball player at Stuyvesant High School in Brooklyn

Arrived in Albuquerque in 1952 after serving as a medic in the US Army. Was named All-Army in basketball

Taught for decades as an APS elementary school teacher while working as a basketball game official.

Won 11 consecutive municipal handball titles and nine consecutive state titles. His battles with handball rival Cordy Garcia were legendary in the sport

Was an accomplished actor, both in local productions and films

Died of cancer in 1995 at the age of 65

Stinson Grass

Born in Farmington, was an outstanding football player, wrestler, and track athlete at Aztec High School, earning nine varsity letters.

Collegiate wrestling for Dixie State College (St. George, Utah) and Southern Utah

As head coach, led Aztec to 13 state wrestling titles—-11 straight from 1990-2000. Also served as an assistant football coach

Compiled a 535-95-2 record in doubleheaders at Aztec and Bayfield, Colorado

Took high school wrestlers to tournaments in multiple states as well as Canada

His son Jeremy won three consecutive state wrestling titles from 1993 to 1995. Son Travis was also a state champion

Gene Torres Sr.

Born in Trinidad, Colorado

Served in the United States Navy from 1957 to 1962

Moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico as a golf professional and coach at New Mexico Highlands in 1962

Won five New Mexico Open tournaments, four consecutively from 1968-1971. Lost by one stroke to PGA Tour star Lee Trevino the following year

Won the National Pro-Am Golf Tournament at Pinehurst, North Carolina in 1971, shooting a course record 61 in the final round

Career wins include Conrad Hilton Open (four times), Sun Country Sectional (six) and San Juan Open (three)

Died in 2005 in Las Vegas at age 67

About Frank Torres

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