Farmington's Sanders Invitational will feature tribute to late head coach Marv Sanders
FARMINGTON — This week's high school basketball tournament at Farmington High School's Scorpion Arena will feature much more than high-scoring games and potentially dramatic finishes.
It will also serve as an opportunity for many to pay respects for one of the greatest high school basketball coaches in the history of the state of New Mexico.
The Marv Sanders Memorial Invitational, which begins Thursday and features teams from Bloomfield, Navajo Prep, Shiprock as well Gallup and Durango, will also serve as a tribute to Sanders, who will be honored between games on Saturday with a ceremony featuring many former players and coaches.
Sanders, the fourth-winningest high school boys basketball coach in New Mexico history who won four state championships during an illustrious Hall of Fame career, passed away on Dec. 30, 2020 following a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Sanders coached over the course of four decades including nine years at Silver High School and 23 years at Farmington High, winning nearly 800 boys games, according to the New Mexico Activities Association website.
He also spent time coaching in Hatch, Portales, Lovington, and a brief stint in his native state at Mentone, Indiana.
Sanders coached Farmington High’s boys basketball team from 1980 to 2003, winning two state titles in 1982 and 1986. Sanders concluded his tenure at FHS with a state finals appearance in 2003.
He also coached the Hatch Bears (1964) and Silver Fighting Colts (1975) to state titles.
"The relationship you had with (Sanders) was a lot like the relationship you have with your dad," said former Piedra Vista and Navajo Prep boys basketball coach Rick Hoerner. "When you're young, you think everything he does has no purpose. Then as you get older, the more you're around him, the smarter that man got."
Sanders, a 2015 New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame inductee, only trailed three other coaches (Ralph Tasker, Pete Shock and Jim Murphy) in the all-time win list for New Mexico boys basketball.
Sanders was inducted into the New Mexico High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor in 1991. The 1960 Western New Mexico graduate was inducted into the WNMU Hall of Fame in 2000. He twice was an all-conference basketball player with the Mustangs.
Hoerner worked as an assistant coach for Sanders at Farmington High before taking over as head coach at Piedra Vista in 2000.
"It was difficult in those early days at Piedra Vista, because we were so undermanned," Hoerner recalled. "It was odd looking down at the other end of the court and seeing him on the other bench, almost like you didn't belong."
Hoerner, who would later serve as head coach of Navajo Prep's boys basketball team for four seasons before retiring in 2019, recalled what it was like working under Sanders.
"Working as an assistant with him was a great learning experience," Hoerner said. "He gave you complete control of one side of the ball. He also gave me the ability to make calls at the end of games as far as personnel. It was like being thrown into the fire but it was also a great chance to get that kind of experience."
The ceremony, which will take place before the scheduled 4 p.m. tipoff of the tournament's final game, will feature former players and coaches making both in-person tributes as well as video testimonials, according to his son Mike Sanders.
"I'm excited to see the participation from players and coaches in the past," said Mike. "It's going to be great to see them remember his life as a teacher and a coach."
The tribute, coming nearly a year after Marv's passing, was unable to be held sooner due to restrictions on indoor crowds last winter due to the pandemic.
"It's long overdue for us. It will give us a chance for some closure," said Mike. "We've been in limbo for so long. There will be some former players and coaches coming in from around the state."
Tributes rolling in for legendary coach Marv Sanders
The tributes to Sanders aren't coming just from former coaches or players.
Current Scorpion head basketball coach Larry Chitty, who will lead the team into the tournament which begins Thursday with Farmington facing Shiprock, knows the pressure of standing in that courtside spot.
"Just the way he touched so many people, you're always in that shadow of trying to live up to that standard," Chitty said. "It's amazing to see the kind of positive impact he had on so many people."
Jay Collins, a former player for Sanders at Farmington from 1996 to 1999, will be one of those sending in tributes for Sanders which will be featured during the event.
Collins, who is in the middle of his third season as men's basketball coach at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, also served as head coach of the Scorpions during the 2018-19 season, winning the Sanders Invitational by defeating Hoerner and the Navajo Prep team in the championship game.
"It was an incredible experience all around," Collins said. "To be able to coach against someone who'd coached me since I was a kid and to be to do that in front of the legend himself at his tournament."
The Northwest College Trappers men's basketball team are currently 11-5 this season under Collins, who still follows some of the techniques used by Sanders during practices.
"The full court press defenses that we run are hard to do, but that's one of the things we try to emulate," Collins said. "There's a reason he's a legend and his professionalism and work ethic is something we're teaching."
Marv Sanders' short-lived Coming out of retirement
Even after his retirement in 2003, Sanders didn't stay away long. He surprisingly came out of retirement to coach the Capitan High School girls basketball team in 2006, earning his 800th career coaching victory with the Tigers in late November, 2007.
His exact win total, combining boys and girls, is unclear, although he did pick up more than 80 girls victories in Capitan through the 2011-12 season, according to MaxPreps.com.
“It feels good to be back,” the then-66-year-old Sanders said at the 2007 New Mexico state tournament, which was the first for Capitan’s girls since 1990. “It’s funny how you’re away and you come back and those flames kind of heat you up again. It brings those same old feelings back. It’s no different than the past.”
During Sanders’ career, he also coached golf, cross-country, baseball and track and field.
Hoerner reflected on the legacy left behind by Sanders when remembering the 2018 Sanders Invitational finals game he coached against Collins.
"That may have been the biggest treasure of those last seasons coaching," Hoerner recalled. "That game coaching against (Collins) and knowing Marv was in the stands watching us. The three of us were there together and that might have been my best moment."
Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.