Book recounts area’s basketball lore

By Greg Price: CNJ sports writer

Chaparral middle school teacher Bill Stockton remembers his grandfather, Bill, telling him stories about his time on the Forrest High School varsity basketball team in the early 1930s.

Clovis boys basketball coach J.D. Isler recollects his father, Jerry, reciting tales of his days on Wheatland High School’s team in the late 1940s.

Now those stories are more than folklore passed down through generations, with the publishing of “Ghost Town Basketball” by Steve Flores, a former history teacher and New Mexico native.

Flores’ book explores the many defunct New Mexico high schools of the 20th century and their basketball history, with some emphasis on why the institutions are no longer around.

Flores will be in Clovis today signing books at the Java Loft from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

He cites the Homestead Act of 1863 and the Works Progress Administration created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression, as drivers behind the creation of towns like Forrest and Wheatland.

A former player at Santa Rosa High School in the late 1980s, Flores spent nearly four years compiling all the data for his book.

“I really just took interest in these schools,” Flores said. “It kind of bugged me these places weren’t around anymore.

“No one really bothered to keep up with the history of these places.”

Through his research and sheer coincidence, Flores met Chuck Ferris, who has kept records of every New Mexico high school since 1971.

Flores said without Ferris’ help, the book might have taken him 10 years to write.

“For awhile, no one at the NMAA (New Mexico Activities Association) and newspapers kept these records,” Ferris said. “I decided to do it and to give it to everybody.”

Ferris also wrote the foreword to the book, and credited Flores’ passion for history and basketball.

“Steve was young and enthusiastic about history,” Ferris said. “I showed him what I had, and let him use it.”

Flores breaks down each school’s basketball legacy, from their successes and failures, to why some no longer stand.

To Flores, Forrest represented his novel perfectly. It was a small school in Quay County that fed off its basketball team.

According to Flores, during its 30 years of basketball, Forrest went to the state tournament 15 times — more than schools with 80 years of basketball experience. Only Clovis, Albuquerque and Raton went to the state tournament more times than Forrest from the early 1920s to the late 1950s, he wrote.

Forrest’s star player was the elder Bill Stockton, who went on to coach men’s basketball at the University of New Mexico.

Ghost Town also describes the nuances of the game lost in history.

The game was drastically different in the early 20th century, when each made bucket was followed by a tip-off at center court. That, Isler said, explains the low scores.

“During the timeouts, the players weren’t allowed to go back to the bench,” Isler said. “My father told me they put water bottles on a red wagon and rolled it out to the players. Then they would pull it back with a rope on the handle.”