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Artesia High bowling team wins state

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Mike Smith Photo Ken Clayton, president of Western Bank in Artesia also doubles as the bowling coach for the Artesia High School. Last weekend the Bulldogs won state title no. 4 over Espanola Valley.

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ARTESIA — Western Bank President Ken Clayton recalls a meeting he had in 2007 with then Artesia Public Schools Superintendent Mike Phipps.

Phipps stopped by Clayton’s office and told him that the New Mexico Activities Association was going to start up varsity bowling and that Artesia High School needed to get on board.

Clayton said that he and Phipps had bowled before, “and he said if we’re gonna do it, you’re the guy that does it.”

Clayton wasn’t sure if there would be any interest,”we had no bowling leagues (and) no kids leagues here, there’s no youth bowling at all. He told me to think about and before he left we had a deal.”

That deal made Clayton the head bowling coach at Artesia High School.

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Clayton said district officials prepared a survey of students who might be interested in bowling and the first year there were 34 kids on the squad, “and that was 11 years ago.”

Clayton said the kids got a quick course on bowling.

“We literally started the program off with ‘these fingers go in the ball,’ he said.

He added that the team got the best equipment that was out there.

“Everything to set the program right,” he said.

Some five years after that humbling start Artesia won their first state title in bowling. Two years later they won their second title. Last year they brought home title no. 3 and last weekend they claimed their fourth title in the decade-plus since the program began.

“The kids have really bought into the program,” he said. “We take six teams every weekend, because we bowl in divisions, kind of like flighting in a golf tournament.”

Last, there were three freshmen on the title team, “this year we had four sophomores and a junior,” Clayton said.

Clayton said for two years Artesia didn’t have a public bowling facility, “I’d say we were the only school in the nation that won a state championship where the bowling center was not open.”

Before the current Artesia Lanes opened, Clayton said the school district got together with some businesses in the community to gather up some funds to lease the facility so the team could have a place to practice.

Clayton said he and his assistants performed maintenance when things broke down.

Artesia competes in 5A and some in the community could argue that the bowling team is taking a page from the football team who won title no. 30 late last year.

Clayton said that Artesia has been able to compete with the largest class in the state, 6A.

“(Rio Rancho) Cleveland and Rio Rancho, are very strong,” he said. “We compete with them every week, except for state.”

Members of this year’s team included: Will Davis, Ethan Velo, Alex Harmon, Andres Baeza, Coy Moorhead, Zach Ingram and Kenley Ortega.

“Will Davis last year as a freshman broke the state scoring record, averaging 220,” Clayton said.

“This year he averaged 216 to lead our team,” he added. “He’s probably the strongest bowler we’ve ever had in our program.”

Clayton said 300 is a perfect score in bowling.

“Twelve strikes, still Will’s goal,” Clayton said. “He’s gotten close a few times.”

“At the state tournament, Coy Moorhead bowled a 661 series, a three game series averaging 220,” Clayton said.

He added that Moorhead won an award for that score.

The Bulldogs defeated Farmington and Los Lunas to advance to the championship match against Espanola Valley and then defeated them for the trophy.

Clayton added that bowling is a winter sport and the schools compete December through February and Artesia is the only school in Southeastern New Mexico to sponsor a team.

“We travel to Albuquerque seven times a year,” he said. “We do it in one day.”

The Bulldogs were able to stay home on Jan. 20 as 17 schools competed in the Artesia Invitational. Clayton said there were 220 bowlers that hit the lanes that weekend.

He added that the team should be on solid footing for the next couple of years.

“For 11 years we’ve had over 200 kids go through the program,” he said.

Clayton added it gives him a chance to mentor future bank presidents and possibly high school bowling coaches.