New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame to induct Aztec wrestling coach Herb Stinson this summer
FARMINGTON — At long last, formal induction ceremonies honoring the latest class of inductees to the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame are set to take place this summer.
And for Herb Stinson, longtime wrestling coach at Aztec High School, his name is set to be formally announced along with four other longtime New Mexico sports luminaries at a banquet which will be held at the Albuquerque Convention Center on Aug. 20.
This is the first class of new inductees since 2019. The decades-long induction process had been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stinson, who is in his 37th year as Aztec's head wrestling coach, has had 68 individual champions. He also coached wrestling, baseball and football at Bayfield, Colo., from 2000-2012 and has been a classroom teacher for 37 years.
"What this honor means to me is more about the people who I've had the fortune to be around," Stinson said. "Teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians and people from all across the country have passed through this program."
Stinson has been inducted into four coaching halls of fame, but says he is most proud of the tremendous success so many of his wrestlers have had after high school — and the Aztec wrestling facility that was built from donations by his former athletes.
The Tigers boys wrestling team took home their 21st state championship in February, defeating programs from nearly two dozen schools around the state. Since their inception in 1956, the Aztec High School wrestling team is among the most successful sports programs in the state.
"The effect this program has had on not only young men, but now also women, is something I'm very proud of."
The NMSHOF last week announced Stinson as part of a five-person induction class, its first since 2019. The induction ceremonies, which for many years were held in the spring, were moved in 2020 to the month of August in light of COVID concerns.
Stinson joins legendary wrestling coach Joe Vivian as the only other coach primarily from the sport of wrestling inducted into the NMSHOF.
Vivian, who was inducted in 2004, coached wrestling for nearly 40 years at a variety of schools in the Albuquerque area, including Albuquerque High School, Cibola High, St. Pius X, La Cueva and Albuquerque Academy.
"I personally know (Vivian) as a friend, but also as a wrestler when he was coaching in Albuquerque," Stinson recalled. "He's been a perpetual in the state, and for me to be considered in the same vein as him is very special."
In addition to Stinson, other inductees in this year's class include Bill Gracey, a standout athlete at West Mesa High School and state champion baseball coach at Cibola High School. Gracey has been in New Mexico athletics for more than 40 years as a baseball and softball coach and a basketball official at the high school and collegiate levels.
Emanuel "Manny" Smith, who passed away in 1995, won a record nine straight state titles and 11 straight city crowns when handball was one of the most popular sports in Albuquerque during the 1950's and 1960's.
Smith was a teacher, principal and Master Teacher for Albuquerque Public Schools for nearly 40 years and played college basketball in New York before playing for the United States Army's international traveling team during the Korean War. Smith was also a medic during the war.
Luigi Pierotti, who passed away in 1974, became a national name for his Pierotti's Clowns softball team based in Los Alamos.
Sports Illustrated Magazine twice featured Pierotti's five-man team, which would dominate competition around the country while wearing clown makeup and performing a variety of hilarious stunts. Born outside of Walsenburg, Colo., Pierotti was a standout in track, baseball, boxing, golf and bowling.
Gene Torres, arguably the greatest golf professional in New Mexico history, became a self-taught sensation who won the Colorado State High School championship in 1956. He later became the head golf pro and a professor at New Mexico Highlands where he would spend the next 43 years mentoring golfers, teaching classes and dominating the state pro circuit.
Torres won more than 80 pro tournaments around the country, including four straight New Mexico Opens from 1968-71.
For more information about the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame, check out their official website.
Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.