As the 2018 Taos Tigers football team readies for Saturday’s state championship game at the hometown Anaya Field, the community also readies for that age old tradition of small-town high school spirit.
The generationslong tradition of community support has followed the Tigers through the 2018 football season to this one final game where the team will lay it all on the line and not just for themselves, but for all of Taos.
“This is huge,” said Taos High Athletic Director Nickie McCarty. “This is just something unimaginable. These boys have made our town proud. They’ve represented our school and our community well.”
Under coach Art Abreu Jr.’s leadership, the team has steadily bettered their record since 2014 and is going into this state final with the best record in recent Tiger football history. Several on the team have been playing for Abreu for the past four years. Each game has brought more fans to Anaya Field.
After a season where the Tigers suffered only one loss and held five teams from scoring, they will face off against the Bloomfield Bobcats for the State Class 4A championship, a first for Tiger football history.
The New Mexico Activities Association keeps football records only as far back as 1950 and, in those years, the Taos Tigers have never made it to the championship game.
Community members and parents have waited all season, and some a lifetime, to see the Tigers reach this point. Many are seeing it as the turn of a tide in Tiger athletics. Several who don’t know the difference between the line of scrimmage and an end zone will still be out in full force to watch this historic game.
“This game is going to have a lasting impression for generations,” said Tiger parent Mani Meadowcroft. “Win or lose, it’s going to be wonderful for the community. To get to this point, this group of boys have been amazing.”
Meadowcroft knows, more than many, the importance of Saturday’s game as he once put on the pads and ran out onto Anaya Field as the Tiger quarterback in the early ‘90s.
As a former player, Meadowcraft said Taos has not always been known for football. That the team has made it this far is an incredible feat for the school and town. He also said he was proud to see such an event happening in Taos and was even more excited to see his son on the field as a Tiger during this historic event.
But he won’t be the only player filling the seats in Anaya Field Saturday.
Players over the years have returned or remained in Taos to cheer on the Tigers and often end up right in the middle of the mix of their former school. Daniel Gonzales is one of those Tigers and has dedicated his years to announcing all but five Tiger football games and most of the basketball games.
“Each year I’ve seen them develop and get better,” Gonzales said. “Even at the St. Pius game, I could see we were just barely off. The next week they came back and whipped the next team. Right then, I knew it was a team that had each other’s back. They had a setback, so what? That was just another lesson learned.”
Gonzales has been announcing the Tiger games since 1989 and does so on a volunteer basis. When asked what keeps him coming back, he simply said this was his way of giving back to the community that raised him.
Sporting the classic black hat with a bright orange paw print, Gonzales enters into his arena with his voice ready to call the games for Tiger fans. Not only is he a dedicated fan and volunteer, Gonzales also was co-captain of the 1976 Tiger team.
Gonzales said he remembers the dedication and pride Taos had for their sports teams. He recalls the entire town creating a motorcade of cars from the Río Grande Gorge Bridge to escort the team in from a victorious road game.
“I knew that the town was so behind us (then), that no matter what happened, we were champions,” Gonzales said. “What these kids have done to this town is given everyone great hope and the feeling of being champions.”
Gonzales said he has not seen support like this season in quite a while. He feels that the team has taken their training and dedication over the past four years and molded themselves into their top shape. While he remains confident in the team’s ability, he is encouraging the Tigers to simply play their game and to know the entire community is behind them.
“These boys have really worked hard and dedicated and sacrificed summers, holidays and birthdays to get at the place they’re at,” coach Abreu said.
With only a few days left, Abreu will have his team practicing and focused for Saturday. He said he appreciates the entire community coming out and showing its support. Tickets are being sold for what will be the game of the year at Anaya Field. Community members and businesses have shown their support for Tiger athletics.
“This is about everybody. This is about the community and county of Taos,” Abreu said. “This is something beautiful and will be appreciated for generations to come.”
Tiger fans are on the edge of their seats in anticipation for the game, which could bring a blue trophy to the cases in the halls of Taos High school. Kick off is at 1 p.m. sharp Saturday, but seats will not be saved for this game, so be sure to grab tickets and get in early.
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