Bessie Lovorn, wearing the No. 68 jersey of her grandson Kendall Richards, has been a Wildcats fan since 1975 and has only missed one game in the last seven years. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Ryan Lengerich: CNJ staff writer
Bessie Lovorn wears purple and white socks and has painted her grandson’s number on her fingernails. Last week, when Clovis football fans tried to propel the ’Cats over Highland with chants of “Defense, defense,” Lovorn muttered “Please Lord, please Lord.”
She’s a faithful Wildcat follower, one of more than 5,000 expected for Saturday’s Class 5A state championship game between Clovis and La Cueva at Leon Williams Stadium.
Early this season, when Clovis traveled to Albuquerque to play Highland, Lovorn tracked the game via telephone from Nevada, where she was on a short vacation.
It was the only game she’s missed in seven years.
Her grandson, junior Kendall Richards, sometimes brings fellow lineman to his grandmother’s home for supper.
“I kind of feel maybe like a grandma (to some of the players),” she said. “When the (Wildcats) get a touchdown, I mean how sweet it is.”
It would be even sweeter if the ’Cats could pull off a monumental upset Saturday against a powerful La Cueva team that’s won 25 games in a row. At least Clovis will be in the comforts of its home stadium for the 2 p.m. title game.
Clovis schools Athletic Director Dale Fullerton said 5,000 to 6,000 fans are expected to crowd into Clovis’ home field Saturday, a nice change from a recent trend that shows football attendance dropping.
Clovis’ stands used to be full, even during the regular season.
As recently as 2002, the Wildcats averaged 2,300 to 2,500 fans per home game. This year, those numbers dropped to 1,800 to 2,000, Fullerton said.
When Clovis hosted Mayfield in the first round of the playoffs this year, Fullerton said fewer than 1,200 fans bought tickets.
Fullerton blames this year’s attendance woes partially on Mother Nature. A damp week preceded an overcast and misty day against Mayfield two weeks ago. The weather improved slightly for the semifinal game against Highland last Saturday and more fans came out for that Clovis win.
But Saturday afternoon games make it difficult for business owners and workers to attend, Fullerton said.
“If we play on Friday night at 7:30, I think we would have more fans,” he said.
Fullerton remembers a time when every game was like a state championship.
“It used to be there were more than just parents of players out there. There were fans from everywhere,” the former Clovis defensive coordinator said. “It was a tradition. Everybody came out to see the Wildcats play because they thought they were going to win every game no matter what.”
And they usually did.
The 1980s were highlighted by five straight state football championships, a New Mexico record that still stands. Clovis has won 13 state football titles since 1960. Current coach Eric Roanhaus spearheaded 10 of them.
This will mark Clovis’ second state title appearance in four years, but a lot has changed since the run of five in a row. Clovis’ opponents are different for one thing. Fullerton said the Wildcats used to play more Texas teams, who were more likely to make two-hour trips to Leon Williams. Now, Clovis has more games against Albuquerque schools, whose supporters are less likely to travel across the state, especially for a regular-season game.
At least one Clovis fan believes the attendance decline has nothing to do with Clovis’ supporters.
Jim Denton, whose son Chase is a junior lineman, said fewer visitor fans are showing up, therefore spreading out the Clovis followers.
“The Dog Pound has been out in force,” he said of the notoriously rowdy Wildcats fans who fill the stadium’s west side.
The players are undoubtedly helped by the support, Denton said. His son Ryan was Clovis’ quarterback last year before suffering a concussion that ended his high school career.
“The first time he went into the huddle and looked at the fans he was like a deer in the headlights,” Jim Denton said, laughing. “It is an adrenaline rush when they are out there playing in front of 5,000 people.”
Longtime Clovis barber Ellison Green played on the 1960 title team. He said fan support then was negligible.
“You could walk in at halftime and pick a seat,” said the owner of Ellison’s Barber Shop across from the school. “There is no way we had the amount of pride they have now-a-days and then I have noticed in the last few years some of that pride has kind of gone away.”
Green said the evidence can be found in his barber’s chair.
“I could cut a kid’s hair (in the 1980s), just a little-bitty fella, ask him what he was going to be when he grows up, it was always a Wildcat,” he said. “But today it’s not that big of a deal.
“I really feel like a lot of it is the attitude with the young people; they’ve lost interest. I really can’t put my fingers on it.”
Allan Isbell has held season tickets since 1972. The former Tucumcari football player remembers losing to Clovis every year.
“It’s a wonderful atmosphere,” Isbell said.
He recalls the early 1980s when he watched Clovis stifle Hobbs’ running back Timmy Smith, who rushed for 204 yards in Super Bowl XXII for the Washington Redskins.
“It used to be like a college or pro game because people would stand outside saying ‘I need tickets,’” he said. “It was packed every time.”
Isbell said he still believes Clovis has great fans and outstanding players, but he said interest may have dipped because “there are more options and people have more things to do.”
Fullerton said he has a waiting list four pages long for reserve seats. Many holding those seats don’t attend the game, but refuse to give them up for fear of losing them, he said.
“I remember it used to be cold and the people they would come all bundled up like the people in Denver or Green Bay,” Fullerton said. “They were out — it didn’t matter what kind of weather.”
Fortunately, weather shouldn’t be an issue Saturday, with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 50s forecast.
“We’ll fill it up for this,” Fullerton said.
CNJ News Editor Mike Linn contributed to this report.