Bobcats softball's inception comes full circle

Matt Hollinshead,

BLOOMFIELD – The only thing a trio of Bloomfield softball players wanted back in 1980 was to simply play the game they cherish.

And when former player Kim Mizell (formerly Kim Cloer), now Bloomfield Municipal Schools' Superintendent, threw a ceremonial first-pitch before BHS' doubleheader versus Bernalillo today, it was a commemorative reminder of the program's inception.

It all began when she, Karen Baird (formerly Karen Cloer, and also Kim Mizell's sister) and Vi Sanchez triumphed in a heated community battle for equal opportunity — launching one of San Juan County's most storied programs.

An 'embarrassing' start

All softball players did in 1980 was play summer league ball, using the town's community baseball complex as their playing field. And they couldn't start until the weather improved late in the spring anyway.

So, considering Bloomfield did not have a high school softball team back in 1980, former players went out for baseball tryouts.

From the start, there was an uneasiness.

“The boys were really mad that (the girls) were even out there,” said Mizell, who was a pitcher and utility player.

Baird said John Gutierrez, who was the coach at the time, took her and Sanchez aside. He told them they were not allowed to play and asked them to leave the field.

“It was embarrassing. It was like ‘no, you little girls go home.’ We had to leave the field. We were already nervous going for baseball already. When we left, it was just like an added embarrassment,"  Baird said.

Baird confided in her mother Carol Cloer, who was the principal at Blanco Elementary School, about what had happened.

Baird said as much as Gutierrez was doing his job, she still wanted that opportunity to play high school softball and not let the matter go away.

The family went to the school board shortly after the spring sports season began to address starting up a softball team at BHS.

“They were not positive about us going out for baseball, that was for sure. We knew it was going to be an unpopular act, but we were trying to press the issue of ‘Why don’t we have softball?’” Baird said.

Bloomfield's Mattie Waresback embraces former Lady Bobcat Karen Baird (formerly Karen Cloer) for her part in launching the softball program right before Monday's doubleheader.

Weighing the risks

Carol Cloer, who drove the activity bus and coached the summer league softball team alongside three other people for free, was concerned she’d get fired from her job at Blanco Elementary's principal, Mizell said.

But in the end, the family refused to wait any longer to instill possible change.

'Tension-filled' meeting

Baird said former athletic director Dub Goins explained there was no money to start up a team and that the spring sports schedules were already prepared.

According to Baird, Goins said the school would have to wait until “possibly” next year to start a softball season, which wasn't guaranteed.

Baird said the new team would've used summer league equipment and uniforms on game days to help gets things underway starting in 1980.

“It wouldn’t cost very much money,” Baird said.

Baird said it was a "tension-filled" meeting.

“The whole time, we wanted to play softball. We were longtime softball players. That was our motivation,” said Baird, a 1980 BHS graduate. “We were a close-knit little athletic environment. We were coming to end for our senior years, and our athletic careers for the most part. We didn’t have much time (that year).”

Mizell said it was also the first time Title IX, the Education Amendment Act passed in 1972 requiring equal opportunity for women, got involved in related matters in San Juan County.

Judgment day

The board was deadlocked with a 2-2 ruling, but the board's president had to break the tie to give the official decision — voting "yes" to make it a 3-2 decision.

Bloomfield Lady Bobcats softball was born in 1980.

“The events that happened gave us a voice. We could make things happen. Our actions did make it come around,” Baird said.

Mizell said her sister's doggedness in pushing for a high school softball program paid off.

“I always felt like she was so brave to do that. It was very intimidating,” Mizell, a 1982 BHS graduate, said.

Former Bloomfield softball player and current Bloomfield Municipal Schools Superintendent Kim Mizell (formerly Kim Cloer) throws out the ceremonial first-pitch on Monday to commemorate launching the program in 1980.

The rest is history

Bloomfield took home state-runner up honors in 1984, 1985 and 1990 before winning back-to-back state championships in 1992 and 1993.

Since 1984, BHS has won seven state titles, six state runner-up honors and four third-place trophies.

“Bloomfield benefited from the efforts of a couple of girls. Those are wonderful records. At that point, it was way beyond us," Baird said. "After 1980, the opportunity was there. Think about how girls benefited from and enjoyed the sport after that."

That realization came full circle once again, in the form of Mizell's wind-up.

“All of a sudden, you realize your actions a long time ago did make a difference," Baird said. "You’re proud of something that was good for the community.”

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.