Alamogordo Public Schools Equity Activities and Education Since 1940s


George Wallace segregationist on a visit to Alamogordo APS used it as a teaching opportunity

If one studies the history of Alamogordo, the reality is the city since its founding has had a history of racial tensions due to its deep Southern leanings. Throughout its history, since the 1940s, the local school system has been progressive in leaning into dialog about race.

Is Alamogordo racist? No!
Is Alamogordo comfortable in dialog about race? No. 

Has the school system been involved in dialog around equity and equity education since the 1940s? Yes! 

Since the 1940s when Alamogordo led the country in integration, not by request of the local parents, but by a brave decision of the football coach of Alamogordo High School, and a School Board, brave enough to take heat from a public outcry and still act progressively, thus leading the dialog on race relations.

When an argument is made that the local Alamogordo Public Schools should not be involved in social policy education, equity education and dialog on race and sexism; one must look back and study school board precedent and the past history as progressive leadership since the 1940s.  Bold progressive leadership has been in the DNA of administration and the School Boards of the Alamogordo Public Schools since the 1940s.

Alamogordo, New Mexico as a small city has had a history of racial controversy; with loud and outspoken proponents and equally loud critics. Some argue that without organized high school level interscholastic sports such as track and field, football and basketball; racial and economic integration, the development of women’s sports programs or Title IX and other social changes never would have happened. 

Some argue that interscholastic sports in Alamogordo and beyond was the progressive team building bond which built local community pride, opened hearts and minds to the concepts of equal opportunities for all beginning with the sports, the schools and the military then onward to other government institutions, businesses and eventually society at large.

New Mexico, and Alamogordo even while a territory, took a progressive view to public education and made public education compulsory in urban areas in 1891. It became compulsory everywhere by the time New Mexico became a state in 1912.

With the institution of mandatory schooling in New Mexico, children and families experienced a profound shift in the structure of their daily lives, especially in the social organization of their time. This change in social view resulted in thinking about how to challenge a child and occupy his day.

By 1916, and New Mexico was a leader in public education. The United States was starting to educate its children for more years than most other countries, even while admitting a surge of immigrants. The ruling elite feared that all this schooling would make Anglo-Saxon boys soft and weak, in contrast to their brawny, newly immigrated peers.Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. warned that cities were being overrun with “stiff-jointed, soft-muscled, paste-complexioned youth.” Sports, the thinking went, would both protect boys’ masculinity and distract them from vices like gambling and prostitution. “Muscular Christianity,” fashionable during the Victorian era, prescribed sports as a sort of moral vaccine against the tumult of rapid economic growth. “In life, as in a football game,” Theodore Roosevelt wrote in an essay on “The American Boy” in 1900, “the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard; don’t foul and don’t shirk but hit the line hard!”

Alamogordo was created initially as a segregated city. Before New Mexico became a state in 1912, Alamogordo was two cities in one: Alamogordo and Chihuahua in 1898 then merged into one but one with segregation.

While researching segregation in Alamogordo, Alamogordo Historical Society researcher Joe Lewandowski found that there were dividing lines across the small community. Hispanics could not go north of 10th Street or into the Plaza Bar and the Plaza Cafe, he told the US News and World Report in a published interview.

“That wasn’t unusual for anywhere at that time ... in the 1930s,” Lewandowski said during a previous interview. “But the Apache could walk in the front door of the bar or the cafe at any time and have a seat.”

Alamogordo public Schools Athletics under Coach Rolla Buck ended segregation in Alamogordo…

The mid 1940s to 1951 brought about significant change to Alamogordo High School and its athletics program that would affect it for decades into the future. Coach Rolla Buck entered the scene as a no-nonsense coach that looked at athletic ability and “was not interested in the racial tensions or other distractions” of the time. Buck would be seen historically as a member of the progressive educational movement and an advocate for integrated interscholastic sports. Rolla Buck was an active member of the Alamogordo community where he served 32 years in the Lions Club, he was also a Mason where he achieved the status of Master at the Tularosa Lodge. He was also an active Shriner with Ballut Abyad Temple. Post coaching, he served for 6 years as the Alamogordo City Manager and later as Chief Clerk of the New Mexico State Corporation Commission.

New Mexico sports historians have noted his tenure for his impact on Alamogordo High School Athletics and the culmination of success around the classes of 1949, 1950 and 1951. Each became a year of historical note and excellence in performance within the Alamogordo High School athletic programs. Alamogordo High School 1949 to 1951 would be recognized as the most successful years, up to that point in its history of athletic excellence since formation in 1916.

Beginning with the 1940's, a more progressive tone took hold and Alamogordo High School broke barriers first in transitioning Mexican students from the Dudley School.

Coach Rolla Buck will be long remembered not only for a record of winning teams; but for how he managed to overturn the long-standing discriminatory tradition of not allowing those with Spanish surnames to play competitive athletics, as well. In prior decades since the founding of the school system in 1916; those with Spanish surnames and those that predominantly spoke Spanish, were not invited nor allowed to come out for football or any interscholastic sport at Alamogordo High School. Coach Rolla Buck had “no use for and wouldn’t tolerate discrimination”, he actively recruited players regardless of ethnicity but had, “skills, heart or potential to play with excellence” on his teams.

In 1944, Leo J Aubel, graduated as the first Mexican Valedictorian and lettered Mexican Athlete at Alamogordo High School.

(Leo J Aubel Factoid)

Aubel was born and raised in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where he was the valedictorian of his high school class. Later a graduate of the University of Nebraska, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and New York Law School, his education was sometimes interrupted by his Naval service on the USS Allegheny and the USS Mellette.

He was admitted to the New York Bar in 1956, after which he worked in-house at IBM, and was subsequently admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1963 and remained in private practice until his retirement in 2013, most recently with Wallenstein, Wagner, Hattis, Strampel & Aubel. He notably was also one of the founding members of the Mexican American Lawyers Association.

1949 became the pivotal year for the interscholastic sports programs and education for Alamogordo High School Athletics under the direction of Coach Rolla Buck and school superintendent Barney Cato. They were faced with a decision that would have a far-reaching impact on the development of the city of Alamogordo and on future successes of the Alamogordo High School Athletics and academics programs. They did something no other predominantly white high school had done before in New Mexico; it accepted its first black student, Bobby Joe Fritz.

Fritz wanted to play football but the Delaware School for Negro Children, also known as Corinth, did not offer sports. African American children of the time were denied athletic opportunities; as Alamogordo High was not integrated to African American children at the time.

The Alamogordo School Board initially gave Fritz permission to play football at the high school, but he had to continue his regular classes at the Delaware School.

Concurrent to this situation the school system and the city of Alamogordo was already getting pressure from the U.S. Military to tackle the issue of integration. President Harry S. Truman's executive order 9981 was signed on July 26, 1948 and forbade discrimination by school systems servicing the US military. Pressure was felt by elected officials of the time for Alamogordo Public Schools to end school segregation.

Holloman Air Force Base officials strongly requested Alamogordo members stationed at HAFB would have access to integrated schools.

Per Margaret “Markie” Rutz; (a rare women’s high school tennis champion of the time) from the infamous the class of 1950; “my dad was on the school board and they quietly moved all the black students into the high school. By the second year of integration all the black students were in the traditional school system and the two room Delaware School was closed.”

I Just Want to Play Football: According to an article by Nicole Maxwell, Alamogordo Daily News July 29, 2019; An Executive Order and a teen who just wanted to play football is how APS integrated schools. “There were dividing lines across the small community: Hispanics could not go north of 10th Street or into the plaza. At the time it was the Plaza Bar and the Plaza Café. African Americans could go in the back door of the plaza which was then a storeroom. But the Apache could walk in the front door of the bar or the cafe at any time and have a seat."

According to The Southern School News, Oct 1,1954 “Integration of Negro students into previously all-white schools had been a continuing process in New Mexico from 1948 to the mid-1950s. Problems were not too great; the state's Negro population, about 9,000 amounts to only 1.2 per cent of the entire state population. The communities requiring segregation all are located on New Mexico's East Side, the so-called little Texas, where population centers’ have sprung up from New Mexico's booming oil and livestock industries.”

The article continued, “Alamogordo, a southern New Mexico community of some 8,500 persons, abolished segregation several years ago for the twin reasons of sociological advancement and economic necessity. Supt. Barney Caton expressed his opposition to the principal of segregation, and school board members also agreed that the African American population was not sufficient to warrant maintenance of separate facilities. The transfer was made without incident of closing the Delaware School for Negros and integrating those students in Alamogordo High School and other related schools.”

Bobby Joe Fritz just wanted to play sports; he became a pioneer that helped break racial barriers. He also played baseball, basketball and ran track. The Football team won State in 1950.

Bobby Joe Fritz played for 3 years and won state rankings in track and field competitions, he along with others brought victory in Track and Field to Alamogordo that had not seen a win at the state level since 1941 with multiple District and State athletic wins in the 1950 and 1951 seasons.

Alamogordo was a decade ahead of most of Texas and Southern schools in its integration efforts of Blacks and two decades ahead for Mexican integration. Bobby Joe Fritz would continue decades later to support his Tiger alumni.

Racial tensions and sexism however continued to exist in Alamogordo with its Southern leanings over the decades and the Alamogordo Public School leadership stepped up to many challenges.

On October 16, 1968, Black Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who engaged in a silent protest on the medal stand to bring light to the racial discrimination and violence against Black people in the U.S., were met with hostility by white supporters and the media, and were eventually suspended for their protest. Soon after several Alamogordo High School football players staged protests of their own disrupting. At first their actions were not well received resulting in a few athletes transferring to other school systems due to how the situation was initially handled. A change in coaching occurred soon after under the direction of the school superintendent and board at the time and racial tensions were calmed by progressive school leadership.

Again tensions peaked in Alamogordo by the visit of presidential candidate and segregationist George Wallace to Alamogordo for a campaign speech and stop. The Alamogordo School System dismissed School early the day of the Wallace Rally. Several Alamogordo High Athletes heckled Wallace from a tree and the state police stepped in. But under the leadership of coaches and administration from the Alamogordo Public Schools calm prevailed, the students were not arrested and the system leadership and teachers used the events of the Wallace visit as an educational opportunity to discuss diversity and coexistence.

Over the decades and into the 21st Century there are other examples of racial incidents or sexism that occurred and the Alamogordo Public Schools Superintendents, coaches and teachers used the incidents as educational opportunities to update curriculum and to teach equity and community collaboration and coexistence.

When an argument is made that the local Alamogordo Public Schools should not be involved in social policy education, equity education and dialog on race and sexism; one must look back and study school board precedent and the past history as progressive leadership. Bold progressive leadership has been in the DNA of administration and the School Boards of the Alamogordo Public Schools since the 1940s.

Alamogordo, had a history of tackling the tough issues and once led the nation in educational excellence and school rankings. A review of the real history of Alamogordo Public Schools as progressive leaders in education beginning in the 1940s tells us that race and sexism has always been a part of the curriculum.

The most recent outcry against equity education and dialog around it is a reminder of Alamogordo’s Southern leanings. Alamogordo historically is better than what is being debated today.

Will Alamogordo Public Schools leadership and school board show true leadership in this decade continuing to build based on the local historical precedents? Or will the board yield to a radical element stifling innovation, growth, business development and societal progress?

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